This is one that always makes me laugh, going into any gym shortly after a new edition of a popular fitness magazine has been published and seeing the same exercises being performed by everybody there. Not every workout in a fitness magazine is for everybody. Your personal goals should dictate your workouts, from which exercise you do, how many sets of how many reps, the time it takes you to complete each rep and your rest periods. Also taking into consideration the order in which the exercises are performed and if they are in a superset, giant set, drop set etc.
Let me explain
To increase strength it should take you no more than 20 seconds to complete a set and also reach failure. For example we’ll take the back squat, the lowering (eccentric) phase may take 2 seconds, with no pause at the bottom of the movement then lifting (concentric) the weight back to the top in 1 second and a 1 second pause at the top before starting the next rep. This would be written as 2011. This results in a 4 second rep so at the most you would do 5 reps here and use a weight heavy enough to inhibit you from being able to complete a 6th rep. This doesn’t mean that your set should always be 20 seconds, it can be less but just play with rep count and tempo’s of lifts to ensure you are under 20 seconds per set.
Increasing functional hypertrophy
To gain strength and size; this would be ideal for a rugby player, while the rugby player should be very strong he also needs to be fairly heavy (for certain positions). He would train so that each set should last between 20-40 seconds using rep ranges between 6-12 reps depending on the tempo of the lifts performed. For example, a 3010 tempo (4 second rep) would mean that between 6-10 reps would be ideal for functional hypertrophy. However a 4010 tempo would mean between 6-8 reps would be ideal.
The bodybuilder is big and looks strong, and he probably is strong, but considering the size of the man you would expect him to be stronger. He trains with sets that might last 40-70 seconds and reach fatigue. So higher rep ranges are needed for this kind of training. The key here is to ensure lots of blood flow to the muscles, so a high volume is needed, this means that you should concentrate on each muscle group individually to adequately fatigue that muscle.
There are many exceptions to the rule, some muscles respond better from using different rep ranges for a different time under tension, some require heavier loads, some need much variation from workout to workout in order to adapt. This is because of their muscle fibre make up, but that’s a topic for next month.
The key to remember is that there is no “perfect program”. A program is only as good as the time it takes the body to adapt to it. The higher the training age of a trainee the quicker the body will adapt and progress will slow. So it is essential to keep workouts varied. This doesn’t mean that 1 week you perform a German Volume Workout and the next week you perform 8 exercise Giant Sets, it can be changing the rest period, increasing the number of sets or even increasing the time that it takes to lower the weight for each rep.