What is the difference between muscle building workout routines for gaining overall size and cutting workouts for fat loss? How many overall sets and reps should I be using?
Although developing a workout routine may seem like a pretty straightforward process, there are subtle things to consider that can actually make or break the success of your workouts. First off, you will have to determine what goal you are trying to achieve. Are you looking to build muscle mass or are you looking to shed fat and achieve a lean, “cut” look to your muscles? Depending upon which route you want to go, you will need to tailor your workouts accordingly, because there are quite a few differences in each approach to be aware of.
If you are looking to build muscle mass and pack on size, the key thing for you to remember is resistance, and lots of it. The process of building muscle mass is literally a process that involves breaking down your muscle fibers by way of heavy lifting, and then allowing your muscles to repair themselves to become bigger and stronger. When you lift heavy weights, your muscle fibers actually experience tiny tears due to the fact that you are straining them beyond their normal capacity. Once your workout is finished, your body immediately goes into a “recovery mode” to repair the tears, and when your muscles fully recover (a process that typically takes between 24 and 48 hours depending on body type), they become that much stronger for the next workout. When this is practiced enough times, your muscles will eventually grow to compensate for the increased demand being placed on them through working out with heavy weights.
As for the amount of repetitions you’ll need to perform for muscle building workouts, keep the reps low and the weight as heavy as possible. Perform no more than 6 to 8 reps per set, with at least a 2 minutes of rest between sets. It is recommended that you complete no more than 3 or 4 sets per exercise due to the strain these exercises will place on your muscles. Some bodybuilding experts also suggest a “pyramid” approach, where you start off with 10 reps of a lighter weight, then 8 reps of a heavier weight, and then 6 reps of a very challenging weight. This eases the body into getting used to lifting heavier weights on a gradual basis and warms up your muscles thoroughly before using very heavier weights for your last few sets. Others recommend an even more challenging form of training where you keep the weight constant (make it heavy), but gradually increase the number of reps with each set, if possible. This is a very demanding approach, so make sure you have some regular workouts under your belt first before trying this one.
As for workout routines that focus on cutting and defining muscle, the emphasis needs to be on lighter weights with higher reps. Keep your reps in the 12 to 15 range, keeping the weight light enough to ensure full mobility with great form, but challenging enough for you to feel the “burn” when you’re performing the movements. Do 3-4 sets for each particular exercise and mix in a few different movements in order to hit the muscle from different angles.
Try to keep your workouts to a maximum of 45 minutes per session. Your overall sets will be different per muscle group. For larger muscles like your legs and back, you will focus on a higher total number of sets versus smaller muscle groups like your biceps and triceps.
Each person is different, so you should adjust your workouts depending on how you feel and how intensely you train. There are lots of people who train using a HIT style (super high intensity) for their workouts, so the total number of sets will be quite low since the training is so intense. Then, on a cutting or shaping routine, they do a higher amount of reps (15-18) and include several more sets due to the intensity level being lowered since they are using lighter weights. They basically gauge their training for their intensity levels. Give it a shot and see if it helps.
One of most important (and often overlooked) factors in cutting and defining muscle is actually your diet. If your daily diet consists of junk food, high sugar foods, or highly processed foods, you are undermining your progress. Many people feel as if they can basically eat whatever they want as long as they’re working out, and they won’t gain any body fat. To be clear, fat is still fat, whether you’re working out or not. Doughnuts don’t magically turn into carrots just because you workout in the gym a few times per week. The “trick” (if it can be called a trick) to achieving muscle definition is eliminating the fat that surrounds the muscles which automatically brings out their natural definition since they can finally show through. So while working out with lighter weight and higher reps for cutting, be mindful of the total number of calories you’re eating every day and make sure to eat plenty of lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to maximize the nutritional side of your fitness lifestyle. Your body will thank you for it!