You're finally motivated to build a body you can be proud of, and you're set for take-off. You picked a good gym, you're fired up and you've found a quick, basic workout. But if you're looking to ride the rocket to rock-hard results, there's another key element you should heed: rep speed.
Rep Speed Can Be The Difference Between No Gains And Off-The-Chart Gains.
How fast or slow you go during any given set can be the difference between no gains and off-the-chart leaps in size and strength. In fact, by using just two different rep speeds, one for each type of exercise, you can double your gains. Let us explain ...
Rep Speed And Strength Gains
Most of the strength beginners get in the first few months are directly tied to upticks in nerve force, or neuromuscular efficiency. In other words, the nerve-to-muscle connections improve and you get stronger.
In fact, up until a few years ago, scientists believed that a beginning trainee builds little muscle the first six weeks of training. With a standard rep cadence - about two seconds up and two seconds down - it took almost two months before any muscular progress was seen.
New research suggests that introducing dual rep speeds will start packing on muscle in half the time - as you begin your third week of workouts. That's exciting stuff.
To get the results rolling, you need a 2-week break-in phase to set the anabolic stage for that week 3 blastoff. Your 2-week break-in phase is when you learn the exercises and develop the necessary coordination to activate the proper muscles.
In other words, that first two weeks of basic multijoint, or compound exercises, like bench presses and squats, your body learns to ignite the muscle-synergy fuse - and that sets off a muscle-growth detonation.
Initially, for learning and coordination purposes that first two weeks, your rep speed should be the standard two seconds up and two seconds down on all exercises. That takes momentum out of the action, keeps the load on the muscles and adds to your neuromuscular efficiency and coordination quickly. After that, you'll be able to activate more muscle fibers for hypertrophic gains in week 3.
The Break-In Phase
As we said, the workouts in your two-week break-in phase should consist of primarily basic compound exercises. Two controlled sets of each of the following, three days a week (like Monday, Wednesday and Friday) is all it takes:
The poundages you use should be light enough so that you're not struggling to maintain a two-seconds-up-two-seconds-down cadence for 10 repetitions - and the 10th rep should be somewhat taxing but not difficult.
The Weight Should Be Light Enough That You're Not Struggling To Maintain Your Cadence.
Remember, these workouts are all about improving the nerve-to-muscle connections and learning the exercises, NOT all-out gut-busting intensity. Keep your motivation on a leash for the first two weeks.
After work sets of each of those basic exercises three days a week for two weeks, you make some key changes in week 3, and your muscle gains begin to blast off ...
In our Quick Start workout program, we describe Phase 2 like this: Do your multijoint, or compound, exercise for each muscle group, as in the break-in, for two work sets with the 2-up-2-down cadence. So you do all of the same exercises above, but after each you add one solo set of a single-joint, or isolation, exercise using a slower rep tempo-three seconds up, 1-second hold in the flexed position, and three seconds down.
Now doing all of the above exercises plus an isolation movement after each would make for a long workout. So we suggest you move to a split program, training half your body parts on Monday and Thursday and the other half on Tuesday and Friday, like this:
- Monday And Thursday: Front Thighs, Hamstrings, Chest
- Tuesday And Friday: Shoulders, Back, Abs
For those isolation exercises you do only one set with the slower tempo after your big exercise. For example, you start off with squats, two sets with a 2/2 cadence. You follow with one set of leg extensions, three seconds up, hold for one second in the flexed position, and three seconds down. That heightens your neuromuscular efficiency even more, but it also does great things for growth.
Research shows that the slower rep cadence builds significant muscle due to longer sustained muscle activation. For example, if you do eight repetitions on leg extensions with a 3/1/3 tempo, you keep the front-thigh muscles under continuous tension for 56 seconds - 8 reps times 7 seconds - and that stimulates muscle growth along a different pathway than your standard - cadence exercise, squats or leg presses. [Tanimoto, M. J App Physiol; 100:1150-1157. (2006)]
That longer time under tension is the perfect complement to the normal 2/2 rep speed on your compound exercises. Why? Because the slower 3/1/3 speed on your isolation moves creates blood-flow occlusion for about one minute, which triggers nitric oxide and growth hormone release as well as unique muscle-fiber activation - more fibers in on the action, more growth stimulation. Plus, growth hormone helps build muscle and is also a potent fat burner.
A good example of the developmental results of that style of exercise is the muscular upper-body development of male gymnasts. Most of their muscle size is the result of slow occlusive activation on the rings and floor exercises, although they get some faster-tempo work from more explosive moves as well - similar to the different rep speeds we describe above.
The same can be said for acrobats and trapeze artists - their muscular development is the result of slow occlusion and tension from holding positions combined with some faster moves.
To review phase 2: On heavier compound exercises, like squats and bench presses, you use a standard 2/2 cadence for force generation and specific fiber activation. Then you add one set of a single-joint isolation exercise, using a 3/1/3 cadence for occlusive muscle stimulation. And each develops your nervous system along a different pathway as well.
The combo rep-speed approach is your dual path to faster muscle growth if you're a beginning bodybuilder. We've found it to be the fast track to fast mass for muscle-hungry newbies.