The most basic element of bodybuilding training is the repetition, or rep. At first look, it all seems so simple: lift the weight up and down several times and you're done. The truth is that there's a lot more to it than that.
Even though many people do, in fact, just toss the bar up and down, rep performance ties in directly with the effectiveness of your set. Most new lifters typically use normal reps—3-4 seconds up, 3-4 seconds down—and stop when they hit a certain number. They make great progress because they are exposing the muscles to something new and demanding.
The thing is, as time goes by, the progress initially experienced slows, you hit a plateau and you have to find new ways to stimulate the muscles. One such way is to use rep variation—and in this case, I mean something other than the usual rep techniques like forced reps, burns and so on.
The approach I want to talk about is somewhat new, or, at the least, not as common as the above-mentioned techniques. In this case, I'm varying my rep performance by varying rep speed—by using fast, explosive movements and super slow movements and by varying rep count by using high and low reps.
I will say I've seen a lot in the magazines recently about one or the other - rep speed, or high/low reps. I've seen nothing, however, that combines these factors the way I have in this article.
The routine in this article is designed to fully stimulate both types of muscle fibers, fast twitch and slow twitch, through rep variation training. But before we get to the routine, let's define these fiber types:
Fast Twitch Fibers
Fast twitch fibers produce the most muscle strength and have the best growth potential. They are the fibers primarily responsible for muscle size. However, they also have a slower nutrient rate of replenishment due to having a smaller number of capillaries than slow twitch muscle fibers. They seem to respond best to reps in the 6-8 range.
Slow Twitch Fibers
Slow twitch fibers are endurance fibers, and they have limited size/strength capacity. With more capillaries, they are better for nutrient delivery. This is one reason behind "pump" training. They respond best to reps in the 15-20 range.
Fiber types will vary from individual to individual and even from one muscle group to the next in one individual. However, for maximum muscle development, both types need to be called in to play.
Rep Speed & Range
Training with different rep ranges is actually very common and helps to insure full development. High reps, for example, are often used as part of a "pump" type program, helping to increase the blood flow to the muscles thereby increasing nutrient delivery and speeds the removal of waste products.
This, in turn, enhances recovery. Of course, low reps are best for increased size and strength. You often hear about programs featuring one or the other, why not use both in one workout?
Rep speed may not be as common—the old "slo-mo" approach isn't quite as big as it used to be. However, varying your rep speed can have several benefits. The normal rep is performed slow and controlled, about 3-4 seconds up and the same down.
You can pause at the top which, depending on the exercise, either incorporates constant tension on the muscle or allows you to take a quick breather. Or you can keep the reps constant, up and down like a piston, no pauses.
Fast reps are more power oriented, more explosive and can help increase strength. Fast reps involve the fast twitch fibers. Reps in this style should be done with a heavy enough weight to tax the muscles and good form to keep momentum out of it. The very nature of this type of rep indicates its best used on basic movements.
Slow reps, on the other hand, take about 10 seconds up and the same down, pausing at the top for a two count. You can imagine the tension on the muscle doing a rep like this. This increases intensity, which enhances the burn, which in turn enhances GH release. Well, the basic exercise—squats, deadlifts, power cleans, you use for the fast reps enhance testosterone release.
So now you have two potent anabolic hormones in your bloodstream in greater amounts than usual. Slow reps also force good form, and force the work on the target muscle. They work the slow twitch fibers but as they fail, the fast twitch fibers come to the rescue to help out. Isolation exercises seem to make the most sense here. Even so, can you imagine a squat done this way?
Training With Range & Speed
As with rep speed, you will sometimes hear about a routine featuring one or the other type of rep speed, why not use all three—normal, fast and slow, in one workout? Taking it one step further, why not use both—rep range and rep speed—in one workout?
As it always makes sense to change up what you're doing—I like to change my routines every 4-6 weeks to promote continued progress—a routine like this should be a radical change for most people, one that should mean new growth.
Now, let's tie this into the three major components that make up a muscle cell (or fiber):
- Myofibril: which accounts for about 20-30 percent of the cell size.
- Mitochondria: which accounts for 15-25 percent of the cell size.
- Sarcoplasm: which accounts for 20-30 percent of the cell size.
The remainder of each muscle cell is made up of capillaries, connective tissue, fat deposits, glycogen and other subcelluar substances.
The myofibril allows the muscle to sustain a maximum contraction for maximum power and strength; they are actually the fast twitch fibers. The use of fast, explosive reps in the range of 6-8 stimulates the myofibril to grow. This combination of explosive reps and a 6-8 rep range is a good combination for size and strength gains in the myofibril. This is the basis for what I suggest in the routine as far as fast reps.
The mitochondria, when developed, increases the endurance qualities of the muscle cell by bringing in more blood and oxygen—the high rep, "pump" idea.
In the routine below, the high rep sets serve a couple of functions: they act as a good warm-up to the heavier sets that follow, you do your "warm-up" sets with a heavy enough weight to cause you to fail at the higher rep range and you are working the slow twitch fibers with these sets.
Sarcoplasm is a protein liquid substance that saturates and surrounds all of the components in a muscle cell. They basically bathe the myofibril with nutrients such as oxygen, water, amino acids, glucose and creatine.
Sarcoplasm increases in proportion to increases in the myofibril and mitochondria.
Interesting Side Note: "Cell volumization" actually means causing the sarcoplasm to swell beyond normal. The muscle is then signaled to grow because of all the nutrients available to help cause this effect.
The idea of rep range training makes even more sense when you consider that the myofibril and mitochondria make up the greatest percentage of a muscle cell's size.
OK, with all of that out of the way, let's look at the routine:
- Day 1: Legs, abs
- Day 2: Back, biceps, forearms, abs
- Day 3: Chest, delts, triceps, abs
I suggest at least one complete rest day between workouts, preferably more. Those who read my articles know I talk a lot about recovery. You won't grow if you haven't recovered from your last workout, it's that simple. I also suggest training each muscle once a week.
I talk to guys all the time that train six days a week, each muscle twice a week, and rest just one day out of seven. Sorry, I just don't see how you can possibly recover from that much work. Maybe a young kid without a lot of demands on his time who's taking steroids can but that's about it. Remember, and I've said this before, you don't grow from how often you workout but from how well you recover.
If, on a scheduled training day, you're still sore from the last time, you should wait one more day, or until you're not sore, before training again.
Day 1: Legs, Abs
- Squats: 3 warm-up sets at normal rep speed, 15- 20 reps—fail at this range 2-3 working sets at fast rep speed, using a weight that allows you to just complete 6-8 reps. By "just complete," I mean it takes your best effort to hit that last rep. I don't mean that you hit 8, could easily do 2-3 more but stop because the routine says to stop. Follow this approach on all fast rep sets.
- Leg extensions: 2 working sets at slow rep speed, using a weight that allows to just complete 5-6 reps. You will find a low number of reps will be very hard to do at this speed, 5-6 is it. Follow this approach on all slow rep sets.
- Leg curls: 2 working sets at slow rep speed, 5-6 reps
- Calf raises: 1 warm-up set at normal rep speed, 15-20 reps 2 working sets, 1 at fast rep speed, 10-15 reps, the other at slow rep speed, 8-10 reps.
- Abs: to work abs in this manner may be difficult but possible on an ab crunch machine if you want to try it.
Day 2: Back, Biceps, Forearms, Abs
- Deadlifts: 3 warm-up sets at normal rep speed, 15-20 reps—fail at this range
- Deadlifts: 1 working set at normal rep speed, 6-8 reps
- Power cleans: 2-3 working sets at fast rep speed, 5-6 reps
- Lat Pull-downs: 2-3 working sets at slow rep speed, 5-6 reps
- EZ curls 1-2 sets at normal speed, 6-8 reps, 1-2 sets done at fast speed, 6-8 reps
- Hammer curls 1-2 sets at slow speed, 5-6 reps
- Abs as usual
Day 3: Chest, Delts, Triceps, Abs
- Bench press: 2-3 warm-up sets at normal rep speed, 15-20 reps, fail at this range
- Incline press: 2-3 working sets at fast rep speed, 6-8 reps
- Pec dec: 2 working sets at slow rep speed, 5-6 reps
- Overhead press: 2 sets at fast rep speed, 6-8 reps
- Side laterals: 2 sets at slow rep speed, 5-6 reps
- Rear laterals: 2 sets at slow rep speed, 5-6 reps
- Close-grip bench press: 1-2 sets at fast rep speed, 6-8 reps
- Press-downs: 1-2 sets at slow rep speed, 5-6 reps
- Abs as usual
I suggest 1-1 1/2 minute rest between sets. On the fast rep basic exercises, you may find you need more, say, up to three minutes. You want to recover enough to do justice to your next set.
As long as the basic principles are followed—basic movements for fast reps and isolation movements for slow reps—the exercises listed can be changed up with exercises of your choosing. Follow this routine for 4-6 weeks, and then I would change things up again.
Variety is one of the keys to muscle growth because you keep introducing a new type of stress to your muscles. It makes sense to be creative in your thinking every once in a while, trying something a little bit different. This routine does just that!