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Articles > Other Resources > Rep Variation Training
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The most basic element of bodybuilding training has to be the repetition. At first look, it seems pretty simple: lift the weight up and down several times and you're done. The truth is that there's alot more to it than that. Even though many people do, in fact, just toss the weight up and down with no real thought as to what they are doing, how you perform your reps determines the effectiveness of your set. Many new lifters typically use what I would call normal reps - 3-4 seconds up, 3-4 seconds down with maybe a pause at the top-and stop when they hit a certain number. They make great progress because they are exposing the muscles to something new and different. 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 techniques, in this case I mean something other than the usual extended rep techniques like forced reps, burns and so on. The approach I want to talk about is not as common as the above mentioned techniques. In this case, you are varying the rep performance by varying rep speed -by using fast, explosive movements and super slow movements and rep count by using high and low reps.

The routine in this article is designed to fully stimulate both types of muscle fibers, fast twitch and slow twitch, through rep variation training. It also takes advantage of time under tension: it's been said that for best results a set should take 20 seconds to 60 seconds to complete.

Before we get to the routine, let's briefly define the fiber types:

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 are endurance fibers, 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.

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.

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 pausing at all.

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 it's best used on basic movements.

Slow reps, on the other hand, can take about 10 seconds up and the same down, pausing at the top for a 2 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,as many of you know from some of my other articles, the basic exercises such as squats, dead lifts, power cleans, that you use for the faster, explosive style 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.

As with rep range, 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 in to the three major components that make up a muscle cell: myofibrils, which account for about 20-30 percent of the cell size, mitochondria, which accounts for 15-25 percent, and sarcoplasm, which accounts for 20-30 percent. The remainder of each muscle cell is made up of capillaries, connective tissue, fat deposits, glycogen and other subselluar substances. The myofibrils allow 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 stimulate the myofibrils to grow. This combination of explosive reps and a 6-8 rep range is a good combination for size and strength gains in the myofibrils. This is the basis for what I suggest in the routine as far as fast reps. The mitochondria, when developed, increase 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 myofibrills with nutrients such as oxyegen, water, amino acids, glucose and creatine. Sarcoplasm increases in porportion to increases in the myfibril and mitochondria. The idea of rep range training makes even more sense when you consider that the myofibrils 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 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 alot 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 6 days a week, each muscle twice or even three times a week, and rest just one day out of seven. Unless you're a professional bodybuilder, I just don't see how you can possibly recover from that much work. 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 easy reps. On the last warm up set, the final reps should be hard.
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. Remember, by fast I do not mean momentum and sloppy form. I do mean explosive up as quickly as you can but under control and lower under control. We're talking a 2-3 second/0 second/ 2-3 second tempo range here. That's 2-3 seconds up, no pause, 2-3 seconds down.
Leg extensions - 2 working sets at slow rep speed, using a weight that allows you 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. Tempo: 10 seconds up, hold for a 2 count, 10 seconds down.
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. Tempo: 4 seconds up, pause for a 2 count, 4 seconds down. The tempo prescriptions listed here apply to the rest of the routine.
2 working sets, 1 at fast rep speed, 10-15 reps, the other at slow rep speed, 8-10 reps.
Abs as usual - to work abs in this manner may be difficult but possible on a ab crunch machine if you want to try it.

Day 2 back, biceps, forearms, abs
Dead lifts - 3 warm up sets at normal rep speed, 15-20 reps - fail at this range
Dead lifts - 1 working set at normal rep speed, 6-8 reps
Power cleans - 2 -3 working sets at fast rep speed, 5-6 reps
Lat Pulldowns - 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
Pressdowns - 1-2 sets at slow rep speed, 5-6 reps
Abs as usual

I suggest 1 -11/2 minutes 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, 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. Remember, everything works, some things work better than others but everything only works for a while. It makes sense to be creative and new in your thinking every once in a while, trying something a little bit different. This routine does just that!

Email me at sb5660@windstream.net with questions or comments.

By: Jim Brewster

 

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