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Let’s face it—if you’re looking through bodybuilding magazines for a new workout, the one you are currently using is probably no longer working. One reason progress stagnates is that your body is a very adaptive organism. The more advanced you are, the more frequently you will need to change your workouts. 

It’s been said that the best workout is the one you’re not doing, so give yourself permission to try a new approach. More specifically, what you want to do is change your workout when you start reaching a point of diminishing returns. This change, however, doesn’t have to be a matter of guesswork—plan ahead for those gains!

First, outline a long-term plan of set-rep protocols. To become strong with minimal increases in muscle size, you need to focus on workouts of 1–4 reps. To develop strength with significantly more muscle mass, use 5–8 reps; for pure muscle mass, use 8–15 reps; for strength endurance, 15–30 reps.

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This doesn’t mean you cannot use other set-rep protocols, but if your goal is building muscle, recognize that lower reps are more suited for developing strength, and higher reps for developing muscle endurance. Now let’s move from theory to practice by looking at a threemonth plan outlining the sets, reps, and rest intervals for a bodybuilding workout (see Chart A). Does this mean you would keep repeating these 12-week cycles? That could work, but once a year it would beneft you to insert a cycle that focuses on strength. Why? Two reasons: (1) You’ll be stimulating the fast-twitch muscle fibers that are not as actively stimulated in hypertrophy programs, and (2) when you go back to the higher reps, you’ll get a mental boost to push harder because the weights will feel lighter.

Here is an example of a two-month cycle (to perform once or twice a year) that focuses more on strength while still having a positive effect on muscle growth (see Chart B). 

Be aware that the speed at which you perform your repetitions will infuence the training effect. In the two training cycles above, lower the weight at a rate that is approximately two to three times as long as it takes to lift it. 

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In a bench press, for example, you could press the bar to extended arms in one second and lower it in three seconds, with a one-second pause at the top of  the movement to ready yourself for the next rep. If you spend more time on one phase of the lift, such as lowering the weight to a count of six to eight seconds, then you’ll need to adjust the repetitions accordingly. As a general guideline, a set primarily designed to improve strength will take 40 seconds or less to complete, and a set primarily designed to improve hypertrophy will take 40–70 seconds to complete.

Another useful idea is to vary the exercises with each training phase; this ensures continual progress and helps to avoid overuse injuries. Rather  than performing barbell bench presses for all eight weeks of an eight-week training cycle, for the first two weeks you could perform dumbbell bench presses, followed by two weeks of dumbbell incline bench presses, followed by two weeks of barbell incline presses, and finishing of with two weeks of conventional bench presses.

With so many variables to consider, designing a long-term plan for your workout requires a fair amount of time. It’s worth it! Just start by using this general outline of sets and reps, and in the end you’ll achieve your goals faster. – FLEX