If gains are the goal, you may need to adjust your weightlifting program to five sets of 15 reps. Increasing the volume of your training could stimulate the hypertrophy (increase in muscle size) you're looking for.
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Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy — muscle growth stimulated by the higher rep, higher set ranges — may be what your specific body needs to build mass, according to Holly Perkins, certified personal trainer and author of Lift To Get Lean. If you're seeing a plateau, consider incorporating this lifting scheme.
Building Muscle Mass in the Gym
Building muscle requires a strategy. Hypertrophy occurs when you exercise with progressive overload (gradually increasing the weight that you lift over time), according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine. You can achieve hypertrophy by lifting less weight with more sets/reps or more weight with fewer sets/reps, according to Perkins. Bottom line: Everybody responds differently and it takes some trial and error.
The amount of weight, sets or reps you lift are all components of your training volume, according to Maillard Howell, owner of CrossFit Prospect Heights and founder of The Beta Way, a holistic wellness program. The higher your training volume, the larger your muscle growth, given that you're getting adequate sleep and nutrition, says Howell.
While your current routine may involve a traditional three sets/10-rep routine, eventually your body will adapt and you will need to shift around some variables. This is why lifters generally increase their reps over time in order to continue fatiguing the muscle as it grows accustomed to the training, Howell says.
Your Optimal Set and Rep Range
The weight you lift varies by exercise but performing each exercise at a higher set and rep range, like five sets of 15 reps, is one method to build muscle. Note: The weight you lift per rep will likely decrease at this high range of repetitions. If you go past 10 reps, Howell says to decrease your weight to 40 percent.
"Err on the side of lighter if you're trying this for the first time, as you may have a breakdown in technical form toward the end as fatigue sets in," says Howell.
While five sets of 15 reps is a good rep range for more seasoned lifters, Howell advises that beginners opt for five sets of 10 reps. Start with a weight you can perform easily (about 50 percent of your max). "This sounds super conservative but trust me, it catches up," says Howell.
Incorporating Recovery and Nutrition Into Your Muscle-Building Plan
Your muscles can't grow without rest. While you sleep, the body stores glucose as glycogen in the muscles, which is then used to fuel exercise, according to the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA).
Not to mention, while you sleep and recover, human growth hormone (HGH), floods into your body to repair and grow muscles post-exercise, according to the ISSA. Without quality sleep, this process is disrupted.
When it comes to nutrition, most people believe that the more protein you consume, the more muscle you gain. But this isn't totally true, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If you're working to build muscle, protein should make up only about 10 to 35 percent of your total daily calories.
Although protein hogs the spotlight as the muscle-building macro, carbohydrates are just as crucial. Carbs are partially converted to glycogen and supply your muscles with energy, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics — this is especially important if you're training in the five-set, 15-rep range. For muscle growth, at least half of your daily calories should come from whole food carbs, like rice or sweet potato.
Read more: 20 Best Muscle Building Foods