Rethink Your Rep Range

Rethink Your Rep Range
The way you perform your reps can make a HUGE difference. Here's my breakdown on changes you can make to this crucial training variable.

Updated July 5, 2018

As I often say, “Everything works, but nothing works forever.” If you're familiar with my training advice, then you know that I like change. I like to change up exercises, rep ranges, rest periods, training splits, and even the speed at which reps are performed. In this article, I’ll break down the different approaches to rep technique that could revolutionize your workouts and have you seeing better results for your effort.

Best Rep Range for Muscle Growth

From a science standpoint, there's actually not a lot that we know about muscle growth. One thing that we do know based on research and decades of anecdotal reports from bodybuilders is that rep ranges of about 8-12 reps per set seem to be the sweet spot for building muscle. Reps of 6 or less also seem to be best for building strength. Yet for some reason there still is a debate in many gyms about whether or not heavy weight and low reps is best to build muscle versus lighter weight and higher reps.

Research from Finland and the U.S. shows further support for higher rep ranges of 8-12. The researchers had subjects perform a leg workout doing either 5 sets of 10 reps or 15 sets of 1 rep, then they immediately took a muscle sample from the quads to analyze the muscle for biochemical factors that instigate muscle growth.

They specifically were looking at mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathways. These pathways are one thing we do know that leads to muscle growth. They reported in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine, Science and Sports that only when the subjects did the 5 sets of 10 reps was there an increase in MAPK signaling. When they did the one-rep sets using very heavy weight, they saw no boost in MAPK signaling.

Jim's Take-Home Message

If muscle growth is your main objective, then be sure that a good deal of your workouts are done using reps in the sweet spot for muscle growth—8-12 reps. That being said, you don't want to ALWAYS train in the 8-12 rep range. Sticking with a rep range for too long will only lead to stagnation and limit your results. That is why you also need to train with heavy weight and lighter reps (fewer than 8 reps per set and as few as 2 per set) and also very light for higher reps (more than 12 reps and even as high as 30 reps on some sets) to keep progressing and keep muscles growing. Plus, using a wider range of reps provides your muscles and your overall body more benefits, like greater strength and greater endurance.

Reference

Hulmi, J. J., et al. Molecular signaling in muscle is affected by the specificity of resistance exercise protocol. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010.

High Reps for Strength and Size

Based on the decades of research on strength training, it appears that using light weight and high reps (reps of 12 or more) is best for boosting muscle endurance, while using moderate weight for moderate reps (reps in the 8-12 range) appears to better boost muscle size, and using heavy weight for low reps (reps of 3-7 per set) are best for building muscle strength. But these are just basic guidelines and sometimes breaking the rules can actually help your results.

The Science of High-Rep Training for Size and Strength

Take a study from Japan that found that adding a set of high reps (25-35 reps) was best for boosting not only muscle size, but also muscle strength. The Japanese scientists had trained men do a leg workout twice a week for six weeks on a typical muscle mass gaining program that involved using moderate weight for 10-15 reps per set of leg presses and leg extensions.

After this 6-week training phase they separated the men into two groups: 1) a strength-training group, and 2) a mixed-training group.Both groups trained with a typical strength-training program that consisted of 5 sets of each exercise (leg press and leg extension) done with heavy weight for 3-5 reps per set with 3 minutes of rest allowed between sets for four weeks. The mixed-training group also performed one light-weight set of 25-30 reps done 30 seconds after the last set.

The researchers reported in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that the group doing the 25-30 rep set not only continued to make gains in muscle mass, while the strength-training group actually had a slight loss in muscle mass, but they gained about 5% more strength than the strength-training group.

Although the scientists were unsure of the exact mechanism for the additional strength gains, it appears that the single set of higher reps provides an additional training stimulus that impacts strength gains. The higher growth hormone levels that comes with high rep training may have increased muscle size and strength gains.

Jim's Take-Home Message

The take-home message form this study is that when you are in a strength phase and using heavier weight and low reps, be sure to add a light drop set of 25-30 reps on your last set. That means to drop the weight on the last set of each exercise to a weight that allows you to complete 25-30 reps on that exercise.

For a four-week strength-training program that I designed that utilizes this training technique try my Get High Strength training program.

View and Download This Workout

Reference

Goto, K., et al. Muscular adaptations to combinations of high- and low intensity resistance exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 18(4): 730—737, 2004.

Further Support for High Rep/Light Weight Training

You've seen them in every gym: Those guys who grunt and groan as loud as they can while loading up the bar with as many plates as possible to eke out a few reps with very poor form. You see them training with as much weight as possible every time they're in the gym, but they won't make much progress if they continue to train this way.

I have some news that will ruin their day: Training with much lighter weight for far higher reps will actually help them build more muscle than heavy and hard training.

Sure, they'll laugh and shrug it off. After all, they care more about how impressed you are with the weight they're barely moving than getting real results. But if you're reading this, I know your first priority is getting unreal results. So read on to learn the science behind how light weights can help you grow more muscle.

Repetition Maximum Continuum

In the world of strength-training science, rep ranges are categorized into what's known as a "repetition maximum continuum." This breaks down the rep ranges into three main categories:

Research and years of training have previously shown that the rep range of 1-6 per set is best for increasing muscle strength; 7-12 reps per set is best for increasing muscle growth; and reps of 12 and higher are best for increasing muscle endurance. This sounds solid based on what we know about muscle physiology and the energy systems used during these types of workouts, as well as the results that athletes have seen over the years training this way.

So most guys end up training in the 6-8 rep range, maybe going as high as 10 reps occasionally, as this is the rep range that allows them to look and feel the most impressive in the gym—hoisting as much weight as they can, but doing just enough reps to stimulate muscle growth. Theoretically, this sounds like the smartest plan based on the repetition maximum continuum. It's pure science, right? But alas, as it often happens in science, there's new research that turns the traditional way of thinking upside down.

The Size Principle

Another fact that strength scientists have learned in the laboratory is that muscles are recruited (or called to contract) from smallest to biggest. This is known as the "size principle."

There are two main types of muscle fibers: Slow twitch and fast twitch. Slow-twitch muscle fibers are those with the most endurance, but they're also the smallest and weakest. The fast-twitch fibers are those that have less endurance, but the most strength and power and the ability to grow the biggest.

When you pick up a weight and do a biceps curl, the slow-twitch muscles fibers in the biceps are recruited first to lift the weight. If the weight is too heavy for the few slow-twitch muscle fibers that are recruited, the brain signals the rest of the slow-twitch fibers available in the biceps to assist their pals. If the weight is still too heavy for them, the brain starts calling on some of the bigger fast-twitch fibers in the biceps to assist those small, weak slow-twitch muscle fibers. If the weight is still too heavy, the brain calls in the rest of the big and strong fast-twitch fibers to assist and the weight is curled up successfully. Of course, this all occurs in a matter of microseconds.

Curling Your One-Rep Max Will Recruit the Most Muscle Fibers

However, when you pick up a weight that you can curl for 20 reps, you may only recruit the slow-twitch muscle fibers because the weight is so light that the fast-twitch fibers don't even need to be bothered. Since the fast-twitch fibers are the ones that grow the biggest and strongest and the slow-twitch fibers need to stay small for maximal endurance, it has been assumed that to really build maximal muscle size, the weight must be heavy enough to recruit the fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Now back to that weight that you could complete 20 reps of curls with: Yes, when you do the first few reps you are only recruiting the slow-twitch muscle fibers. But as the reps continue and those slow-twitch muscle fibers fatigue, the brain starts calling on more and more of the bigger fast-twitch fibers with each and every rep completed.

Higher Reps with Lighter Weight May Be Even More Effective

If you take that 20-rep set to absolute muscle failure—the point at which you can't complete another rep—you recruited the same amount of fast-twitch muscle fibers as you did when you used a weight that limited you to one rep. This is the real key to how higher rep sets performed with lighter weight may be better for muscle growth than doing fewer reps with heavier weight: Training to muscle failure.

While recruiting the maximum number of fast-twitch muscle fibers may be crucial for muscle growth, there appears to be other factors involved.

After all, if muscle growth was only about recruiting fast-twitch muscle fibers, the best way to grow would be to always lift a weight that limits you to one rep. Yet, as we all know, that's not the best way to grow muscle. In fact, that's not even the best way to increase muscle strength. This is due to the fact that metabolic stress is also important for both muscle growth and muscle strength.

The Importance of Metabolic Stress

Metabolic stress is created within the muscle when byproducts accumulate from the biochemical pathways used in the muscle cells to produce the energy required to lift the weight. These byproducts signal other chemicals in the muscle, such as insulin-like growth factor-I, to come in and induce muscle hypertrophy. The byproducts even signal other chemicals to be released from other areas of the body.

For example, growth-hormone levels increase as levels of the metabolic byproduct lactic acid rise. These may all be important for increasing the process of muscle protein synthesis, which is ultimately how muscles grow. The best way to maximize metabolic stress is to do more reps.

Higher reps increase the amount of biochemical byproducts that are produced. So as long as you take that high-rep set to muscle failure, you'll recruit the same amount of fast-twitch muscle fibers as a heavier set for fewer reps. But you also induce greater metabolic stress. While all of this sounds good in theory, there's also research that supports this contention. Training with lighter weights is starting to sound a little more compelling, isn't it?

The New Research on Rep Range and Muscle Growth

The majority of the research on lighter weight/higher rep training comes out of the Exercise Metabolism Research Group at McMaster University in Canada.

The first work that grabbed the attention of strength scientists and well-read bodybuilders everywhere was a 2010 study the group published in the online science journal PLoS (Public Library of Science) ONE. 

Trained men performed four sets of leg extensions using either a weight that limited them to 4-5 reps per set or a weight that allowed them to complete about 25 reps per set. They took all sets to muscle failure except for one additional group that used the 25-rep weight, but didn't go to full muscle failure.

When the men did the four sets with light weight for higher reps to muscle failure, muscle-protein synthesis of the quadriceps was elevated by as much as 60% more than when they did the 4-rep sets to failure. However, both the 4-5-rep and 25-rep sets taken to failure increased muscle protein synthesis far greater than the 25-rep sets not taken to muscle failure.

Going to Muscle Failure May Be the Key

A 2011 study by the same researchers looked at what happens to muscle-protein synthesis following heavy- or light-weight training when subjects consumed a protein shake 24 hours after the workout.

They performed four sets of leg extensions using either a weight that they could lift for about 4-5 reps or a weight they could lift for about 25 reps. Those doing the 4-5-rep sets took each set to muscle failure, while half of those doing the 25-rep sets went to muscle failure on all sets, while the other half didn't. 

The researchers reported in the Journal of Nutrition that drinking a protein shake 24 hours after training to failure using either the heavy weight (4-5 reps per set) or the light weight (about 25 reps per set) significantly boosted muscle-protein synthesis higher than when they drank the same protein shake at rest or after weight training, but not going to muscle failure.

One trend that you should notice right away in these two studies is that the most critical factor in increasing muscle-protein synthesis, both immediately after training and for the 24 hours that follow, is to take all sets to muscle failure.

That's the only way to recruit all of the fast-twitch muscle fibers and instigate sufficient metabolic stress. This data finally shut up all those strength-training experts who say you shouldn't train to muscle failure, at least not on most sets. They claim that it leads to over-training and can actually interfere with strength and muscle growth.

Making Sense of These Rep Range Studies

Of course, the first thing you'll notice about most of these so-called experts is the fact that their upper arms barely measure 15 inches. If their lack of muscle mass doesn't tip you off, then that kind of nonsensical reasoning about muscle failure tells you right away that they don't understand the basics of muscle physiology and, more specifically, never learned about the size principle. It also tells you that they haven't been paying attention to the newer research that has been conducted, such as these two studies.

Don't Worry about "Overtraining"

As far as over-training goes, you have no worries about that as long as you follow a solid nutrition and supplement plan like the ones you find on my site.

Our ancestors used to be on their feet all day hunting and/or plowing the fields. They did intense labor for the majority of the day and only rested at night when the day was over. Do you honestly think after sitting on your ass all day at your desk job or in school that training intensely for 60-90 minutes is going to cause you to over train?! Get real!

This is just an excuse for those who don't want to put in the hard work it takes to build real muscle. They'll blame their genetics when really they should be blaming their poor work ethic and shoddy training techniques. Bottom line: If you take anything home from this article, it's that you should be taking most, if not all, of your working sets to muscle failure, or close to it, for maximum muscle growth. The debate is over.

Another finding from these two studies is that training with lighter weight done for higher reps appears to be better at promoting muscle growth than heavier weight done for fewer reps.

Higher Rep Ranges for Greater Muscle Growth

But hold up: There are two problems with these two studies. The first is that these studies only measured muscle-protein synthesis. Yes, that is an indication that the muscle is in a heightened state of muscle growth. But they didn't measure actual muscle growth over time training these ways. They just looked at a snapshot from one workout. It's a pretty good snapshot, but it still doesn't prove that this will lead to greater muscle growth.

The second problem is that the heavy-weight sets were done with a weight that limited the subjects to just 4-5 reps. Even the most ego-maniacal bodybuilder typically doesn't train in this low of a rep range. So it really isn't a fair comparison of heavy weight versus light weight as far as what those terms mean for the average bodybuilder.

The McMaster researchers finally did a follow-up study to see just how well these light-weight, high-rep sets hold up for instigating real muscle growth compared to more realistic rep ranges. They had subjects perform one of three leg-extension training programs three times a week for 10 weeks:

Immediately after each workout, the subjects ate a protein bar that provided 30 grams of protein, 33 grams of carbs, 11 grams of fat and 4 grams of the BCAA leucine.

They reported in a 2012 issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology that both the subjects training with three sets of 8-12 reps to failure and those training with three sets of 20-30 reps to muscle failure increased leg muscle size by about 7%, which was more than double the increase of those training with just one set of 8-12 reps to failure.

This increase in muscle size was visible in both the slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers. The take-home point here is that to maximize muscle growth, you definitely need to perform more than one set per exercise, but whether you train in the 8-12-rep range or the 20-30 range doesn't really matter as long as you take each set to muscle failure.

But before you start thinking that it doesn't matter what rep range you choose, the researchers also measured muscle strength and muscle endurance before and after the 10-week program.

They found that the group training with either one set or three sets of 8-12 reps per set increased their one-rep max strength significantly more than the group doing three sets of 20-30 reps. All groups had a similar increase in the number of reps they could complete with 80% of their one-rep max, a weight they could complete for about 10 reps at the start of the program. But muscle endurance, which they measured by the number of reps they could complete using 30% of their one-rep max, only increased in the group using 3 sets of 20-30 reps.

So although training with both heavy weight and light weight can elicit similar increases in muscle growth, they offer different benefits to the muscle's capacity. The heavier weight leads to better increases in muscle strength, while the lighter weight training induces increases in muscle endurance that the heavy-weight training does not.

Training Variety is Essential to Continued Progress

The real take-home message from these studies is that you should never stick with one rep range for too long. Regardless of how heavy or how light you go, you will be able to increase muscle growth as long as you train to failure.

Changing up your loads from heavy weight for fewer reps to lighter weight for higher reps also allows you to increase muscle strength and muscle endurance. Having greater strength and greater muscle endurance allows you to train with heavier weights and to complete more reps with a given weight, which can help to better influence muscle growth.

Regardless of what each rep range offers, the simple fact that you're changing things up helps prevent stagnation to allow for continued gains in muscle size, strength and endurance. This is known as the "Weider Muscle Confusion Principle" and it works well—now we know why!

A great way to change up your rep range is to use linear periodized microcycles, where you start out with lighter weight for higher reps and gradually increase the weight each week until you're down to very heavy weight for low rep counts.

This is similar to my Micro Muscle program (aka Shortcut to Size). Or try my Up and Down 11-week plan below, which increases the weight each week starting with reps way up in the 21-30 range and brings you down to just 3-5 reps per set. You'll then reverse the order, reducing the weight each week until you're back to doing 21-30 reps per set.

You can repeat this indefinitely as long as you change up other variables, such as the exercises used and the rest periods between sets. Just be sure to take each working set to muscle failure or close to it. I can guarantee you'll realize new gains in muscle growth using this type of program.

Up And Down Training

Try this plan that changes up your rep ranges every week. You can use any training split you like and any workouts you prefer. Just keep each set in the prescribed rep range for that week and be sure to take each working set to muscle failure. You can even consider taking the last set of each exercise beyond muscle failure with techniques like forced reps, rest-pause or drop sets.

Week Rep Range
1 21-30
2 16-20
3 12-15
4 9-11
5 6-8
6 3-5
7 6-8
8 9-11
9 12-15
10 16-20
11 21-30
References

Supporting Research

Stoppani, J. Encyclopedia of Muscle & Strength. Human Kinetics, Champagne, IL, 2006.

Henneman, E. et al. Relation between size of neurons and their susceptibility to discharge. Science. 1957;126(3287):1345-1347.

Fallentin, N., et al. Motor unit recruitment during prolonged isometric contractions. European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology. 1993;67(4):335-341.

Fuglevand, A. J., et al. Impairment of neuromuscular propagation during human fatiguing contractions at submaximal forces. The Journal of Physiology 1993;460:549-572.

Sale, D. G. Influence of exercise and training on motor unit activation. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews. 1987;15:95-151.

Burd, N. A., et al. Low-load high volume resistance exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis more than high-load low volume resistance exercise in young men. PLoS ONE 5(8): e12033, 2010.

Burd, N. A., et al. Enhanced amino acid sensitivity of myofibrillar protein synthesis persists for up to 24 h after resistance exercise in young men. J Nutr. 2011 Apr 1;141(4):568-73.

Mitchell, C. J., et al. Resistance exercise load does not determine training-mediated hypertrophic gains in young men. J Appl Physiol. in press, 2012.

Variable Rep Speed Training

When it comes to rep speed, most people stick with the tried and true slow and controlled pace of about 1-2 seconds on the positive and about 1-2 seconds on the negative.

While this is the pace you should keep for most of the time, you should occasionally consider going much slower some of the time and much faster some of the time. Super slow reps can help you build more muscle, while fast and explosive reps can help you build more strength and power, which can help you build more muscle in the long run, and they can even help you to burn off more body fat.

Studies Confirm Rep Speed Changes Impact Results

Scientists from the University of Sydney (Lidcome, NSW, Australia) had males and females follow a biceps training program for 6 weeks using different rep speeds to determine which rep speed on the one-arm biceps curl best increased strength and which rep speed best increased muscle size. One group did one-arm biceps curls using slow reps (3 seconds on the positive and 3 seconds on the negative part of the rep), while the other group did fast reps (less than 1 second on the positive and negative part of the rep).

Each group trained with a weight that limited them to 6-8 reps on the one-arm biceps curl and trained three times per week. They found that the fast reps increased biceps strength by 46% over the 6 weeks, while slow reps only increased biceps strength by 40%. Slow reps on the other hand, increased biceps size by 3%, while the fast reps only increased size by 1%. In other words, fast reps appear to be best for increasing muscle strength, while slow reps are best for increasing muscle size. Slow reps may increase size better than fast reps due to a greater increase in growth hormone (GH) and testosterone levels. A Japanese study reported that subjects using slow reps raised GH and testosterone levels than those using faster reps.

Fast Reps Equal Fast Results

Fast reps likely increase muscle strength better because they utilize more of the fast-twitch muscle fibers within a muscle. These are the muscle fibers that can contract with great speed and strength. These muscle fibers also appear to burn more calories than slow-twitch muscle fibers. Researchers from Ball State found that weight-trained men doing squats with fast reps burned over 10% more calories than when they did squats with normal speed reps. The fast rep workouts also caused the men to burn 5% more calories at rest after the workout was over.

So be sure to change up your rep speeds just like you change up other aspects of your workouts. Keep normal-speed reps at the foundation of your training program, using them the majority of the time. However, also use fast reps for building strength and power, as well to drop body fat.

Use slow reps to help encourage more muscle growth. To try a workout that combines all three reps speeds, and therefore all of these benefits, check out my Speed Set Training program in the section below.

Speed Set Training

In the below video, I demonstrate Speed Set Training using standing dumbbell curls (two arms at a time, not alternating) as an example:

I’d like to expand on the concept here. As I mentioned, Speed Set Training is a great way to get a very intense, challenging workout when you have limited equipment—for example, if you don’t have any heavy weights and are forced to go very light. Each Speed Set consists of three different rep speeds, doing five reps at each different speed for a total of 15 reps. Here’s how it breaks down in each set:

That’s one “Speed Set.”

What’s great about this technique is that you’re training your muscles three different ways in just a single set. The first five reps are developing power and explosiveness and targeting the fast-twitch muscle fibers (the ones capable of growing the biggest); the middle five reps are maximizing “time under tension” (TUT) to increase muscle damage and promote muscle growth; and the last five reps are further promoting muscle breakdown and growth while also developing endurance.

Because of how demanding one 15-rep speed set is, it doesn't take much weight to thoroughly fatigue the muscles. That's why I say it's great for those times when all you have is a light pair of dumbbell available—like when you're traveling and staying at a hotel with a limited fitness center.

That said, Speed Set Training is a great method to use even when you're in a fully equipped gym. Training with fast, slow and regular speed reps always makes for a well-rounded workout that can spark new gains when you've hit a rut in your current program.

You can use Speed Set Training in a couple different ways: You can employ speed sets on all exercises in your training for a limited time (up to around four weeks), doing three sets in this manner per exercise and 3-4 exercises per major muscle group. Or, you can do speed sets on only the first exercise per muscle group and then do standard sets for all other exercises. In this latter option, you’ll do three speed sets for that first exercise per bodypart.

Put my Speed Set Training technique to the test and see how effective these varying rep speeds can be.

View and Download This Workout

For a sample workout that employs speed sets for all exercises, download the following resistance band (of course I perfer my JYM Strength Bands) routine:

View and Download This Workout

For a workout that utilizes Speed Set Training on only the first exercise per muscle group, use the below link to view and download my Speed Set Leg Workout. This routine hits the entire lower body, with speed sets incorporated on the first exercise each for quads/glutes, hamstrings and calves. In the workout chart, “5/5/5” listed in the reps column signifies when you’ll do the speed sets as outlined above. Make sure you use a relatively light weight when doing the speed sets; you may have to experiment with different loads to see what the right amount is, but I recommend selecting a weight that you'd normally use for 20 or so reps of standard sets.

View and Download This Workout

Lastly, check out my Full-Body Speed Set Training for a powerful combination of the benefits of variable rep speed and the fat-burning enhancement of full-body training.

Alternating Rest-Pause

Of all the Weider Principles made famous by the late, great Joe Weider, Rest-Pause is one of my favorites—a training technique with true staying power. Rest-pause is a method that involves stopping during the completion of a set, resting for a short period and then continuing on with the set. Its major advantage is that it allows for more total reps to be done with a given weight because it takes advantage of the muscles' ability to recovery rapidly.

In simple terms, it allows the muscles time to replenish phosphocreatine (PCr)—the same molecule that creatine supplements boost. (And yes, if you're currently not taking creatine, starting it with this program will help you lift more weight and realize better results.) With this shot of extra energy, the muscle can contract stronger, producing greater force and getting more reps. The greater the force your muscle can produce and the more reps you can perform, the greater the stimulus the muscles receive and the greater the gains in muscle size and strength that can be expected. It's that simple.

There are two common ways that rest-pause training is used. Bodybuilders typically use it by taking a set to failure, resting 10-15 seconds and continuing the set until reaching failure again. They may do this two to three times per set—doing two or three rest-pauses, as you might say—which allows for not only more reps to be completed with a given weight, but also to take the muscle far beyond muscle failure. This instigates chemical changes within muscle cells that result in muscle growth.

Rest-pause training can also be used to increase muscle strength. The concept here is not necessarily to get more total reps or reach a higher state of fatigue, but to optimize the force produced on each rep. To prioritize strength gains with rest-pause, you typically use a weight that only allows you to get 3-5 reps (your 3-5 RM). Let's say you pick a weight that's your 3RM. You'd do one rep, rack the weight, rest 15 seconds, then pump out another rep. You'd repeat this process until 4-6 reps were completed—that would conclude one rest-pause set. This technique has been shown to be effective at producing decent strength gains.

Now, here's a new variation of rest-pauses: Alternating Rest-Pause Training. This is a brand-new way to use rest-pauses with single arm/leg exercises. The concept is simple. As you work one side of the body, the opposite side is resting and you cycle back and forth from one side to the other.

To do this, choose a weight that allows you to complete about 6-8 reps. I'll use one-arm dumbbell curls as an example. Do three reps of curls on the right arm, then immediately switch to the left arm and do three reps. Switch back to the right arm for three more reps and continue in this fashion, doing three rest-pauses for three reps, then two rest-pauses for two reps and finally one rest pause for one rep. By the end of the set, you will have completed 14 reps with a weight you could normally only do for 6-8 reps. This not only pushes muscle growth, but also muscle strength.

And because you're using one arm (or leg) at a time, you're stronger than you are when you use two arms. That is, when you perform single-arm exercises like a one-arm dumbbell curl, you can curl more weight than half of what you could curl on a barbell using both arms, which leads to even greater gains in muscle strength.

Here's one more twist: On the last set of each exercise, do as many reps as you can on the final rest-pause, the one that's supposed to be just one rep. This will not only increase the intensity on that last set, but it will serve as a barometer for how appropriate the weight you selected was. If you can do more than one rep on the final rest-pause of the final set of an exercise, increase the weight by 5-10 pounds the next workout. If you can only complete one rep, the weight you selected is perfect. If you can't complete the final rep on the final set, reduce the weight by 5-10 pounds the next workout. If you can't complete the final rep on any of the first two sets, reduce the weight by 5-10 pounds before your last set instead of sticking with a load that's too heavy.

Although you can stick with your current training split and simply insert Alternating Rest-Pause workouts for each muscle group when you normally train that muscle group, I recommend you try the four-day training split I suggest below. This has you training chest and triceps on Mondays, legs on Tuesdays, shoulders and traps on Thursdays and back and biceps on Fridays. Follow the Alternating Rest-Pause program for four weeks, then switch to a new training program like those in my Workouts section.

Alternating Split

Try this training split while following the Alternating Rest-Pause Training program:

Day Muscle Groups Trained
Monday Chest, Triceps, Abs
Tuesday Legs
Wednesday Rest
Thursday Delts, Traps, Abs
Friday Back, Biceps
Saturday Rest
Sunday Rest

Download This Program

Negative Rep Training

If you've read my article Damage, Inc. on how important muscle damage is for muscle growth then you know that every few months you should be doing a negative rep workout for each muscle group. Here is one of my favorite negative rep programs that I use to incur some damage to my muscle fibers to bring in some new nuclei.

A lot of these exercises are unique. So try your best to do them correctly until I get the photos and some videos of them up on the site. I wanted to get this workout to you ASAP as many of you have been asking about a good negative rep workout after reading the Damage, Inc. article. So I didn't want to wait the many months it would take to film all of these exercises. If you can't figure on out, send me a tweet and I'll help you get it down. For my Twitter page click on the link below:

While the best way to do negative rep training is to have a trustworthy partner help you though the positive part of the reps and you work on your own to resist through the negative reps, many of us train alone. If that’s the case for you, don't worry—I have techniques that you can use when you train a alone, so you don't miss out on all the benefits that negative rep training.

Negative Rep Training When You Train Alone

One method is called one-arm negative reps. For unilateral movements like curls, simply use both hands to lift the weight, then allow the arm being trained with negative reps to handle the negative portion of the rep alone. However, This method can be done using a Smith machine.

Using the bench press as an example: Find a weight that allows you to lower the bar with one arm, yet resisting it for about 3 seconds on the way down. Then unrack the bar using both arms but lower the bar to your chest using just your right arm. Try to take about 3 seconds to lower the bar down to maximize the stress on the muscle fibers form the negative rep. Then press it back up using both arms. On the next rep, lower the bar with just your left arm and press it back up using both arms. Continue the set in this way alternating the arm you use to lower the bar on each rep, but always using both arms when you press the bar back up.  This is an easy, effective and safe way to do negative reps on the bench press when you train alone.

You can also use the Smith machine to do negative rep training on pull-ups. 

Set the bar at about shoulder height. When you hang from the bar, your legs should clear the floor with your knees bent, so that you hang freely. Then simply do pull-ups from the bar with your knees bent. Once you reach muscle failure, do 3 negative reps by simply standing up in the rack holding on to the bar from the top position of the pull-up and slowly lower yourself down to the bottom position, trying to resist your weight for about 3-5 seconds. If you don't have access to a Smith machine, you can also do this technique in a power rack.

So I have exercise options under the exercises that are designed to do with a spotter. So when you see the "or" under an exercise that is the one that can be done solo. If there is no optional exercise offered, that means the exercise can be done for those who train with a partner or those who train alone.

How to Perform Negative Reps

To do the negative reps, find out how much you can lift for one rep on that exercise. If it's a one-arm negative, such as the negative Smith machine bench press, that means you need to find the one rep max for a one-arm Smith machine bench press. Yes, you can figure out your one-rep max on the same day of the negative-rep workout. It won't be too much work, as the point here is to really overload and damage the muscle fibers. Once you know how much you can do on that exercise for one rep, add about 20% more weight for your negative rep working weight.

To do the negative reps properly, you want to slowly lower the weight to about 3/4 to almost 1/2 way though the range of motion, as you can probably still lift the eight in the top half of the rep range. Once you get the point in the range of motion where you can not lift the weight back up, push as hard as you can to not allow the weight to fall all the way down. If you can resist the weight for more than 3 seconds, but no more than about 8 seconds, then you have the proper weight. If you can't resist it for at least 3 seconds, then you need to lower the weight a bit. If you can resist it for longer than 8 seconds, then you need to add more weight.

Try doing these negative rep workouts using a four-day split. 

Space Out Your Negative Rep Workouts for Best Results

Remember once you have completed them all you do not need to do the workouts again for another 3 months or so. Any sooner and you will probably not be able to induce any more muscle damage. Also feel free to design your own negative rep exercises. The more angles you can hit in a muscle fiber, the better overall growth you can get.

Negative Rep Workout Program

Workout 1: Chest, Triceps, Abs

Workout 1

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
Negative Bench Press
or
Smith machine one-arm negative Bench press
2 3-5 2 min.
Bench Press
or
Smith Machine Bench Press
2 3-6 2 min.
Negative Incline Bench Press
or
Smith Machine One-Arm Negative Bench Press
2 3-5 2 min.
Incline Bench Press
or
Smith Machine Incline Bench Press
2 3-6 2 min.
Negative Dumbbell Fly 1 3-5 2 min.
Dumbbell Fly 2 3-6 2 min.
Negative Incline Dumbbell Fly 1 3-5 2 min.
Incline Dumbbell Fly 2 3-6 2 min.
Negative Close-Grip Bench Press
or
Smith Machine One-arm Negative Close-Grip Bench Press
2 3-5 2 min.
Close-Grip Bench Pess
or
Smith Machine One-arm Negative Close-Grip Bench Press
2 3-6 2 min.
Negative One-Arm Cable Pressdown 2 3-5 2 min.
One-Arm Cable Pressdown 2 3-6 2 min.
Negative One-Arm DB Overhead Extension 2 3-5 2 min.
One-Arm Dumbbell Overhead Extension 2 3-6 2 min.
Negative Smith Machine Crunch 2 3-5 1 min.
Smith Machine Crunch 2 6-8 1 min.
Negative Smith Machine Hip Thrust 2 3-5 1 min.
Smith Machine Hip Thrust 2 6-8 1 min.

Workout 2: Back, Biceps, Forearms

Workout 2

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
Negative Pulldown
or
Negative One-Arm Pulldown
2 3-5 2 min.
Pulldown 3 3-6 2 min.
Negative One-Arm Seated Cable Row 2 3-5 2 min.
Seated Cable Row 3 3-6 2 min.
Negative Straight-Arm Pulldown 2 3-5 2 min.
Straight-Arm Pulldown 2 3-6 2 min.
Negative Barbell Curl
or
Negative One-Arm Smith Machine Curl
2 2-5 2 min.
Barbell Curl 2 3-6 2 min.
Negative Dumbbell Concentration Curl 2 3-5 2 min.
Dumbbell Concentration Curl 2 3-6 2 min.
Negative Behind-the-Back Cable Curl 2 3-5 2 min.
Behind-the-Back Cable Curl 2 3-6 2 min.
Negative Dumbbell Wrist Curl 2 3-5 1 min.
Dumbbell Wrist Curl 2 3-6 1 min.

Workout 3: Shoulders, Traps

Workout 3

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
Negative Barbell Shoulder Press
or
Smith Machine One-Arm Negative Shoulder Press
2 3-5 2 min.
Barbell Shoulder Press
or
Smith Machine Shoulder Press
2 3-6 2 min.
Negative Smith Machine Lateral Raise 2 3-5 2 min.
Smith Machine Lateral Raise 2 3-6 2 min.
Negative Smith Machine Upright Row 1 3-5 2 min.
Smith Machine Upright Row 2 3-6 2 min.
Negative One-Arm Face Pull 2 3-5 2 min.
Face Pull 2 3-6 2 min.
Negative Smith Machine One-Arm Shrug 2 3-5 2 min.
Smith Machine Shrug 2 3-6 2 min.

Workout 4: Legs, Calves

Workout 4

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
Negative Smith Machine One-Leg Squat 2 3-5 2 min.
Smith Machine Squat 2 3-6 2 min.
Negative One-Leg Leg Press 2 3-5 2 min.
Leg Press 2 3-6 2 min.
Negative Leg Extension
or
Negative One-Leg Leg Extension
1 3-5 2 min.
Leg Extension 2 3-6 2 min.
One-Leg Negative Back Extension 2 3-5 2 min.
Back Extension 2 3-6 2 min.
Negative Leg Curl
or
Negative One-Leg Leg Curl
1 3-5 2 min.
Leg Curl 2 3-6 2 min.
Negative One-Leg Standing Calf Raise 2 3-5 1 min.
Standing Calf Raise 2 6-8 1 min.
Negative One-Leg Seated Calf Raise 2 3-5 1 min.
Seated Calf Raise 2 6-8 1 min.

Cheat Reps

Another intensity-boosting tactic that can help increase strength and size is cheat reps. Using cheat reps is a training technique that is often misunderstood and misused. Some trainers incorrectly believe that any form of cheating is wrong and should never be used for both safety and for results. Yet those who know how to use cheating the right way can actually reap more benefits than those who never break proper form.

One of the best and most common ways to use cheating is towards the end of the set when fatigue sets in. By cheating you can force out a few extra reps and take your muscle beyond failure.

Watch my video on using cheat reps in this manner below:

But brand new research from the UK suggests that cheating, at least on lateral raises, on every rep may be better for muscle growth than using strict form. Since it would be difficult to measure the effect of cheating on muscle growth in live humans due to too many variables being involved, researchers from Swansea University in Wales ran a computer-simulated dumbbell lateral raise with varying amounts of "cheating" (i.e. generating momentum with the help of non-target muscles, such as the legs, lower back and traps).

They reported in a 2012 issue of the European Journal of Applied Physiology that supplying just a small amount of cheating (i.e. momentum) during lateral raises increased the torque placed on the middle deltoid and allowed more reps to be completed per set then when more no cheating was employed.

However, they also found that when too much momentum was used, it reduced the torque placed on the middle deltoid. So they concluded that using just a small amount of momentum on dumbbell lateral raises could potentially increase deltoid muscle mass better than using strict form on every single rep and set.

Jim's Take-Home Message

The first thing to remember here is that this was just a computer-simulated study, so the results should be taken with some caution. Plus, the potential results are only specific to the deltoid and may not necessarily carry over to the biceps. However, this study does raise some interesting points. Can using just a slight bit of momentum (cheating) help to build bigger muscles by placing more torque on the target muscle and allowing you to complete more reps with a given weight? There's only one way to determine that, by trying it out yourself in the gym.

I suggest that you go about this in one of two easy ways. One way would be to go a bit heavier than usual and employ a small amount of cheating in every other workout you do. Then the next workout use strict form with no cheating and keep alternating workouts. The second way would be to do 4 sets for each exercise and do the first two with heavier weight and looser form. Then do the last two sets with lighter weight and very strict form. Then you can test for yourself whether or not some small amount of cheating can help you build better muscle mass. After all, there's no telling what a computer has predicted can actually work in the gym until you try it out yourself.

Reference

Aradjelovic, O. Does cheating pay: the role of externally supplied momentum on muscular force in resistance exercise. European Journal of Applied Physiology. In press, 2012.

 

30_days_1

More Articles

Close