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Split Set Training Program Overview

Reap all the muscle- and strength-building benefits of both positive and negative reps with this unique four-week training program.

Split Set Training Program Overview

Most of the training programs I design contain a lot of moving parts. They manipulate the amount of weight used, the number of sets and reps performed, and the amount of rest between sets – all in a well-orchestrated manner to provide optimal results.

Now for something a little different: Split Set Training, a novel concept I created to deliver optimal results like my other programs, just in a less complex manner. The Split Set protocol works at the very simplest level of weightlifting: the single repetition, or rep.

Splitting Fibers

Every normal rep you do consists of two parts: (1) a concentric (positive) portion and (2) an eccentric (negative) portion. For example, on the bench press, when you lift the weight up, that’s the concentric portion of the rep. When you lower it back down to your chest, that’s the eccentric.

Split-Set training, on the other hand, separates the two parts of the rep so that you do all the positive reps on one set and all the negative reps on a different set. It sounds atypical and maybe even a bit crazy, but I do have a good reason for prescribing this, at least on a limited basis.

Research has actually discovered that each of these two parts of the rep (concentric and eccentric) have different effects on muscle growth. One study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham discovered that the positive portion of the rep has maximal effects on testosterone by increasing the amount of its receptors (called androgen receptors) in muscle cells. The more androgen receptors available in a muscle cell, the more testosterone that can go to work to increase the size of the muscle.

The same study also discovered that the negative portion of the rep maximizes insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) levels while decreasing insulin-like growth factor binding protein-4 (IGFBP-4). IGF-I plays an important role in directly stimulating muscle growth, so boosting its levels is critical for adding lean mass. IGFBP-4 inhibits the actions of IGF-I, so lowering IGFBP-4 also stimulates muscle growth by allowing more IGF-I to do its work.

Other research confirms that the negative portion of the rep is critical for strength gains. When subjects only do positive contractions, their strength gains are reduced to just over half that of subjects who perform both positive and negative reps.

Rep by Rep

When following Split Set Training, you’ll first do a set of eight concentric-only reps using a weight you can lift for about 10-12 reps, followed immediately by a set of eight eccentric-only reps with the same weight. You’ll do this by way of single-limb exercises.

(A full rundown of how to do Split Set Training will come in the next section just below. And keep in mind, you’ll only be implementing the Split Set protocol for one exercise per muscle group, not for the entire workout.)

Training with split sets allows you to maximize the amount of weight you use for each portion of the rep and the effects that each portion of the rep imparts on the muscle. And here’s why…

Doing eight concentric-only reps allows you to do each of those reps with more strength and power than if you did eight standard reps with both a positive and negative portion. Think of it this way: When you do eight concentric-only reps, you’re only doing half of the work you’d normally do on a set of eight reps. This means your muscles will fatigue less and stay that much stronger throughout the set, thus enhancing the effects the muscles receive from the positive reps you perform.

In addition, when you do the eight negative reps after doing eight concentric reps, the muscles are more fatigued, which makes every one of the eight negatives harder and more intense, thus magnifying the benefits of the eccentric portion of the exercise.

Here’s another thing to think about: When you do eight regular reps, the first four or five negative reps are not very challenging, since your muscles are stronger on the negative part of the rep. The negative doesn’t get challenging on a typical set until the last few reps when the muscle gets fatigued. Split Set Training has you doing all the negative reps when the muscle is fatigued from the positive reps.

A side benefit to Split Set Training is that the single-limb exercises and the transferring of the weight from one limb to the other builds core and stabilizer muscle strength. The arm and back exercises will also help develop grip and forearm strength.

Split Set How-To

Here’s the basic rundown on how to do Split Set Training, using the one-arm dumbbell curl as an example:

  • Choose a weight you can do for about 10-12 regular reps. Starting with the dumbbell in your right hand and your arm fully extended (the bottom of the rep), perform your first concentric rep for the right arm. At the top, when the dumbbell reaches shoulder height, grab the dumbbell with your left hand and do a negative rep dumbbell curl with the left arm. Be sure to lower the weight slowly so that it takes at least two to three seconds.
  • When you reach the down position of the rep (left arm extended), transfer the dumbbell back to the right arm and go right into concentric rep number two with the

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