Ask any recently qualified physical therapist and they’ll tell you that if you want to achieve hypertrophy (muscle growth) it’s essential to keep all of your movements in the eight to 12 rep range. This has long been the “sweet spot,” despite protestations from credible trainers and bodybuilders that anything from heavy sets of three to burnout sets of 20 reps will result in equal, if not greater, mass gains.
But they can’t all be right, can they? Well, they just might be.
Recent studies have shown that when it comes to muscle gain, the weights and rep ranges you use in your workout matter far less than the set. effort you put in every set. It seems obvious, right? So why do so many men struggle to see progress in the gym?
The study seems to show that whatever dumbbells you do, and for the number of reps, whatever Really Most important is how many reps you perform in the “growth zone” – those last reps when you start to get closer to muscle failure. If the majority of your sets are essentially glorified warm-ups, you may be guilty of “unwanted volume” and might only really be logging a dozen effective reps, throughout your workout.
Looks like Muhammad Ali was onto something when he said “I don’t start counting until it starts to hurt” after all.
The fix? Use techniques that allow you to spend as much time as possible in the painful but productive growth zone. One of these techniques is the “250% method”, which guarantees a severe growth-promoting burn.
We’ll walk you through the protocol below, before serving you a vicious but delicious chest, back and arm workout that promises the perfect upper body pump.
- After a full body warm-up, get to work on your first movement. Start light and increase the weights quickly, performing short, easy sets of 5-6 reps without rest, to get the blood pumping.
- Once you reach a weight that feels heavy enough for 6, under fatigue, keep those weights and start a timer.
- After two minutes of rest, do a full push as hard as you can until you can’t throw another rep with good form.
- Whichever rep you finish on, your goal now is to hit 250% (or two and a half times) that number, as quickly as possible. For example – if you are managing 10 reps, keep doing short breaks of 15-20 seconds, performing set after set, even if it is doubles or singles, until you reach 25 reps at the total.
- When finished, rest and move on to the next movement, repeating the protocol.
- Stick with the same weights next session, once you can easily reach your previous reps, go heavier.
Using this method, you will be spending the lion’s share of your total training in the growth zone. This will ensure you work at a solid, muscle-building intensity and say goodbye to unnecessary junk, for good.
This technique is best employed using an upper body, lower body, or a push, pull, with the legs apart. You also need to make sure you take enough time between sessions and fuel your body adequately to recover from brutal mass-building workouts.
1. Incline press with dumbbells
Lie on a bench at a 45 degree angle, holding two dumbbells above your head (A). Slowly lower both bells for four seconds, keeping your elbows angled slightly away from your torso, until both dumbbells touch your chest (A). EExplosively press down on the bells until fully locked and repeat.
2. Chin-ups (or Lat Pulldown)
Grab a pull-up bar with your palms facing your body. Raise your feet off the ground and hang freely with your arms extended (A). Pull yourself up by bending your elbows and squeezing your shoulders. When your chin passes the pause bar (B), before descending to the starting position. Try not to swing too much. If you can’t do more than 10 pull-ups, use a band to help you or jump on the lat pull-up machine.
Jump on two parallel bars or gymnastic rings with your palms facing inward and your arms straight (A). Use two boxes or the backs of two sturdy chairs if you are at home. Slowly lower until your elbows are at right angles, making sure they don’t flare outward (B). Go back to the top and repeat.
4. Chest Supported Dumbbell Rows
Set an adjustable bench at about 45 degrees or support a flat bench with a box. Position yourself face down with your chest on the pad, holding a pair of dumbbells (A). Staying tight against the bench, row both dumbbells back to your hips, pause (B) and lower slowly before repeating.
5. Tricep extensions
Grab a pair of lighter dumbbells and lie back on your bench, locking the dumbbells overhead (A). Bend your elbows, slowly lower the bells to the sides of your head, while keeping your arms locked in place. Stop just before the bells hit your shoulders (B) before rising explosively. Repeat.
6. Barbell Curl
Stand up straight with a light barbell, palms facing you, shoulder-width apart (A). With minimal momentum, curl the bar up toward your chin (B). Press here and lower the weights under control for a count of three to bring it down. Repeat.
With nearly 18 years in the health and fitness field as a personal trainer, nutritionist, respiratory coach and writer, Andrew has spent nearly half his life exploring how to help people improve their bodies and their mind.
As Fitness Editor, he takes pride in keeping Men’s Health at the forefront of reliable, relevant, and credible fitness information, whether by writing and testing thousands of workouts each year, diving deep into the science behind muscle building and fat loss or exploring the psychology of performance and recovery.
While constantly updating his knowledge base with seminars and courses, Andrew is a lover of practice as much as theory and regularly puts his training to the test by tackling everything from Crossfit competitions and from strongmen, to ultra marathons, to multiple 24-hour workouts and (extremely unofficial) world record attempts.
You can find Andrew on Instagram at @theandrew.tracey, or just hold up a sign that says “free pizza” and wait for him to appear.