Q: What is the best rep speed for muscle growth? I want to look like a bodybuilder/physique athlete, so I’m not that concerned with strength. I just want more muscle mass.
A: In The X-traordinary X-Rep Workout e-book we cite a study that attempted to determine the optimal rep speed for building muscle. It compared doing sets with a two-to-three-second positive and a two-to-three-second negative—about three up, three down—with sets using a power cadence, which is one second up and three seconds down. The power cadence produced the most mass in this study. [Int J Sports Med. 30(3):200-204; 2009.]
Muscle biopsies suggest that the power cadence causes more damage to more muscle fibers than traditional reps, leading to a greater degree of protein remodeling in the trained muscle. You may know from our Ultimate Fat-to-Muscle Workout and the X-centric Mass Workout e-books that slow lowering, or the eccentric stroke, causes more muscle damage. But notice that BOTH groups lowered the weight in three seconds. So what gives?…
The key is that the power-training group used a more forceful turnaround for the one-second positive compared to the slower tempo of the other group. That explosive jolt right at the semi-stretch point of the target muscle activates significantly more fast-twitch muscle fibers, so more growth fibers are engaged on every rep and for each traumatic negative.
That study actually proves why end-of-set X-Rep partials are so incredibly effective—you force the muscle to continue firing, activating the MYOTATIC REFLEX and getting more dormant fast-twitch fibers into the action. In the above study, the controlled explosion occurs on every rep of a power set. Ending with X Reps would make the set even more anabolic.
Our recommendation is to use one second up and three seconds down for your big multi-joint, or midrange, exercises—like bench presses, squats, rows, pulldowns and so on.
Isolation moves are more dangerous, especially stretch-position exercises like flyes and pullovers, so slow down the positive somewhat for less joint stress. We like a two-up/three-down tempo to grow for those.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson
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