I’ve been talking a lot lately about volume and intensity within the context of using micro-workouts to build muscle. At the heart of this is a dissatisfaction with muscle building dogma. Conventional wisdom can be wise or merely conventional. But, sometimes things are done certain ways because that’s what works. Boring, but true. It might come down to personality traits. Conventional wisdom dictates heavy volume, long workouts, and lots of rest. That has been done many many times and has worked for lots of people. So someone at the beginning of their journey might say “that is what has worked, that’s what most people do, I’ll do that. Now tell me how many sets and how many reps and how much weight and how many minutes and how many days per week. And I’ll get started.” These are the same people who like to follow recipes when cooking.
Clearly I’m not in this group and that’s why we’re here. So the next thing to do is to figure out just WHAT thing or things need to be accounted for in order to make progress under the new conventional-wisdom bashing order. It can’t be a free-for-all. If I do whatever I feel like for my micro-workout, I’ll surely err on the side of too little or too easy. And too little and too easy mean no progress. But, as I’ve said many times before, I also hate counting and following scripts and writing much down. But in my volume-filled past I can see that many many not-too-difficult sets throughout the day, while useful, are not optimal for building muscle. If so, I’d be a lot more done than I am. And the other side of it, the 5MD for example, requires too much intensity to be done as often as I would like. Could the answer lie within the individual set and just how it feels? Uh…. YEAH!
Did you ever notice that you can always do more than you think you can? In my volume days I know how the sets felt, and I would stop before it got too painful. Gotta get more reps in later, can’t take it too far here. What I’m proposing now is this: don’t stop quite yet. Soon, but not quite yet. Don’t worry about later, worry about now. With the 5MD, you CAN’T worry about later. There is no later. Until the next day. Or two. With the present idea (to be named below), just take it a little farther than you would if you were worried about later volume.
So here’s what I’m saying. The volume is not the most important thing in building muscle. The rep range per se is not the most important thing in building muscle. What’s important is that the individual set is X+1. Now, what does this really mean?
Do sets all day, yes, but make them X+1. Nobody wants to be the guy on the stationary bike scrolling his phone with one hand and doing partial curls with the little pink dumbbell in the other. If we imagine an intensity continuum for a set of push ups, then 1 would be the easiest (if you can do 1) and your absolute max would be the hardest. By absolute max, I mean that last rep is slow and you are barely making it and struggling and shaking and red in the face and your form has broken down. You cannot really do multiple sets throughout the day at this intensity. If that number is 38 for you, then sets of 20 would be tempting. I am saying make it sets of more than 20. X+1 means get to the point in the set where you START to break down, and then do 1 more. The rep slows by necessity, you shake a bit, it burns. But you could still do a few more if you had to. But don’t. This is X+1. Note that “X” is the undefined term here. “X” is where you feel that feeling like I’m about done here. Then do 1 more.
Here’s a pretty good example for Bulgarian Split Squats. Usually when I do these I quit after the 10th or so.
Here’s an example with back yard pull ups. Normally I would take this out to 12 reps or so here but the grip was such that 10 was enough. The point with X+1 is to go just past the point when you are ready to quit.