Exercises And Reps When Mass Building And Cutting
After the initial gains which come from beginning a weight training program, gains in muscle growth can begin to dry up resulting in many trainers periodising their training. Gaining muscle mass and reducing body fat very rarely go hand in hand for advanced trainers, with each goal requiring specific conditions for optimal results. Muscle building requires heavy and intense training, plenty of rest, and a calorie and carbohydrate dense diet to fuel workouts and growth. Reducing body fat whilst maintaining muscle mass requires resistance training and a diet with sufficient levels of protein and calories to maintain muscle, whilst a diet and cardiovascular program which promotes fat loss. Trying to find the holy grail hybrid formula to achieve both of these goals at once will likely result in less than optimal outcomes in either. Bodybuilders therefore tend to periodise their training and dietary intake, specifically focusing on one of these goals during the year, typically adding muscle mass (a.k.a “bulking”) during the winter months and then reducing body fat (a.k.a “cutting”) in the summer months.
The purpose of this blog entry is to clarify exercise and repetition choice during these typical bulking and cutting phrases. Many argue the point of implementing “mass building exercises” during the bulking period, typically referring to compound exercises which recruit multiple muscle groups during the execution of the movement. When it comes to the cutting phrase the exercise choice switches to “shaping or detailing exercises”, which refer to isolation exercises, such as the lateral raise, leg extension and dumbbell fly. These thoughts are shared amongst many gym goers, although the argument is totally flawed.
The concept of mass building and shaping exercises is one which is a puzzlement to me. Surely any exercise which results in muscle hypertrophy (growth) is a “mass builder”? The difference between the isolation and compound exercises is the number of additional muscle groups recruited during the lift, and therefore stimulated from the exercise. Compound exercises are great for overall muscle growth, with many muscles stressed from the movements. Similarly, isolation exercises can be great for targeting a specific muscle, by reducing additional muscle involvement, therefore increasing workload on the target muscle. This could work specifically well for a lagging muscle group, or during times when the body is less capable of handling the increased load of a compound exercise alternative.
Another puzzlement is the change of repetition ranges during the cutting and bulking phrases, with the aim of “bulking” or “shaping” a muscle. Isolation exercises with high repetitions (commonly 10-15) on a given set is said to bring about the “detailing and shaping” of the target muscle. Compound “mass building” exercises performed with low repetitions (5-8) is argued to bring about “mass gains”.
Whilst I do see merits in the implementation of such a training style, I do not agree with the conclusions made and the arguments for this style of training. Many bodybuilders will implement compound exercises and use lower repetitions during a bulking period, this is not uncommon. Compound exercises are great for stimulating a large number of exercises with a greater amount of load, with the trainer having a calorie rich diet to support this high intensity style of lifting. This makes sense. On the flip side, when a trainer reduces calorie intake, starts a cardiovascular program, the intensity of weight training sessions is likely going to drop. Performing high intensity compound exercises with maximum load is going to prove unproductive, and injurious at worse. This is where the isolation exercises can be implemented successfully, not with the aim of “detailing” or “shaping” a muscle, but instead to supply direct stimulus to maintain muscle mass whilst dieting. Weight training should remain as productive as possible to retain muscle, but not be of an intensity level which will have counterproductive results.
Maybe this is all a little anal, but I have heard this a few times and from what I can gather – the implementation of such training styles is valid, although the arguments made for their use is flawed. It is important to understand the reason why such training styles are implemented. If people start to believe a certain exercise within a certain repetition range can “detail” or “shape” a muscle, they may attempt to do this without the correct diet and program in place, proving totally wasteful.