Variable Training – Is It The Key To Maximal Growth?

We all want to maximize our training to grow bigger and stronger in the shortest amount of time possible. Get a competitive edge with these tips to maximize growth from variable training!

We all want to maximize our training to grow bigger and stronger in the shortest amount of time possible. But where does one "begin" in order to determine what is the "best" way to GAIN MAXIMAL GROWTH?

We suppose you can read countless training articles in all kinds of on-topic magazines which might lead you to exercise or train in countless, different ways. Hey, there are lots of ways to get into shape.

The truth is; as each of us is unique and encompass unique characteristics, each of our bodies will respond differently to various forms of training. Some athletes respond best to quicker movements and others will respond best to slower more controlled and deliberate movements.

You might perform better utilizing heavier weight and fewer repetitions. And most of us know someone who does better with lighter weight and higher reps. We all have highly variable factors - age, anthropomorphic, genetic make up, metabolic rate, predisposing health conditions, etc., as well as goals - in us that make us different and depending on our set of current factors over a given period of time this will determine our responses to any particular exercise or training plan.


Russian Fiber Typing

Inside the old "Iron Curtain," the Soviets would test athletes and children of athletes to determine their specific muscle fiber typing and neuromuscular efficiency.

This testing would help determine if any particular child would be placed in a brute strength, fine motor skill or high endurance sport. After such testing and typing, the prospective athlete would then be encouraged to train for a particular sport or group of sports, given their specific genetically defined and manifested capabilities.


Fiber Types

Quite a number of factors determine what kind of training you will be best suited to. Although there are only three (3) basic muscle fiber types, neuromuscular efficiency will play a large role in determining how many fibers can maximally be recruited and contracted under any given weight (this factor can vary with training) over time period "X".

Environmental conditions, such as nutritional status, the amount of rest you get, your personality type, stress, motivational forces (and many other "intangibles") will influence the balance of the rest of the equation. Do not sell these factors short! All have or may have very substantial influences on your final athletic abilities.

The Top Three:

    There are essentially three types of skeletal muscle fiber (see TABLE 1):

    1. Slow Twitch (Red)
    2. Fast Twitch (White)
    3. Intermediate Twitch (Grey)

    Slow twitch muscles are determined by the part of the muscle called the "Meromyosin chain." There are two types of meromyosin chains found in muscle tissue and they are known as heavy (HMM) and light chains (LMM).

    HMM and LMM activities both effect speed of contraction. Their particular ratios are variable depending on muscle fiber type and this ratio will determine how fast a muscle can contract. Therefore to maximally stimulate the most amounts of muscle fibers, it is advisable to, at some point, train using faster speeds and slower speeds.

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    Research is looking at ways to alter or shift the ratios with training, but a debate exists over the manifestation of such changes that may be derived from training or even just aging.

    Muscle fiber types are different with each form.

Table 1:

TYPE SPEED COLOR CHARACTER ATHLETE IS*
Type 1 Slow Red Lots of O2 use Endurance Athlete
Type 2 Fast White Poor use of O2 Strength Athlete
Type 2a Intermediate Grey Uses little O2 Mixed Athlete

      Different texts may refer to the fibers by different letters and numbers, but they all agree on the classification of the fiber types.
      * = Refers to predominate skeletal muscle type found in individual.

    It is possible to shift the Intermediate Fibers more towards the endurance aspect and also to shift them more to the aspect of power. The other fiber types are fairly rigidly set in their ways and there isn't much room to change them on any significant level. However, it is entirely possible for you to change the neurological stimulation/efficiency of the fibers with proper stimulus (training).

    Some people refer to this as "coordination changes" and to a degree they are just simply that (at least in part). Truth be told, it is quite possible to actually reset the nerve ending stimulation to a particular set of muscle fibers (motor units). This ability to change the actual contraction of large groups of muscle fibers is on the cutting edge of exercise physiology today!

    Thus, "variation training" offers a very pragmatic mechanism to recruit muscle fibers on a maximal scale, but offers little help with true competition speed training. It is critical to remember always that training at extremely fast levels offers little to no stimulation to muscle growth.

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Maximizing Growth Through Exercise Variable Training

The crucial mechanical variables to resistance training are:

  1. Speed of Movement
  2. Distance of movement (partials)
  3. Amount of weight moved
  4. Number of repetitions performed
  5. Time between sets
  6. Force of contraction while performing the lift
  7. The actual "physics" of various exercises
  8. Environmental Factors


1. Speed Of Movement:

    Slowing down any particular exercise will significantly change the way that specific exercise stimulates your muscle fibers, blood supply, nerve recruitment, etc. You only need to look at how the football player who does powercleans trains verses that same exercise being done slowly by a Pilates trainer.

    partners
    Click Image To Enlarge.
    The Speed Of Your Exercise Movements
    Will Significantly Change The Stimulation.

    Frankly, a college wrestler or mixed martial artist or "no holds barred" fighter may actually have to perform this exercise in the manner of both the Pilates practitioner and the football player to optimize the level of sport specific training that is necessary.

    Bodybuilders who have to stimulate several forms of muscle tissue will also usually require both. Think about it, you build more connective tissue by doing the explosive movements, but slower, more deliberate movements are easier to control mentally and more "in tune" with the actually dynamics of flexing for the posedown on stage.

RELATED POLL
What Rep Speed Do You Prefer?

Fast.
Normal.
Slow.
No Preference.


2. Distance Of Movement:

    In the squat, for example, you can bring the femur to parallel and work the hamstrings, while going below parallel will recruit the quadriceps to a maximal degree.

    Try it, stand up and stand with your toes pointed away from the direction you are facing about 45 degrees, now (make sure you are warmed up and sufficiently stretched out of course) then squat down and have your gluteus touch your heels about 25 times. Feel that burning sensation in your quadriceps? Welcome to Olympic-style weight lifting!

    Using partial movements, limiting range of motion, allows for the use of more weight and also can protect joints from injury that can be associated with full range of motion exercises. To read more specifically on this topic read the article that is available in Muscle and Fitness and also on BB.com.

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    The largest and most critical considerations of why a bodybuilder should use partial movements are:

    • Increased muscle fiber recruitment and stimulation
    • Increased coordination of neurological participants
    • Increased collateral blood supply
    • Increased stability from ligamentous structures
    • Increased strength from tendon supply
    • Increased stability of muscle connective tissue (less likely to tear a muscle)
    • Increased hypertrophy/hyperplasia
    • And most importantly - INTENSITY

    Using partial movements allows you to use more weight, which in turn promotes more weight used in the full range of movement and the possibility of more repetitions which equals more total work done.

    Simply put, increased intensity (work done) results in increased stimulation; hence increased growth.

    We agree with what bodybuilding and training legend Charles Glass likes to say, "What did you do to get that big in the first place? You lifted intense, heavy and did a lot of sets and reps; that is what got you big."

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    Let us give you two final examples to try to prove this point. Look at the infamous 21's where you do seven repetitions of the bicep barbell curl for a partial movement from 180 - 90 degrees, then 90 - 0 degrees for the next seven repetitions and finally end with full range of motion 180-0 for the final seven repetitions. This type of exercise is known for helping people blow through plateaus.


Click To Enlarge.
21's.
Video First 7 Reps: MPEG (297 KB) Windows Media (88 KB)
Next 7 Reps: MPEG (247 KB) Windows Media (78 KB)
Last 7 Reps: MPEG (1.1 MB) Windows Media (277 KB)

    Another example of partial movements is something known as "the lat shrug," where you are holding the pull down bar and not bending the elbows, but only shrug the weight down for ten reps, then complete the movement with full reps for another ten reps. OUCH AGAIN. Most athletes never learn to shrug their shoulders while they work their back and hence why they have no back development.

Lat Shrug Lat Shrug
Click Image To Enlarge.
Lat Shrug.
Video: Windows Media - MPEG - iPod Video


3. Amount Of Weight:

Brothers Of Iron

    Progressive Weider resistance theory is legendary. Joe Weider published it first, so we're giving him credit. In his new book Brothers Of Iron he talks about the whole concept and where it came from. It is the cornerstone of weightlifting and bodybuilding.

    Choosing any particular weight is dependent on several factors, but to gear it towards bodybuilding is more difficult than many other athletic endeavors.

    You must select a weight that allows you to flex while you are lifting and have enough weight that simply makes you "feel" the movement.

    Varying the amount of weight and reps is a key to stimulating your particular muscle fiber type. See this article to help you to understand that concept.

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4. Number Of Repetitions:

    Using really high number of repetitions per set stimulates red muscle fiber and lower repetitions per set stimulates white muscle fiber. Using a Weider pyramid system of 20-12-6-12-20, usually is best for bodybuilding as it usually recruits the most muscle fibers overall. Again, we have to give Joe credit for his publication of this theory (which is pretty much not theory, it is now fact) first.

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5. Time Between Sets:

    Interval training at its best - describe what it is!!! While I was a student at Ohio State University, Edward L. Fox, PhD and Donald Mathews, PhD (the inventors of interval training) were my professors. Dr. Fox often talked at length before his untimely death, about training intensity and the amount of rest time required to achieve maximal intensity in the next set.

    For most exercises he showed this is best achieved at 30-60 seconds between sets, depending on intensity and your age and general conditioning. Louie Simmons is one of the best known trainers of powerlifters in the world.

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    Professional athletes and strength coaches from all over the world come to Columbus, Ohio's "WestSide Barbell" to learn how to train properly from Louie. Most visitors are surprised to see the elite powerlifters in the world jumping under the bar to maintain the speed between sets.

    Louie has published his thoughts and feelings about this subject many times. Louie's idea is to train more intensely in a shorter period of time to maximize recovery time between workouts (www.westside-barbell.com).

    The Arnold "Pump and Run" during the Arnold Classic Weekend is one of the most exciting and "status" events. Athletes are challenged to bench press their body weight up to 30 repetitions and then run a five kilometer course at the maximal speed possible.

    Training for this event is extremely rigorous and brings out some amazing athletes. A key to accomplishing this event is to train by benching your body weight for three sets of ten and gradually reducing the amount of time between sets until no time exist as rest between sets. The running is done nearly the same.

    Begin with 800 meters and rest long enough to obtain maximal speed between runs then slowly reduce the time until no time between exists and you can eventually run the entire distance with "sets of 800 and no rest." Amby Burfoot, Editor of Runner's World and author of The Complete Book of Running, often suggest this same concept for successfully running marathons.


6. Contracting While Lifting:

    This is the key critical to bodybuilders. Learning to flex while lifting stimulates much more muscle fiber and allows for growth.

Contract
Click Image To Enlarge.
Contract While Lifting.


7. Various Exercises:

    This is also critically important to bodybuilders. The use of various exercises will stimulate various parts of your body obviously. Variations on any given particular exercise will dramatically change the way you feel during that exercise. Great trainers such as Charles Glass, Kim Oddo and Mike Davies use these principles to successfully train the best of the best.

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    Try this - the next time you do triceps push-downs in the gym, roll your wrist under as you finish the exercise. This maximizes the intensity on the top head of the outside triceps and we guarantee you will notice the difference.

pushdown pushdown pushdown
Click Image To Enlarge.
Triceps Pushdown With Wrist Roll.
Video: Windows Media - MPEG - iPod Video

    Try a set of squats that are moderate weight with about three sets of ten. Then superset them with a set of no weight, free standing "high" jumps for twenty reps. This shows how you can mix exercises that stimulate 100% of your muscle fiber. You will be left gasping for air and in pain.


8. Environmental Factors:

    More than most people are aware of; training is affected by what is around you. Consider training with your favorite inspirational music or on a sunny day or better yet along side with Ronnie Coleman as your training partner.

    Consider:

    • Temperature
    • The condition of the gym
    • Is the gym clean?
    • Who you train with?
    • Time of day that you train
    • How do you feel (mentally and physically) prior to training?
    • Humidity
    • Lighting in the gym

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    This list can go on and on, but all these factors really do affect your training and can greatly influence what level of intensity you can deal with.

    Most bodybuilders, fitness and figure athletes have weak points in their physiques that need more attention. Those deficiencies can be linked to genetics, old injuries or birth trauma. Chiropractic manipulation and physical therapy deals with these imbalances all the time. The rest is up to you and variable training is the key to maximal growth and making the first call outs.