Weightlifting for size: One hour, or more?
October 29, 2007 3:52 AM   Subscribe

Are pound-me-into-the-floor, leave-me-sore-for-days weight workouts superior to moderate sessions for building muscle?

The other day, I was reading reminiscences from 1960s bodybuilders about their workouts. 50 set squats, 30 set preacher curls, frequent trips to the lav due to, er, gastrointestinal upset. You know the drill. (Invariably, these reports are caveated with "we supported our hard workouts with 'roids, but in doses far smaller than today's bodybuilders").

Skeptical as I am about these old-school workouts, I can't help thinking: is it ideal to go all-out in the weight room to maximize muscle growth? To a degree, this stands to reason. In many sports, exertion during training is the key to making performance gains.

On the other hand:
An ex-amateur powerbuilder I met recently said that anything beyond the one-hour point in the weight room is
pointless for further gains. Once the clock hits the one-hour point, according to him, you've maxed out your gain potential for the session.

Which of these viewpoints is more accurate? Or, perhaps I should say, more accurate for people like me, a once-a-week, full-body weightlifter whose strongest chemical enhancer is a daily multivitamin?
posted by Gordion Knott to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think the time spent in the gym matters. How long you're there depends on how long your breaks between musets are and how many sets you do. If you want to spend less than an hour, then don't take breaks between sets. Set up two exercises and alternate between them. 1 hour is an arbitrary limit, but you can certainly get away with spending less than an hour.

I've never heard of anyone doing 50 sets of anything. As far as I know there is a debate between 1-set and 3-set routines in terms of which stimulates hypertrophy the most. I think this is only relevant if you really want to look like a body-builder. Anyway you can easily go "all-out" and work your whole body in much less than an hour. What's important is that you go all-out for each set. Also your "powerbuilder", if you mean powerlifter, has different goals than a bodybuilder. Bodybuilders as far as I know want all of their muscles to get really inflamed so they look bigger. They are not the best people to ask if you're just a normal guy who wants to get strong.
posted by creasy boy at 4:34 AM on October 29, 2007

Anyway here is an old threat about the 1-set methodology.
posted by creasy boy at 4:39 AM on October 29, 2007

Eh..."between sets" and "thread".
posted by creasy boy at 4:39 AM on October 29, 2007

Look, if you were in a gym all day to do that 50 sets, there's a point of diminishing return. You believe you're working hard, you get massively sore as you work your way up, but, you work less hard. Greater amount of work = lower intensity.

Yup, they did 5 or more sets, usually in a pyramid fashion. But much of the idea of doing 50 sets is the writing in the magazines. It's the belief that more work = better work (and yeah, the colorado experiment which the prior link was a recreation of...turned quite a bit of that on it's head.) By the way, the original colorado experiment was done over 30 years ago, the person that creasy linked to, tried it recently. It is a pound yourself into the floor plus puking workout (in less than an hour.)

And you'd never see someone do 50 sets of squats, leg extensions or even calf work. Mentally those are tough and don't "look good."

Physiologically, the anaerobic threshold is around 180 seconds (when you begin to involved the aerobic system.) Most people regain upwards of 50-80% of their fresh strength in under 5 minutes (from a failure induced fatigue state.)
posted by filmgeek at 4:56 AM on October 29, 2007

This would of course depend on the amount of sterioids accompanying the level of training - if your pumping extreme amounts of pills as well as huge amounts of proteins - the huge sets of the sixties might well be usable.
If you prefer the natural way - stick to the lower levels and do get the right diet and amount of rest. Resting between workouts is key as much as what you do in the workouts.
The natural way won't make you look like the beasts of the sixties - or pro bodybuildlers today for that sake - but for most of us - that's probably for the best.
posted by arnves at 5:04 AM on October 29, 2007

The way I learned it was this: reps build bulk, extreme exertion builds strength.
posted by Malor at 7:34 AM on October 29, 2007

It's all about shock.

If you want to get stronger, you have to shock your muscles: whether that shock comes from doing 5-rep sets at 500lbs when squatting, or 50 rep sets at 100lbs. It's your choice. Ideally, you'll be using both methods, and more--negative reps, ballistic training, low-weight/high reps, heavy-weight/low reps, supersets, etc. The bodybuilders in the 50s and 60s didn't have it wrong, they only had part of the equation.
posted by dead_ at 7:55 AM on October 29, 2007

i_am_joe's_spleen has a good answer. HST is well-thought out and based in scientifically-valid principles. Though, you'll want to go to the gym more often than once a week.

I would be doing HST, but I'm more focused on strength than size, at the moment. So, I'm mostly sticking to the beginner section of Practical Programming for Strength Training by Rippetoe and Kilgore.
posted by mmagin at 3:07 PM on October 29, 2007

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