How Hard Should You Train to Build Muscle – 5 Experts Give Their Answer

Should you train to failure, high rep range, complete exertion? Find out.

How hard should you train to build muscle? Even if subconsciously, that is perhaps the most important question you should make yourself if you want to get stronger. Luckily, we can rely on experts’ advice thanks to Jeff Nippard.

Jeff Nippard is a natural professional bodybuilder and fitness coach who shares tips and training programs on his YouTube channel. In the following video, Nippard posed the question of how hard should you train to build muscle to 5 experts in the fitness industry and these were their answers.

As expected, there is some differing opinion among the people Nippard interviewed.

How Hard Should You Train to Build Muscle

Before you begin to understand how hard should you train to build muscle, there are two concepts that you must know:

  • RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion) – how hard a set was on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being maximum effort)
  • RIR (Reps in Reserve) – the inverse of RPE, so a 0 RIR score means you did maximum effort cause there were no reps in reserve.
Source: Tristan Le on Pexels

Dr Mike Israetel – Renaissance Periodization

”You have to train hard enough to make gains, but not so hard that your next workout suffers and it becomes a situation where your next workout is unable to make you gains because you went too hard.”

It ultimately depends on where you are in your training phase. If you are at the beginning of a 4-week training cycle, you should train less hard with lower volumes. At the end of the cycle, train harder and with more volume.

  • Begin with 3 RIR and increase load and/or reps every week to decrease your RIRs.

John Meadows – Professional Bodybuilder

For John Meadows, similarly to Israetel, if you are a beginner you don’t need to do sets to failure or a huge amount of volume, but rather learn the proper technique of exercises and you will get stronger naturally.

”You get to this advanced stage, now all of a sudden you got to challenge your body more. Some of those techniques that we like to use. An occasional cluster set, occasional drop set, maybe you start putting one of those in a workout.”

“As long as you get good activation, good mechanical tension and exhausting muscle fibres. If you are doing those three things, what else are you going to do to make your muscle grow?”

In the end, you need to use exercises you enjoy, that work for you to get a pump, and push it hard.

Stefi Cohen – Powerlifter and 25x World Record Holder

For Stefi Cohen, you need to work obsessively if you want to see continuous muscle growth. “You don’t achieve greatness from casual effort.”

”Training to failure is an integral part of strength training that, for the most part and most recently, has been underlooked. You should be challenging yourself almost every training session so that you can train your nervous system and your body to respond to the demands of putting something that’s really heavy and having to move it up and down.”

However, she understands that there are phases in a person’s training routine. “It wouldn’t be fair to just discard the idea of high volume and low intensity. I think there is a time and place for that, but once you’re gone through your 4, 6, or 8 weeks of introductory period of accumulating some load and fine-tuning your movement, once that’s done, it’s go time.”

She concludes that if your goal is to train for health, disregard what she said above, but if you want to build muscle and get stronger, you need to test your limits.

Read More: Top Training Programs to Gain Size and Mass

Dr Eric Helms

How hard should you train to build muscle? Dr Eric Helms did a PhD dissertation on this exact topic.

”If you are not registering an RPE of six or higher most of the time, you’re probably not growing very effectively. It has to be reasonably close to failure.”

Overall, he says that the body needs to feel that tension of being close to exertion. “That can be pushing a low load set reasonably close to failure or that can be putting 80 per cent on a bar and doing triples.”

Greg Nuckols

The question of how hard should you train to build muscle was lastly posed to research reviewer Greg Nuckols. Utilising scientific data, he tried to summarise everything. According to him, it depends on the lifter, the exercise and what you are trying to accomplish.

You could divide into two categories on how hard should you train to build muscle:

  • How hard to push each set
  • How hard to push each session (total volume)

”For pure hypertrophy training, your best bet is generally to be pretty close to failure [for each set]. Generally, stay within 2 or so reps of failure.”

For deadlifts or squats, where form breakdown can cause issues, terminating a set at a point of technical breaking is advised. For lifts like rows where you can get more reps when allowing the use of momentum, you can get terminate the set when “you are no longer feeling the movement in the muscles you’re specifically trying to target.”

For how hard you should push on a training session, a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself how you feel when you are leaving the gym. “Be fatigued, but not completely exhausted from those workouts,” Nuckols explains.

worst exercises

Your muscles should also be completely recovered within about 3 days after a training session. “If your muscles feel totally fresh one or two days after a training session, you probably should have done more volume unless you’re intentionally trying to train with very high frequencies. If your muscles feel sore 4 days after training, that generally indicates that volume was a little bit too high. ”

So, how hard should you train to build muscle? You can take into perspective what these 5 experts in the fitness industry say. If you want to know more in-depth about what each of them said, check out the video below.

VIDEO – How Hard Should You Train to Build Muscle

Read More: How to Make Muscle Gains as a Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced Lifter

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