Body "types" suited for bodybuilding, weight lifting, and powerlifting are much more distinct than people realize. However each can use a viable Hybrid form of training, borrowing from each other to enhance any of the goals relevant to each pursuit. So of course bodybuilders still squat etc, as do weightlifters and powerlifters. But the mode of training would be better determined by the body type of the trainee and the specific goals. The one dimensional “strength first” approach tends to negate the individuality which also requires evaluation. The bone structure of the weight lifter is easy to separate from that of the powerlifter, and both are distinct again from that of the bodybuilder. By example, a wide hip structure denotes a better base of power for weightlifters and powerlifters, usually allowing for greater strength expression for them in say, the squat. But the narrow waist and hips of the bodybuilder would not give him the same power base from which to develop raw max low rep strength.
When I dropped the weight and increased the reps and sets for more time under tension, my legs exploded in growth. This led to the above conclusion as well. Not only are some rep ranges better for specific effect, but I was never going to be “low rep strong(by powerlifting standards)” in the squat, because I had a very small waist and narrow hips. And this led to another conclusion. The training methods of low rep strength for someone who already has the wide hips for that power base only further enhances that effect. In other words, show me someone who regularly squats more than twice their bodyweight in training for very low reps, and I’ll show you a lack of results in terms of development and big hips and a wide waist (except genetic freaks and steroid abusers of course).
So while strength athletes and athletes of all kinds may indeed implement the same types of moves or exercises, doing so with the same mentality in terms of max strength, while having different goals, and different body types, is an obvious mistake. We see in the real world of training for development that the “max strength” approach is not appropriate and may indeed be applicable only to those people born with a certain genetic profile. However, the research also bears out the fact that while training for max strength may not yield much development for us regular folk; training for development does indeed lead eventually to increased max strength improvement.
It seems, in fact, that how much you lift is not nearly as important as how hard you lift. The “heavier is better” argument is actually a myth that prevents many of us from getting results in terms of physique enhancements. Researcher Atha, in 1981 concluded from a review of research, “from these studies, one begins to believe that the importance of load magnitude may have been exaggerated.”
And in 1995, David Behm’s research was more direct. His research article “Neuromuscular Implications and Applications of Resistance Training” came to the following sound conclusion so important to those of you interested in developing a better physique: “Maximum strength training methods with their high intensity resistance but low volume of work do NOT elicit substantial muscle hypertrophy.” His research some 10 years later served to reinforce this conclusion as well.
Now if you think you are doing something right because you do more sets with low reps, and lots of weight, this is still a mistake. Your 10 sets of 3, is still only 30 reps, just like 3 sets of 10. As Behm further concludes, “Therefore a higher volume of work, (greater than 6 reps, with multiple sets) [emphasis and references are his] is needed to ensure a critical concentration of intracellular amino acids to stimulate protein synthesis” (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1995: p271) (see also Tesch and Larson, “Muscle Hypertrophy in Bodybuilders” 1982; and Tesch, in Komi 1992).
I like to use the example of Tom Platz and "Dr. Squat" Fred Hatfield. Tom Platz had the first set of truly freaky legs at the Olympia level. Fred Hatfield was the first man to ever squat 1,000 lbs. Fred Hatfield’s legs development couldn’t win a local bodybuilding contest at the time. And Tom Platz was never, ever going to be able to squat 1,000 lbs. Clearly a contradiction of prevailing theory. See Tom used squats for leg training, Fred trained for squat limit strength of 1RM. (Tom’s focus was to train the muscles, not the movement; Fred trained for the execution of the movement solely.) And the funny thing here is that Fred Hatfield himself, at the time said, “there is never a reason to do single rep 1RM lifts in training.” He also said, “the legs are relatively inactive in the Powerlifting squat.” Now coming from the first man to squat 1,000 lbs, Fred truly understood the principles at work. If anyone would ever have a paradigm blindness toward limit strength training expression, it should have been Fred. But he understood the principles on a deeper level. And these statements are correct for 90% of trainees, 90% of the time. And as a coach, that 90 percentile is my wheelhouse for application.
So how is this confusion possible when so many of you are told to train to get “strong” with low reps, and development will come? Well the answer lies in a misapplication of what is known as “the size principle” of muscle recruitment.
By Scott Abel
Last edited by Allen Cress; 07-31-2010 at 07:34 PM.
Very interesting Allen, considering the beliefs nearly everyone around here holds! Are you saying that you wouldnt recommend a program like starting strength for most people then?
While I do agree with what you wrote on the flip side its also a personal preference on how you like to train as well. Sure some of us may grow in size at a faster pace if we trained this way, but alot of us are just average guys who will never step on a stage and just prefer to lift heavier weights as we enjoy the challenge of beating our own previous PR's on different lifts ( not just the big 3 ).
Success is achieved by doing a little more than you thought you could, and a lot more than anyone else.
Interesting read. I agree with you that some guys are built for strength and others are not. Some are built to look impressive with a little bit of added muscle, while others take a great deal more to look decent. I do believe that everybody should train for getting stronger no matter the rep range. I believe that's what most people are talking about when they say, "Just get stronger." It's not the use of low rep ranges, rather the application of adding weight.
I think people need look no further than the progress being made by some of the guys using HCT-12. It uses a moderate amount of sets and reps with a focus on added resistance over time. The same can be said for the guys using Starting Strength. Of course I am talking about beginners and low intermediates. Once a foundation has been built, the lifters can start using more complex routines with better results. That is after a good base strength has been built, their diets have become a habit, and they have increased their work capacity.
This wasn't meant to tell people that training this way is best just optimal if physique development is their goal. If u enjoy training just to get stronger then you should. You should always do what you enjoy. Training the way described is just what is needed when development is main goal.
You should always use challenging weights regardless of rep scheme. You should strive to work harder and apply more intensity not just focus on adding more weight. When you train for development strength will come.
Allen I have a couple questions if you dont mind ( I also just read your article An Intelligent Approach to Building a Big, Strong Chest ).
I prefer to lift heavier ( as already stated ) in the 6-10 rep range, however I do have shoulder issues that prevent me from going anywhere near heavy in any pressing movements ( I also make sure not to put any more stress on shoulders by not lowering the weights below 90 degree or flaring my elbows out to far, only using db etc.. ).
I reread what you wrote again and started to wonder maybe since I cannot lift heavy with my pushing muscles maybe some volume may work ( I can still train back and legs heavy so that will keep me happy ) in this case ( I realize strength gains will be slower but they will still be there ).
The only real question I really have is do you ramp up the weight on each set, or do you do straight sets with the same weight?
Success is achieved by doing a little more than you thought you could, and a lot more than anyone else.
Allen, I'm confused because you don't specify your definition for 'low reps' and 'training for strength' nor do you specify what you mean by 'training this way' (what you think is the optimal way for training for physique development).
I'm aware of your's and Scott Abel's methods and although shrouded in terms like 'surfing the strength curve', 'innervation training' and 'workout density' etc it all makes sense when you scratch the surface and ultimately (because rest times can't be decreased infinitely - all sets would roll into one and the load would have to be drastically reduced - reps can't be increased infinitely either, again load would be tiny) getting stronger is the only open ended measure there is.
But strength and getting stronger do not have to mean low reps (5 and under) and limit strength (1RM). It can mean, improving by a rep (or more) on the same load (whether that be from 3 to 4 reps or an increase from 12 to 14 reps), or increasing the load in any rep range.
I understand Scott's principles, they mirror my own and before you reply it'd be cool if you could read my article outlining not my principles but those that govern growth in everybody. Then you'll be perfectly clear about my standpoint and then hopefully we can get to a good discussion -
Great post to get a good discussion going Allen.
I'm only really starting to come to terms with the fact that I'm not well suited to lifting in the low rep ranges.
For a start, I just seem to have a hard time gaining strength period, which leads me to believe I'm just not well suited to strength work. And secondly I really care more about look than numbers. Having said that, I still like to focus on progression and getting stronger.
ALL of my injuries have been picked up from going too heavy or training in low rep ranges and it;s affected my training massively.
As Daniel said though, it depends on what you mean as low reps... I think 6-8 could work for me if it;s cycled and I don;lt push things TOO hard, but for example 3-4 is just gonna cause me issues and won't be in line with my goals of hypertrophy.
The key thing I would want to point out is that everyone should TRY some different things. If you keep getting injured lifting around the 6 rep range and aren;t seeing decent improvements in size, why not try 10 for a while and focus really in on form over weight/low reps?
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Funny how you mention wide hips, I was talking about this in my picture thread yesterday. I have a very wide hip structure my pant size stayed the same all the way from 165-200lbs. Great for squats my best lift, but not very good for aesthetics. I also remember reading about why dorian yates saying he didn't squat because of his tiny waist and hips.
Allen, I find your posts really interesting and I think I have a lot to learn from your years of experience but I'm confused by your stance here. You are saying this kind of training works for 90% of people, 90% of the time when a cursory look around any gym shows it clearly doesn't.
There are countless stories from people on WBB or any other message board who did standard 3x12 routines, concentrated on mentally working the muscle, did isolation work, focussed on increasing volume, avoided squats because they were convinced they weren't necessary... and got precisely nowhere. Then someone taught them the importance of gaining strength, the importance of squatting, they did a 5x5/SS variant and they improved more in three months than three years.
I've seen it myself. I've seen it in others. Anybody can see that in any gym they go to. It seems that far from the 90/90 thing the only people who find this training optimal are the mesomorphic types who respond to almost anything they do in the gym. I though the skinny ectomorphs normally respond to low volume strength training in the big lifts around the 4-8 rep range, or roughly what Daniel says in his article.
If you say your approach works even for the weak skinny types then great. But why is that? Does this approach need a coach? Is that what makes the difference? And if that is what makes a difference, then seeing how that's a luxury most of us don't have, wouldn't we be better off doing it the most efficient way (getting progressively stronger) after all?
Last edited by J.C.; 07-22-2010 at 05:53 AM.
The only real question I really have is do you ramp up the weight on each set, or do you do straight sets with the same weight?[/QUOTE]
It depends on the prgram. Mostly I listen to my body and as long as I'm in the pre-determined rep range I will stick with that weight unless its to light and could have done more. If I was doing 10-12 reps and got 12 but could have done 15 then I would definitley increase.
I also do weight constants where I use the same weight for all sets on something like 5 x 5. It all depends on context of the program.
This is where focusing on the muscle and not the movement comes into play to get the most out of the exercise. As we know alot of individuals focus more on lifting the weight from point A to B instead of focusing keeping the tension in the targeted area. Doing so results in less recruitment of the targetd muscle making the exercise not as effective to induce growth. Once they start focusing on training this way then when they do increase the weight the stress will stay on the targeted muscle. Thats why I say train for development and strength will come.
I definitley think we agree on a majority of principles but just see them slightly differently.
Actually based on that response it seems to me we agree on everything for the most part. Which doesn't actually surprise me I was just never clear on your specifics! Thanks for clearing it up.
I agree whole heartedly with thisand I actually touch on it in my article, however as you say I come at it from another angle - appropriate exercise selection. Not everyone is built equally and whilst a pressing movement will target the pressing muscles (your flat db press eg) for some it'll disproportionately stress the anterior delts, or the triceps over the chest, so at some point simply getting better (stronger) in that exercise is not going to do anything for proportional chest development. and so it is with squats etc.Now this is talking about only development mainly, if someone is lifting a challenging weight on flat DB press and is placing a majority of the stress on the pectoralis then they decide to go up, but then they end up using more back, shoulders, and triceps to get the weight up it takes the stress away from the targeted muscle thus taking away from the set and breakdown or the muscle.
This is where focusing on the muscle and not the movement comes into play to get the most out of the exercise. As we know alot of individuals focus more on lifting the weight from point A to B instead of focusing keeping the tension in the targeted area. Doing so results in less recruitment of the targetd muscle making the exercise not as effective to induce growth.
What is important is that the Size Principle of Motor Unit Recruitment (motor units control muscle action) states that motor units are recruited in an orderly manner from the smaller lower threshold fatigue resistant fibers (like the ones that allow me to type this) to the larger higher threshold quick-to-fatigue motor units that we associate with Type 2 muscle fiber employed to gain strength and build muscle. Now the one element that is specified about the Size Principle is that recruitment is dependent on the degree of efforts demanded. This is what I call intensity, and this is where the common mistake seems to be made in the strength industry. Unfortunately in our industry people tend to filter this principle through musculoskeletal aspects of strength. This can lead to faulty conclusions. The Size Principle of neurophysiology is a neural event; not a muscular one. And this is where all the mistakes about “heavy is better” training come from. It also leads to the illusion that lighter means “easier” and heavier means “harder”; both of which are relative and not absolute, and, more importantly just as often not true at all.
The Size Principle is quite clear that it is maximal or near maximal efforts which recruit the higher threshold motor units. The mistake occurs among strength researchers who make the error of equating tissue-intensity in muscle and low-rep strength as the same thing. And this is not what the size principle dictates. So if we follow the incorrect logic in strengthdom, the experts note that since near maximal efforts appear at the last few reps of a set, then maximum resistance is all that is needed for maximum fiber recruitment. Hence the theory, train with heavy low rep external resistance and size and development will follow. This seems logical on the surface. But like many theories logic is not always correct.
If you bench press, say, 200 lbs for 10 reps; for you, the set may not get difficult till about (for example) rep number 7. The strength theorists want to believe that any stimulus up to that point is irrelevant so why not just employ heavier resistance from the beginning? But here’s the point. During that set of 10 the force of contraction does not change. And the resistance through the whole set remains 200 lbs. So the trainee is not “lifting more” as the set continues because that 200 lbs resistance stays constant. But motor unit activity increases; and this is a learned adaptive response of applied intensity that is missed by those who view the size principle by filtering it through very one-dimensional perceptions of strength. This element is addressed in the neural response know as Total Activation Potential (TAP). And like many concepts, while it cannot be measured it can certainly be “observed.” It is indeed progression in terms of the neural component.
The fact that is missed here is that recruitment of higher threshold motor units is a developed and refined skill, not an absolute. Doing low rep, high external resistance training before this skill is developed is illogical. And we can see the obviousness of this in other examples.
Training Efficiency Percentage (TEP), as discussed in my article, is defined as the number or percentage of reps in a given set that elicit an adaptive response. If you observe a very advanced trainee and an intermediate trainee perform a set of 10 you'll notice a difference in how the muscle fatigues. As stated above, for the average person, doing a set of 10, may not show difficulty in performance of that set until the last few reps. But in the advanced trainee, you'll notice the first and last rep appear to be of equal intensity. In other words, there is a greater TEP in the advanced trainee than there is in the intermediate lifter; for the beginning or intermediate lifter difficulty only comes near the end of a set. This is a learned response/adaptation sequence that takes place over time. Or to put it another way: learning to recruit larger motor units for strength performance is a skill set developed and refined over time. Advising someone to train very low reps with a lot of external resistance is a mistake because their systems, nervous systems have not adapted to that level of quick and sustained motor unit recruitment.
It is a misinterpretation of the Size Principle to advise that low rep, high resistance training is superior. And it is a mistake because the assumption combines perceptions of strength into an equation that is neural, not muscular.
And there are neural principles at work here, which supersede the musculoskeletal strength principles. For instance, Total Activation Potential (TAP) mentioned above and Maximum Voluntary Neural Activation (MVNA) are neural events going on in the adaptation of the trainee to training stimulus over time.
It is not maximum or near maximum externally applied resistance that yields the best results for development, but rather maximum or near maximum internally focused efforts that matter most ( biofeedback).
So it’s not about “lifting more” it is about “lifting better.” The mind muscle connection is at the heart of the notion that the muscles work the weights; the weights don’t work the muscles. . It goes beyond being macho and training your ego to being mature and accomplishing a training goal.
We also need to get away from using the genetic elite representatives of any sport as the model for “how to” for the genetically average individual. I know what that is like because I was genetically average and buying into the “load’ emphasis got me nowhere like when I competed in powerlifting for 3 years. But now I have exceeded my expectations for my own development, as well as all my clients, by applying the size principle in this fashion.
Great discussion thus far!
Last edited by Allen Cress; 07-22-2010 at 06:24 AM.
I think most people make the mistake of trying to lift the weight rather then focuse on exercising the muscle they want to work. Obviously this depends on your goal, and if you are training for strength this doesn't hold as true as opposed to specific muscle developement and hypertrophy, but is still applicable in my opinion.
For example if it's their "chest day" and they are doing bench presses, they are really focused on putting up a big number weight wise. They want to hit a new PR and when you are trying to hit a PR or are lifting really heavy you are going to be putting more emphasis on getting the weight up over completely working the muscle in question and keeping the load on that muscle wanting worked versus the other 5 or so muscles helping.
Which might be fine, but if your goal is for developing the muscle in question, then it would serve you better to take weight out of the picture. Forget about hitting that PR, or even what weight you are using. Just focus on making sure you are hitting as many fibers as possible for that muscle (with an appropriate weight), not on whatever other muscles are trying to help you with said lift.
Obviously if your not into working individual body parts, or you dig complex movements because of time requirements or the "getting more bang for you buck" I imagine this might not be appropriate advice. I still think most people would be better served taking the amount of weight they are lifting out of the picture and just focusing on really working the muscles in question.
The problem is this goes against what most people are thinking, which is "I have to put more weight on the bar and lift big" and in doing so I think sometimes the muscles they really wanted to work don't get fatigued as well as they should because the work is split up amongst other contributing muscles while trying to put up the "big weight" So all the muscles helping on that lift might get worked, but not nearly on the level of what you would want for maximum growth.
I take it you're expanding on your first post with this new one? Not directing it at anyone in particular?
I get where you're going with this, internal vs external cues, MVC, and all that and again for the most part agree, but I think your lexicon of training terms vs mine is going to confuse a lot of people! And that ties in with my only real criticism i.e. your accumulated knowledge is quite difficult to decipher, so some of the valid messages you put across are lost, couched as they are in obscure terminology.
I have no doubt whatsoever that were I to put my training in your hands I'd progress as well, maybe better (being coached is a worthwhile experience for anyone), because fundamentally we know the same stuff. But I think anyone reading this would only really get what you're saying by experiencing your guidance first hand.
You make a good point here -
But what do you do when that rep range/weight get's easier? You can't focus more, the weight still needs to go up i.e. you got stronger.Which might be fine, but if your goal is for developing the muscle in question, then it would serve you better to take weight out of the picture. Forget about hitting that PR, or even what weight you are using. Just focus on making sure you are hitting as many fibers as possible for that muscle (with an appropriate weight), not on whatever other muscles are trying to help you with said lift.
Interesting discussion. I don't disagree with anything Allen has said if you are training for purely for bodybuilding purposes. The problem I see is that "focusing on the muscle" and "mind-muscle connection" principles are very rarely applied correctly to actually yield any significant results. There are multitudes of people out there in gyms trying to train this way and getting absolutely nowhere. I don't know if it's lack of coaching or poor understanding or what, but alot of this seems to get lost going from theoretical to application.
I also find that many people training like this stay in a very narrow rep range (8-15 reps) and never venture out of that range. On the other hand, every powerlifter I've ever seen does some training in nearly every rep range (1-20+) and many have development that the average person would kill for. Most average trainees seem to train for both size and strength, so a balanced approach with some strength work and some hypertrophy seems to make sense for most people.
I'll throw one word into the discussion here..."Cycles."
If you take your typical cycle, a lifter will start out with a lower percentage of his RM. At that lower percentage the lifter will be hitting his reps with ease. This has the benefit of allowing him/her to work on correct form and keep the movements very strict. It also allows the lifter to get a running start at the heavier weights by getting the muscles used to the exercise and increasing demands.
As the cycle progresses, the lifter will be using a higher percentage of their RM. This would put him/her in that range that Allen is talking about where the target muscle is the prime mover. It is also the type of lifting that Daniel recomends by leaving a couple of reps in the tank. This has been shown to be the best growth phase of the cycle.
As the cycle starts to wind down, the lifter is using a high percentage of his/her RM. This is the time to break those PRs and realize your best strength gains. Yes, you will be using looser form and recruiting more "helping" muscle groups to get the lift. But the strength gained from this part of the cycle will help tremendously when you start your new cycle. You will now be using more weight on that middle portion of the next cycle where the "mind-muscle" connection is at its greatest.
I'm sorry I don't sound as intelectual as Allen and Daniel, I speak pretty plain
All this rhetoric and jargon confuses the newer lifters this site attracts. You can put a dress on a pig, but it's still a pig. KISS. Work to get stronger in a specific rep range(s), use compound movements as the basis of your routine, choose accessory lifts intelligently, if you want to gain weight eat more, and lose weight eat less
If you are ready to compete at a body building level and are starting out, hire someone like Allen to help you. If you are lifting for yourself to get bigger, of another reason, don't sweat the small stuff.
Last edited by joey54; 07-22-2010 at 08:27 AM.
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Just get under the bar!
I personally have no clue what type I am....all I know is that I find it very hard to increase my max squat, and when I do higher volume, lower weight squat sessions I FEEL as if I have been more productive overall - both in terms of getting stronger and in building my legs.
I think that learning your body really comes through experience aka "time under the bar". Overtime, if you stick with the weightlifing lifestyle, you kinda just figure out what works for you based on your goals.
An alternative to the typical 9 - 5 lifestyle
The rep range I work in as well as all clients regardless of sport is 5-30 reps. I completely agree you need to surf the strength curve for optimal results but when your goal is size then you just stay on one end of the curve more than the other. I have my bodybuilders do structural training programs where the emphasis is strength and power and this helps prime the nervous system more when we go back to more purely hypertrophy based programs. I am definitely not saying you should train in one rep range all the time, but I never have any athlete go below 4 reps minimum, even purley strength athletes.