In my last blog post I talked about the importance of varying your exercises to ensure that you always get the most effective workouts possible, and progress as quickly as possible. I also mentioned the necessity for regularly pushing yourself past previous limits whenever you can to create progress.
There are two more important exercise variables that can also be changed around periodically to ensure a good, thorough workout program, and they are number of repetitions per set and speed of movement.
Number of repetitions is important because, generally speaking, the fewer repetitions you perform per set of exercise, the greater weight or resistance you use, and vice versa. So targeting different repetitions per set focuses on the development of different muscle attributes. 1 to 6 repetitions per set targets strength development, 6 to 12 repetitions muscle growth, and more than 12 repetitions muscle endurance.
Even though you may have one particular objective in mind for your workout program, it’s always good to vary your repetitions per set from time to time, and also the speed at which you perform your exercises, to target different muscular attributes and muscle fibers to those that you normally focus on. Once again, this simply allows more complete and thorough development of your musculature.
There are a few ways in which you can vary the repetitions per set in your program. You can simply use different numbers of repetitions each week if you’re not training for any specific goal, or if you are, you can introduce days of more or fewer repetitions per set than normal every now and then. Alternatively, you can use pyramid sets every now and then. Pyramid sets are simply a series of sets with either an increasing or decreasing number of repetitions per set.
One other topic which can often raise some debate among fitness enthusiasts is the type of equipment that is best to work out with. For example, you can perform a chest press with a specialized chest press machine, with a cable machine, with a barbell, with dumbbells, with rubber resistance bands, or even with nothing more than your bodyweight (push-ups).
So the question is, which is best?
Some people who are advocates of bodyweight exercises will insist that weight training is dangerous and not as effective as bodyweight training. Others will declare that resistance machines are no good because they guide your motion completely and therefore remove any need for the small stabilizer muscles, so those smaller muscles don’t develop at all.
Well, the fact is that there is no one best method. As always, variety is the best approach.
Each type of exercise equipment brings its own advantages, and the key is to make use of all types, while focusing mostly on the one that best suits your goals.
For example, if your goal is muscle growth, then a chest press machine will allow you to use the most resistance of all methods and will do it safely, to provide the maximum possible loading of your muscles and maximum growth. But relying solely on the chest press machine would deny the development of smaller stabilizer muscles around your shoulders, which could lead to injuries and incomplete muscular development.
But by also performing chest presses with dumbbells from time to time, you develop those smaller muscles as well, even if it means using less resistance once in a while. So you get the best of both worlds.
Not only that, using dumbbells forces your body to use muscles in a different way. It will still be a chest press and it will still target your pectoral muscles, but it will do it in a different way and will recruit synergist (helper) muscles in a different way. The same goes for a barbell chest press, it simply changes the way your body works against the load.
It’s important not to fall into the trap of believing those who preach one way as being the right way, there is never one right way. The key is to understand the options available to you, and what their advantages and disadvantages are. Then try to make the most of all the advantages while focusing on the method that best suits your particular goals.