Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mixing In Low Rep

Low-rep lifting isn't for beginners. It can already be hard on the joints and connective tissue. Add to the mix improper form and a person who doesn't know his or her limit, and you're asking for an injury. So why should you even consider low-rep?

Well, for an experienced lifter, it will break through the toughest plateau. When nothing else has worked, mixing in a low-rep cycle will.

Muscle size and muscle strength aren't directly proportionate. There are the things you can't change, like how far from the joint your muscles attach (ie length of force arm), how long your limbs are (ie length of resistance arm), and your ratio of slow-twitch to fast and super-fast twitch muscle fiber (no ie here). All of these factors can cause two people with the same amount of muscle to have two very different levels of strength. But you can't change these things.

Another factor is the strength of your nervous sytem. A muscle fiber only knows on and off. It either contracts at maximum strength or not at all. To lift heavier things, you activate more muscle fibers, you do not activate the same number harder. But a person who doesn't ever train near their limit won't have the ability to activate as much muscle as a person who does.

Just like your cardio-vascular system and muscles, your nervous system needs to be pushed to develop. The more you train it to send out those big jolts of signal, the more muscle fiber you'll be able to recruit. Many power-lifters stay in the same weight class for years, but get stronger every year. Their form is getting better and more efficient, and they are training their nervous system to recruit more muscle fiber. How? By lifting low rep (I hope you guessed that).

Lifting in the bodybuilding rep range of 8-12 will also increase strength, but it is best for increasing size. Hypertrophy means the muscle fibers are larger, but not necessarily stronger in proportion. They have a lot of mitochondria for providing energy, and bigger muscles will be stronger, but the correlation is indirect. So why bother getting big muscles? Because each cycle will let you build on the next.

I just ended a low rep cycle. My gains slowed. I started to feel some aches and pains. On previous cycles it's been in my shoulders. This time it's in my right bicep. I need time to heal, to not push my muscle's contractile strength to the limit. I can do this by switching to hypertrophy range lifting.

My strength has gone way up in the last few months, so now I'll be able to move more weight to 10 reps. That means more muscle growth. When I feel that I've healed and grown as much as possible, I'll be able to take the larger muscles and, by lifting low rep again, use them for even more strength gains. By switching back and forth, and mixing in some other cycles to shock your body, you can gain constantly, though in one cycle it will mostly be in strength and the next in size.

I've heard everybody is a hard gainer. I sure am. I have to coax out every bit of strength and every ounce of size. Carefully cycling in low-rep helps, and if you've got the necessary years of experience in the gym you should consider it.

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