Q: I’m a bodybuilder and very interested in trying the 10-sets-of-10 method you’ve been writing about. I’m worried because using lighter weights and short rests [between sets] would appear to build primarily the slow-twitch and the fast-twitch endurance fibers [2As], and neglect the power fast-twitch 2Bs. Shouldn’t I be using heavy weights to get at the key 2B fibers?
A: You’re right, the 10×10 method primarily builds the type-2A fibers, those fast-twitchers with an endurance component (that’s why it works so quickly, as you’ll see in a moment). You don’t entirely neglect the 2Bs, however…
For the uninitiated, a 10×10 set grouping has you use a weight with which you could get 20 reps, but you use it for all 10 sets—with 30 to 40 seconds between sets. That means the first sets are easy, gradually increasing in difficulty and intensity as you reach the latter sets. (Guaranteed profanities on sets 9 and 10.)
Now the size principle of muscle fiber recruitment states that on the first few easy reps of an all-out set you use the low-threshold motor units (slow-twitch); the harder reps bring in the medium-threshold motor units (fast-twitch 2As); then the last two extremely hard reps bring in the high-threshold motor units (fast-twitch 2Bs).
That’s the fiber cascade on one set to exhaustion. That domino effect happens on a 10×10 sequence too, but over the course of all the sets: On the first few sets you primarily use slow twitch; as the sets get harder you bring in the 2As and on the last few reps of the last few sets you bring in the 2Bs.
You say you’re a bodybuilder, so the 2As should be your primary emphasis. What? Not the 2Bs? Not according to research reported by Jerry Brainum that compared high-level bodybuilders with average college students:
The study examined single muscle fibers. Since the type 2B fibers are the muscle fibers most likely to grow, it stands to reason that the bodybuilders in the study would have an abundance of such fibers, or at least more of them than the other kinds of muscle fibers. The reality was that they showed a higher portion of types 1 and 2A fibers, with a complete absence of type 2Bs. [Eur J Appl Physiol. 103(5):579-83. 2008.]
The bodybuilders had almost no 2B fibers. Therefore, optimal training for bodybuilders interested in size should emphasize the 2As—and that’s precisely what 10×10 training does. Interesting! No wonder Vince Gironda called that style of training his go-to “honest workout” that he used to transform and muscle up Hollywood actors as well as Mr. Olympia contenders. It builds muscle fast, plain and simple. And the short rests make for quick workouts.
Now, if keeping your strength moving forward on the big exercises is important to you, we provide some alternatives to pure 10×10-only workouts in The Ultimate 10×10 Mass Workout. One is the Heavy/Light approach…
At the “light” workout for each muscle, you do only one exercise in 10×10 style. At the “heavy” workout for that muscle you use a full-range Positions-of-Flexion program, and you pyramid the weight on the first midrange exercise…
For example, for chest you would do bench presses for 9, 6, and 3-4 reps, adding weight to each set. That’s a proven strength-building tactic, and you’ll bring in 2Bs at the end of each set, especially on the lower-rep sets. You’ll also get good 2A involvement. You follow with one set of a stretch-position exercise (flyes) and one set of a contracted-position move (cable crossovers), both for 8-10 reps. At the next workout, which is “light,” you only do bench presses in 10×10 style. So you’re alternating heavy POF with one-exercise 10×10 workouts.
Each workout only lasts about 35 minutes (10×10 is that efficient), and from a scientific standpoint, you can be sure some 2Bs are forced into action on the last few sets of each 10×10 grouping. But remember, it’s the 2As that are most important for a muscle size surge.
That’s why it works—it’s a very fast and efficient way to activate and stimulate an array of muscle fibers, but mostly those that make muscles larger. It’s the power of 10, but you gotta have a good pain tolerance to force out the reps so you trigger as much growth-fiber activation as possible.
Note: For more on the power of 10, see The Ultimate 10×10 Mass Workout, ONLY $9 HERE.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson
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