Here's what you need to know...

  1. If you're interested in building size and strength, those two goals shouldn't be addressed at the exact same time. Instead, they should be tackled one after the other in your program.
  2. Whenever you do the same type of training for a long time, your body reacts with less and less alarm. It gradually figures out how to cope with that training stressor.
  3. Many lifters worry that they'll lose strength after training with high reps for several weeks, and vice versa. That's not true because each phase maintains the gains acquired through the other phase.
  4. Sequential training provides renewed focus and healed joints. This leads to better compliance.

Sequentially, Not Simultaneously

Most people's training goals are focused around getting stronger, more muscular, or both. Here are two important points:

  1. Even if you're only interested in one of those – size or strength – your training should address both.
  2. These two interrelated adaptations should ideally be addressed sequentially – one after the other – rather than simultaneously in your training program.

Strength & Hypertrophy: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Maximizing your strength potential requires developing maximum muscularity. It's muscle that lifts the weight, after all. Look at the medalists in any high-level powerlifting or weightlifting competition and you'll notice that by and large, they're more muscular (at the same bodyweight) than their less-successful competitors.

Maximizing muscle mass, on the other hand, also depends on strength since the stronger you are, the more weight you can lift during your workouts. That means you'll be able to achieve the high training volumes required for conspicuous levels of muscle tissue. Sure, bodybuilders aren't typically super-strong in the "one-rep max" sense of the word, but they're almost always quite strong in the rep ranges they typically use in their training.

In short, no matter what your training goal, for best results you must train for muscle and strength. And those two goals should be pursued in sequence rather than at the same time.

Here's Why It Works

While you can certainly get both bigger and stronger by training for these two goals simultaneously, it's preferable to train sequentially for several reasons.

1 – Your body adapts faster and better if it's only adapting in a single direction.

Just as an extreme example, there's a reason why you never see hugely muscled marathon runners or 275-pound muscular guys who do well at distance running.

One big factor is that endurance training increases mitochondrial density, while strength training reduces it – clearly a physiological conflict. Now the conflict between strength and hypertrophy training isn't nearly as significant as this example, but it's still asking your body to adapt in two different directions at the same time.

2 – Whenever you do the same type of training for a long time, your body reacts with less and less alarm.

It gradually "figures out" how to cope with that specific training stressor (this is called adaptive resistance). Think back to a time when you started a new workout program that was significantly different than you were used to. Initially, you got super sore and could easily add weight to the bar each workout. After a while, however, no more soreness and it became almost impossible to increase weight. That's adaptive resistance.

The solution is to change the type of training you do to present your body with a new, unexpected threat. If you train for strength and mass simultaneously, you'll always be doing both high and low reps, either in the same workout, or over the course of a training week.

When your body figures that out and stops responding, what will you do next? Sure, you can change up your exercises, and that helps, but it's even more effective to change to a different intensity zone, which is what sequential training allows.

3 – Sequential training doesn't require strictly controlled intensity brackets for each phase.

Strength training doesn't require sets of 3-5 for strength, and hypertrophy doesn't require sets of 12-15, but it does mean that you shouldn't be venturing much below 8 reps for hypertrophy work or much above 6 reps for strength training.

So while it's fine to use anywhere between 1-7 reps for a strength session and 8-25 reps for hypertrophy training, it's not desirable to have workouts (or training weeks) where you do hard sets of 3 as well as hard sets of 15.

4 – Many lifters worry that they'll lose strength after training with high reps for several weeks, and vice versa, but it's not the case.

When training for strength with low reps, you won't be experiencing enough volume to grow much new muscle, but there will be enough volume to maintain the muscle you acquired during the previous hypertrophy phase.

Similarly, when training for hypertrophy, you won't be training with enough absolute intensity to gain strength, but it will be sufficiently intense to maintain your current strength levels.

So in other words, in phase one of a plan like this, you gain muscle while maintaining strength, and in phase two, you maintain muscle while gaining strength. And, all the while, your body will struggle to continuously adapt to the changing homeostatic threats you present it with in each new training phase.

Bodybuilder

The Program

Here's a sample 10-week training program.

Phase One (5 weeks): Hypertrophy Development

Day 1

  • Hack Squat
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Split Squat
  • Standing Calf Raise
  • Ab Roll Out

Day 2

  • Weighted Ring Push-up
  • Close-Grip Pulldown
  • Incline Dumbbell Press
  • Spider Curl
  • Pushdown

Day 3

  • Hip Belt Squat
  • Back Extension
  • Reverse Lunge
  • Seated Calf Raise
  • Toes to Bar

Day 4

  • T-Bar Row
  • Seated Press
  • Lateral Raise
  • EZ-Bar Curl
  • Perform between 10-12 reps per set on all working sets.
  • Perform 3 work sets per exercise on week 1; 4 on week 4; 5 on week 3; 6 on week 4; and 2 on week 5.
  • Stay about 3-4 reps away from failure on week 1; 2-3 reps away on week 2; 1-2 reps away on week 3; and 0-1 reps from failure on week 4. Week 5 is a deload: Use the same weights you used on week 4 but reduce both sets and reps by half.
  • In addition to increasing your number of sets, also try to add slightly more weight each week.
  • If and when push comes to shove, prioritize training volume over adding weight to the bar. If you need to reduce weight on later sets in order to maintain your sets and reps, do so.
  • The main goals of this phase is reaching significant momentary muscular fatigue at the end of each work set.

Phase Two (5 Weeks): Strength Acquisition

Day 1

  • Back Squat
  • Leg Press
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Press
  • Nordic Leg Curl

Day 2

  • Barbell Bench Press
  • Pull-up
  • Close-Grip Incline Press
  • Chest-Supported Row

Day 3

  • Deadlift
  • Safety Squat
  • Seated Leg Curl
  • Hack Squat

Day 4

  • Military Press
  • T-Bar Row
  • Hammer Press
  • Shrug
  • Perform between 5-7 reps per set on all working sets.
  • Perform 3 work sets per exercise on week 1; 4 on week 4; 5 on week 3; 6 on week 4; and 2 on week 5.
  • Stay about 3-4 reps away from failure on week 1; 2-3 reps away on week 2; 1-2 reps away on week 3; and 0-1 reps from failure on week 4. Week 5 is a deload: Use the same weights you used on week 4 but reduce both sets and reps by half.
  • In addition to increasing your number of sets, also strive to add slightly more weight each week.
  • In this phase, prioritize adding weight to the bar over training volume. If you need to slightly reduce reps to add weight each week, do it.
  • The main goal of this phase is constantly adding more weight to the bar each week.

Things You Should Notice

  • In the first phase, we strive to make the muscle bigger, and in the second phase we teach that larger muscle how to contract with more force.
  • Volume is the key objective for phase one. Gradually do more and more highly-fatiguing sets per muscle over 4 weeks and then deload on week 5 by reducing both volume and intensity.
  • Intensity (bar weight) is the main focus for phase two. Strive to add slightly more weight each week without losing reps in the process.
  • Phase one uses more exercises per workout than phase two. Because the reps are higher and the risks are lower in phase one, you'll need fewer warm-up sets and you'll also need slightly less rest between sets than you will in phase two.
  • Notice that the exercises in phase one are well suited for high-rep efforts, and the exercises in phase two are more applicable for lifting heavy weights for low reps. Some exercises, such as hack squats and T bar rows can be used over a wide range of rep schemes.
  • If you're well-muscled but not as strong as you look, spend more time in strength phases and relatively less time in mass phases. If you're a lot stronger than you look, do just the opposite.

The Bonus Benefit of Sequential Training

Sequential training provides regularly occurring shifts in overall training focus. Toward the end of a 5-6 week hypertrophy phase, for example, you'll really look forward to being able to lower your reps and put some real weight on the bar.

Toward the end of a strength cycle, your joints will thank you for switching to lower loads for a while. All of this translates to greater compliance, better safety, and superior results!

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