I now know that was a mistake. An eight-week Australian study that found that doing one of four sets of bench presses to failure produced double the strength gains compared to lifters who didn't take any of their sets to failure. But in a follow-up study, the researchers found that doing more than one set to failure on the bench offered no additional strength gains.
Carbohydrates play an important role for bodybuilders. They give the body energy to deal with the rigors of training and recovery. Carbohydrates also promote secretion of insulin, a hormone enabling cells to get the glucose they need. Insulin also carries amino acids into cells and promotes protein synthesis. Insulin has steroid-like effects in terms of muscle gains. It is impossible to promote protein synthesis without the existence of insulin, which means that without ingesting carbohydrates or protein—which also induces the release of insulin—it is impossible to add muscle mass. Bodybuilders seek out low-glycemic polysaccharides and other slowly digesting carbohydrates, which release energy in a more stable fashion than high-glycemic sugars and starches. This is important as high-glycemic carbohydrates cause a sharp insulin response, which places the body in a state where it is likely to store additional food energy as fat. However, bodybuilders frequently do ingest some quickly digesting sugars (often in form of pure dextrose or maltodextrin) just before, during, and/or just after a workout. This may help to replenish glycogen stored within the muscle, and to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
Setup: In case the name of this one throws you off a bit, be warned that this exercise is definitely not for sissies—and you might be sore for a few days after you’ve done it. First, hang on to something fixed, like a squat rack, to keep steady during the exercise. Stand on the balls of your feet with your feet positioned slightly wider than shoulder width apart. If you have trouble keeping your balance, put a couple of five-pound plates under your heels. Keep your upper legs and torso in a straight line, from your shoulders to your knees.
Whatever approach you take, try to do even the littlest bit more than you did last workout. It won’t be possible every day, but over time, these small increases will add up. And don’t become discouraged if gains come slower as you get older; around age 30, you’re paddling against a slow tide of gradual muscle loss that makes gaining strength and muscle tougher than when you were younger.
Train to muscular fatigue. Many people approach an exercise with a preconceived notion of the exact number of repetitions they will do for each set. (Ten seems to be a popular choice.) These misguided souls are training inefficiently and will never reach their full potential. When performing an exercise, your goal is not a certain number of repetitions. Do not start your set saying, "I'm going to do X number of reps." Depending on the muscle group and your particular athletic objectives, you will probably want to stay within a certain range of repetitions. However, your goal is to fatigue the muscle by performing each exercise (with good form) until you no longer can.