Harmonize Fitness
Harmonize Fitness



Training variables to achieve your fitness goals

09 Training variables

In the last posts we´ve been talking about bodyweight, compound and isolation exercises and I´ve mentioned some variables you´ll need to adjust on your workouts according to your goals so it´s time to start looking to those variables.

In the future posts you´ll learn how to put together the 3 types of exercises to create workout programs according to your goals that give you the best results.

I´ve mentioned in other posts and social media that training can be simple but it can also get very complex and the reason is simple if your goal is just to get in shape and sustain it you only need to know and understand the basics but if you want to learn more and be able to create your own workouts for different goals then you need to know about types of exercises, training variables, advance training techniques, types of hypertrophy and this is when things get more complicated.

I´ve you´ve been following me for a while you know that I like to keep things simple and there´s no exception, we´re going to start looking at more complex information but I´ll keep it as simple as possible so that you can understand it and use it. Even when it´s a lot of information you´ll see that it´s not that complicated and you don´t need to learn it all in one day, you can come back as much as you want to re-read the posts.

The training variables I´ve been referring are: rep ranges, frequency, volume, periodization, progressive overload, intensity, variation and recovery. I´ll write a post for each variable so that we can go deeper.

Each variable is highly important and you need to consider each when creating any workout program according to your goals. It´s not the same to gain lean muscle than to lose fat or just maintain your weight, the basics for all goals can be the same but you need to adjust each variable which are the ones that are going to make your workouts look different.

All fitness programs use all or some of this variables, the more variables you use the more complex things can get until you understand all of them and get some experience but the most effective your workouts will be.

Have you ever asked yourself why can´t I do the same workout every day? Or why some programs change routines every week while others change them every month? why in some programs we have more rest days than in others? why some programs last 1 month while others last 3 months? The answers to all this questions is that it depend of the goal and from there the fitness trainers who create the programs adjust the variables needed to give you some results.

In most cases you won´t see fitness trainers, fitness experts or gurus in the gym talking about all this variables, some of them may use  them without knowing, others may know the basics but none of them will explain you the reason why they took one variable and manipulate it a certain way.

With the next posts you´ll be able to know how to adjust each variable, in what rep range do you need to work for better results, how much volume and frequency is needed, how to use periodization in a way that is simple for you to apply it, how to use progressive overload if you´re working at home with limited equipment, how to measure results and much more.

If you are new to training you may be overwhelmed with all the information to come but it may be all you need, if you are more advanced or want to take your training to a higher level you may want to learn about advance techniques and how to use which we´re going to see after we finish training variables.

The whole idea is to give you all the information you need so that you can create your own workout programs and achieve any fitness goal.

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How isolation exercises compliment your workouts

08 Isolation

For the last years this type of exercises have become the go for many in the gym and even when I can´t agree with this the reason is simple, “the pump”. To look bigger faster which is not what I´m looking for.

I consider isolation exercises a great tool if you know how to use them to get the best results, for resistance training it´s a complex balance between the 3 types of exercises, variables of training (which we´re going to talk about in the next posts), and training techniques (we´re also going to talk about them in separate posts).

Isolation exercises are single-joint movements and they work one muscle at a time so you can´t lift heavy weight with this exercises. They may not be the best option to gain strength but they have their space on some workouts.

If your goal is to lose fat and get lean you can create a great workout program with just bodyweight and compound movements but if your goal is to gain muscle you can add some isolation exercises to hit weaker muscles.

While for compound movements you can lift heavy weight and work on myofibryllar hypertrophy, strength and power, with isolation movements you can´t lift heavy. You´ll be using a weight you can lift for around 12 to 15 reps, you can go a bit heavier and hit the 10 to 12 reps. In both rep ranges you´ll be working on a sarcoplasmic hypertrophy range (if you want to learn more about types of hypertrophy click here).

If you feel like a muscle group needs more work then you can use isolation exercises to give that muscle the extra work they´re missing.

There are so many isolation exercises and variations for every muscle group that it can get overwhelming, to keep it simple if you can stick with some few exercises for 2 or 3 months so that you can see your progress do it, especially if you are starting your fitness journey. You need to get familiar with the movements using lighter weight before you can add more weight and that process takes time.

When you focus on bodyweight and compound movements you may feel like some muscles are weaker or lagging and you want to work them more, for this you use isolation movements to hit those muscle specifically. 1 or 2 exercises for the weaker muscles is all you need, there´s no reason to do a lot more, if you feel like you still need more you can use some of the variables we´ll be talking about on future post or what I call advance techniques like rest pause, failure training or dropsets.

When your goal is gaining muscle you may be looking to gain muscle mass on one specific muscle so the way to do this is by adding more volume which you can do by combining bodyweight, compound and isolation exercises, you can use bodyweight and compound for heavy weight low reps and you can add 1 or 2 isolation exercises with lower weight and high reps, this way you can hit that muscle with both types of hypertrophy and more volume.

For anyone new to working out the best option is to focus on bodyweight and compound movements, start with lighter weight until you get comfortable with the exercises and start increasing weight, you can get in really good shape and build a great physique with those 2 types of movements, to lose fat faster add some cardio.

After a few months you can start to add some isolation exercises to your workouts to add more volume and variation. As you get more train you need to keep changing things constantly and isolation movements give you a lot more options.

Sticking with compound movements even when there are some variations for each exercise you may get stuck at some point, bodyweight exercises also have a lot of variations which keep your workouts challenging and fun but isolation movements have a lot more options considering that you can use them with almost all advance techniques.

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Why compound exercises must be the base of your programs


Last week I was talking with a friend who loves to train about the workouts and routines that we can see more frequently on gyms, we agreed that compound exercises are not getting the same attention as some years ago while isolation exercises are the way to go for most people which makes the routines long and more complex.

If your goal is to gain dense muscle mass and get stronger the answer is compound exercises. They will help you gain size and strength while keeping your workouts simple. If your goal is fat loss stick with compound movements, you can use bodyweight which can also be considered compound.

Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that work several muscles at the same which gives you the opportunity to lift more weight. The more weight you can lift, the stronger you get and you gain more muscle (considering that your nutrition program is right). This type of exercises have a lot of benefits including lowering the risk of injuries (considering that you don´t let your ego get in the way), you can do more in less time and you keep things simple.

Performing compound movements with free weights (barbells or dumbbells) is the best option even when you can´t lift the same amount of weight compared to gym machines or other equipment.

My approach to training is old school, sticking with a few basic exercises with high weight and low reps and adjusting some variables according to the goal you´re working on. Since compound exercises are multi-joint movements you can lift more weight so they are the perfect option to lift more weight in a low rep range.

Compound movements also require balance and coordination so as you keep increasing the weight your performance will increase.

With compound movements you can lift heavy weight for 5 to 8 reps for hypertrophy to build dense muscle, you can go heavier in weight and lower in reps around 1 to 3 reps for strength and power. You can also lift lighter weight for 12 to 15 reps or even more.

When you are using compound movements it is simple and effective but it doesn´t means it´s easy. And since we´re working on low reps and high weight things get harder meaning maximum muscle recruitment and high nervous-system activation this is the right stimulus for muscle growth and strength. Here you need to consider recovery which is as important as your workouts the central nervous system needs more time to recover so you can´t train the same muscle group 2 days continually.

You don´t need to do a lot of different exercises for each muscle group, keep what works and eliminate what doesn´t work. If you focus on key movements you can build a great physique that is also useful, there´s no reason to look great if you can´t perform great. Our goal is to improve body composition and build a physique you are proud of and also that is useful for daily activities at your home or your job.

Compound movements along with bodyweight exercises are the best option for any fitness goal to keep your strength and make sure that you doesn´t lose muscle. You can use both for heavy weight and low reps, which is what I prefer or you can use them for low weight and high reps to work more your endurance. Going high in reps can also help you gain muscle and burn fat it´s not the same type of hypertrophy (muscle growth) but it´s a way to add variety to your workouts.

With any workout it doesn´t matter if it´s cardio or resistance the goal is to improve, every time you workout you need to make some improvement, some days it may be increasing weight, others it may be doing more reps with the same weight or if you are losing fat the goal must be to keep the same weight for the same reps. When you are in a calorie deficit it may be harder to train as hard as when you are on maintenance or building muscle.

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Why bodyweight exercises are a great tool


I still remember one of the reasons why I wanted to lose weight and get in shape, one day I found out some videos on YouTube about calisthenics and all the guys looked amazing, lean and in really good shape, I finished watching the video and I stood up and tried to do some pushups, for my surprise I couldn´t do any… not even one. I felt so weak and angry and realized how could that happened if some years ago I could do 50 pushups?

I practiced Karate for about 11 years since I was 5 until I was 16 and I was able to do 50 pushups, squats, dips and bodyweight rows. Remembering this got me really angry, I wanted to be able to do that same amount of reps on each exercise and increase weight with weighted vest to go low rep.

You don´t need a gym or a lot of equipment to get lean and in really good shape, you may only need comfortable clothes and a pair of sneakers. Your body can is a great tool for an amazing workout.

Whether your goal is to get in shape, lose weight, improve body composition, gain muscle or maintain a lean physique you can achieve any of them with bodyweight exercises. What I like about them is that you keep everything simple and you can train almost anywhere.

Bodyweight exercises have so many benefits and they can reduce injuries when working out, with any bodyweight exercise you are moving your body through space and it requires more strength and balance but since they are compound movements or multi-joint exercises you are working several muscles at the same time and the range of motion is more natural which reduce stress on the joint and avoid injuries.

My approach to training is to keep reps low and weight high and get stronger to build dense muscle, even when most guys that use bodyweight exercises go very high in reps some of them around 50 or even 100 reps you can keep weight high and reps low by increasing difficulty of each exercise.

The way to build muscle and get stronger is progressive overload, you need to increase the weight or reps every time you workout the same muscle, you can do this with weights at the gym or with bodyweight, your body doesn´t care if you are paying a gym membership and using machines or if you are training at your home, so the way to do this is by increasing the resistance by making the exercises harder, once you get to the hardest version of each exercise you can use a weighted vest.

At the beginning you may not be able to do normal pushups so you start with a simple version like your knees on the ground for 5 reps until you can do 10 reps of pushups with your knees on the ground you start with the next level which is your feet on the ground. You keep advancing on levels until you can do one-arm pushups and one-arm pushups with feet elevated.

You need to apply this progressive overload for each exercise, from knee pushups to one-arm feet raised pushups, from squats to pistol squats, from bodyweight row to one-arm pull ups, from lying down leg raises to hanging leg raises.

When you start training with your own body and as you start leaning down you´ll see that it´s easier to perform the movements. The more weight you lose the less weight you have to move through space so it gets easier, as the exercises or the variation of the exercise that you are doing gets easier you need to do more difficult variations.

The physique you get with this type of exercises is great and it keeps you motivated to stay lean, many guys and girls fall in love with body weight training also known as calisthenics because as you advance on the variations of each exercise it gets more fun.

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Why resistance training is really important

05 Resistance

I´ve watched so many different workout programs, from the ones you can buy on the internet and you get the DVDs so you can do them at home to some classes on different gyms and the way they do resistance training is using circuits (a technique I´m going to explain in other post), and I don´t like that I don´t consider it as the best option to get in shape and sustain it.

The goal of resistance training it to improve muscular strength, to get stronger and make your muscles work. If you want to build a good looking physique you need to get stronger, if you want to lose fat the right way you need to do resistance training so that you get lean and look great otherwise you´ll end up being skinny.

Resistance training is key for improving body composition. If you´ve been following me you know that I´ll about improving body composition meaning less body and more muscle mass. The way to gain muscle mass or maintain it is through resistance training.

Do you remember some posts ago when we talked about cardio training? We said that all physical activity sends a signal to your body, cardio makes your body more efficient using calories so if you do the same cardio activity for the same period of time at the same intensity your body adapts so it´ll use less energy every time you do it. This slows down your metabolism so you need to do more exercise and you need to eat less, this is why it is so hard to sustain your weight loss results from traditional weight loss programs.

With resistance training the signal you are giving to your body is to get stronger, when you are doing resistance training you are giving a stimulus to the muscles and that stimulus let your body knows that it needs those muscles so it needs to get stronger and grow to be able to make it through the next workout. This increases your metabolism because your muscles need more energy. If you want to get in great shape and sustain it without too much effort this is the way to go, focus on resistance training.

Making this type of training the base of your programs does not means that you will get huge, it only means that you´ll get stronger and your body will look toned and firm. Of course you can bulk and huge if that´s your goal although I don´t recommend it, improving body composition means getting to a weight that is healthy for you based on body fat and muscle, if you get to big it doesn´t matter if it´s body fat or muscle your it´s unhealthy, your heart and lungs have to work a lot more and it puts your health at risk.

Resistance training can get very complex because there are so many variables that come into play and that need to be adjust according to your goal, but I´ll try to keep it as simple as possible.

Resistance training means that you are moving your body against some resistance or force which can be your own body weight, free weights, gym equipment, machines, even rocks or tires. The best options are your own bodyweight and free weights (barbells and dumbbbells). There are different types of exercises or movements which are bodyweight, compound and isolation (I´ll write a post for each of them); and there are also variables like rep ranges, rest pause, failure, drop sets and more (I´ll also write a post for each of them).

Whether you want to gain muscle mass or just to get in shape you need to get stronger on some exercises and you need to follow an strategy called “progressive overload” which is a way to measure your progress. You need to choose the right exercises, choose the proper weight according to your rep ranges and sets, create a workout plan that gives your muscles around 48 hours before you train them again and you also need to focus on good form.

Most of the injuries I´ve seen in the gym is because of ego, people try to lift more weight that they can, they lack good form and they get injured. We most avoid injuries at all cost, you want to get in shape and look good there´s no reason to want to guys around you, every time you workout is about being better than the last time so don´t compare yourself to anyone.

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What you need to know about steady state cardio

00 Training intro

Some of my neighbors around 3 or 4 like to go for a run in the park specially on weekends because that´s when they have more time and the few times I´ve went to the park I saw some people walking, jogging, running or biking which is amazing considering that we spend most of our time sitting in a chair at the office, in our car or in the couch watching TV.

The year I went to the gym and what I can see now when I take a look from the outside at what most people is doing at the gym is steady state cardio which refers to traditional long sessions of low to moderate intensity at an steady pace.

On this type of cardio you are doing from 20 to 60 minutes of exercise at a low to moderate intensity keeping the same pace all the time, this is what people do on the park and the gym. I got to say that this is my favorite cardio tool, I do 30 minutes of steady state cardio every day, jump rope is my favorite.

Steady state cardio is the favorite type of cardiovascular exercise of many experts on the industry, you can see nowadays most people in the gym doing this type of workouts on treadmills, rowing machines, elliptical, stairs or stationary bicycles. You´ll hear many people there on the gym agreeing that it´s boring but it´s a most if you want to lose fat and get shredded. This idea comes from “the fat-burning zone” there are some studies that show that our body uses more fat when we´re performing exercise at a moderate intensity for a long period of time, but some other studies show that this type of exercise can be counterproductive on long term for muscle growth.

What I like about this type of cardio is that is low impact so everyone can do it and contrary to what many people say that you need at least 45 minutes to get the benefits with 20 minutes is enough.

After some time doing cardio your body adapts to the same amount of exercise, time and intensity and it becomes easier. You need to increase time, or intensity to keep it challenging.

The best benefit of this type of cardio is increasing cardiovascular endurance which can help you enjoy life a lot more, you´ll see results in your day to day, if you get involved in activities like hiking, cycling or any other outdoor activities with friends or family you´ll feel a lot better. Improve cardiovascular health is also an important benefit you get from steady state cardio. Here you´ll only burn calories while you´re performing the activity, once the activity is over you´ll stop burning calories.

This type of cardio can cause muscle loss if you over do it and if you are on a caloric deficit and you´re not doing some type of resistance training. If you´re trying to gain muscle mass and you over do this type of cardio it will be harder to gain muscle. You need to keep your nutrition in check to make sure that you are giving your body enough food to grow.

For a steady state cardio workout choose one activity, it can be running, swimming, rowing, jump rope and perform the activity you chose at a moderate pace that is challenging for you for 20 minutes.

I recommend this type of cardio workouts if you´re starting your fitness journey as a way to develop the habit of working out, getting some kind of activity and giving time for your body to improve cardiovascular health and get in better shape. Once you get used to and feel comfortable you can try HIIT if you want to take to the next level or you can stay with this tool by changing  exercises, increasing time or intensity.

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What is HIIT training?


You may have heard of high intensity interval training (HIIT) it has become popular over the last years and so many people love this type of workouts but, is it right for you? Nowadays you can buy so many different weight loss programs on DVD and do them at home, most of them are based on HIIT and circuit training which are awesome training tools but this is also the reason why most people end hating exercise and are not able to sustain their results.

HIIT is an intense form of cardio where you work in intervals, from there the name and even when some guys are able to do the routines some of them get so anxious and angry because it´s hard. On the other hand you have the people who love it.

The reason why so many guys prefer this type of cardio apart from being shorter in time is because so many experts claim about being the answer to fat loss which is not necessary true. There are more things that come into play for any fitness goal like nutrition, sleep, stress and they all work together so if your diet is right, you are in a calorie deficit then yes high-intensity interval training will help you lose fat and it has more benefits.

Studies show that HIIT burns more fat than steady state cardio and there are studies that show that HIIT can also increase body mass so considering this studies then this type of cardio is the way to go right? The problem I see with HIIT is that it impacts the central nervous system and it takes at least 48 hours to recover and if you don´t consider this it can lead to over training.

So how does HIIT help you burn more calories than traditional steady state cardio? The answer is EPOC. Actually if we compare the calories burn on each type of exercise (HIIT and steady state) we´ll see that we burn more calories with steady than with HIIT, but the benefits of HIIT come after you are done with your workout. Once you´ve finished your HIIT session your body´s metabolism stays high burning more calories for some period of time, this is called excess-post- oxygen consumption. It´s the amount of oxygen your body needs to get back to normal.

One of the biggest problems with this type of cardio training is hunger, HIIT increases hunger so if you are fasting you´ll need to schedule your meals around your workouts or it´ll be harder to continue the fast or you´ll over eat in your meals. If your goal is fat loss you need to be in a caloric deficit and it may be hard for you to do this types of workouts, you may feel a lack of energy so it´s hard to give your all and push to your max and it may be harder for you to keep calories low so you may consider steady state cardio which can also help you burn fat.

 This type of training is based on intervals, you choose one exercise for example sprint and perform it for a short period of time, it may be from 20 seconds to 45 seconds and then you take a rest of 30 to 45 seconds and repeat those intervals 5 to 10 times. The time you are performing the exercise you need to make it as hard as possible, you need to give your all and then you recover to do it again.

I used 20 to 45 seconds of work and 30 to 45 seconds of rest, you can adjust this times according to you level and intensity of your workout, if you a really giving your all you may do the exercise for 20 or 30 seconds and take 45 or 60 seconds or more of rest to recover so that you can do it again.

Since you are giving your all for small periods of time this type of cardio takes less time to complete compared to steady cardio which we will see in the next post. In 10 or 20 minutes you are done with cardio so if you hate it this can be a great option.

You can choose 1 or more exercises to perform for this type of workout, sprints are the most common but jump rope or even burpees are great. Choose the one you like and perform the exercise for 30 seconds try to go as fast as you can, this workout is supposed to be intense so you need to put it all, then take 30 seconds rest. As I´ve said before you can adjust the time of the intervals.

If you are just starting you fitness lifestyle I don´t recommend you start with this type of training, if you are out of shape it will be so hard and you will hate it so steady state is the best option for some weeks or months then you can try HIIT.

I also don´t recommend you take this cardio as your only option, 2 or 3 days a week is all you need to get amazing results and avoid over training or burning out.

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Is cardio training that important?

02 Cardio training

A few years ago when I decided to lose weight and get in shape I went to a gym for about a year and I saw 2 different kinds of people, first there were the ones who were already fit and love to workout most of them guys who only wanted girls to look at them, they spent a lot more time lifting weights. Second the guys who were trying to lose weight some of them had more weight to lose than others but all of them were out of shape, here you can found both girls and guys all of them in the back corner of the gym hoping that no one seems them and no one makes fun of them, they spent most of their time in some cardio machine.

This haven´t change so much, people who want to lose weight spend more time doing cardio because that´s what they read on the internet or some magazine or someone told them. Even when cardio is important some guys tend to give it a lot  more importance than what it deserves and this can cause problems in the long run.

Let me tell you something first, cardio is not nessesary for fat los sor to get in shape. Yes, you read it right you do not need to do cardio to lose fat and there are so many people who don´t do cardio because according to them you won´t get any more benfetis so if you hate it you can skip it completely. Although I don´t agrre completely with them.

Cardiovascular training is important and has a lot of benefits for your health, of course it can help you lose fat, get in shape and stay in shape, but it also helps your body recover from resistance training, it is great for your heart and also for your brain, it improves mood, it also helps to improve insulin.

Cardio is a great tool to lose fat and stay lean but it´s not the best tool to use for any fitness goal, there are research that shows that one hour of cardio compared to one hour of resistance training burns more calories while you are doing it so, thinking about weight loss as calories in and calories out if you want to lose fat you do cardio which burns more calories right?

Not so fast, … with all types of exercise you send signals to your body and your body will respond accordingly to that signal. With cardio you are sending the message to your body to become more efficient at using calories.

Cardio is a great tool to stay in shape.

If you´ve been spending the last years without doing any exercise, the momento you start working out it will feel like hell, you´ll be so tired and you´ll burn a lot of calories but with time if you continue doing the same exercise, for the same amount of time at the same intensity it´ll become easier and easier and your body will burn less calories every time your do it. If cardio is the only exercise you do, you may start losing muscle and now that your body has adapt to that activity your metabolims slows down.

You don´t need to spend one hour doing cardio if your goa lis to get in shape, if your goa lis to run a maratón then yes you can spend one hour to build your endurance. You need to set a goal and design a plan that gets your on the right track.

Cardio is important if you want to get the health benefits it can give you, this is the reason why I do 20 minutes every day, you don´t need more just make those 20 minutes intense after you´re done with it you´ll start getting some of the benefits like improving mood and more energy throughout the day.

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What you need to know about muscle fibers and hypertrophy


It´s not new that every year trends come out and the one I´ve been hearing more for the last months at least here is hybrid training and the way people is talking about is related to rep ranges but they don´t really know or understand how this works.

What got m attention is that some of them talk about as something new (as always…) but it´s not new… there´s nothing new, almost all training techniques or tools have been used before people only make little adjustments and change the name, the same thing happens with diets.

To talk about muscle fibers there are 2 points that we need to understand; muscle fibers and hypertrophy.

We have two types of muscle fibers which are type 1 and type 2, both types of muscle fibers are highly important for muscle growth, knowing how this two types of fiber works and how you can hit them or target them is key to creating workout programs that will lead you to your goals.

Type 1 muscle fibers or slow twitch muscle fibers are target with light weights , high reps and short rest periods around the 12 to 15 reps.

Type 2 muscle fibers or fast twitch muscle fibers are target with heavy weights , low reps and long rest periods  around the 5 to 8 reps.

There are 2 types of hypertrophy which are  sarcoplasmic and myofibryllar. The 2 of them are related to the muscle fibers because depending of the rep range you are working is how you target each of them.

In sarcoplasmic hypertrophy the muscle increase in size because more fluid gets into the cell, you target slow twitch muscle fibers which are type 1, working around the 12 to 15 reps per set or more. If you want to get “the pump” this is where you need to focus on, this is also the most common rep range and the one you´ll see a lot more on gyms.

Since you are lifting light weights for high reps you can use the 3 types of exercises; bodyweight, compound and isolation (I´m writing a post for each).

This type of hypertrophy makes you a slave to the gym, you need to be training to hit the muscle otherwise you lose it. Is easier and faster to gain muscle and to look big with this one but if you take some time off the gym you lose that muscle.

In myofibryllar hypertrophy the muscle cell increase in number, you target fast twitch muscle fibers which are type 2, working around the 5 to 8 reps per set. If you want to build lean dense muscle this is where you need to focus on.

Since you are lifting heavy weights for low reps you can use bodyweight and compound exercises which are the ones you can lift heavy weight, with isolation you can´t lift heavy you can get injured.

This type of hypertrophy takes more time to build and to get big but it´s there to last,  you can take some time off the gym and it will take longer until you lose that muscle. What you need to consider is that here you are working your central nervous system and it takes more to recover.

Both types of fibers and hypertrophy have their benefits and hitting both of them gives you amazing results. You can use type 2 for compound movements and type 1 for isolation movements this way you focus on getting stronger and adding some more workout to weaker muscles.

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