Q: I’ve been reading your e-zine for years, and I have almost all of your e-books. Great info, and thanks to you I have a lot of new muscle. 3D POF is great! My question is about rep ranges. You’ve talked about using lower reps, medium reps, and higher reps. I’ve read that the key to muscle growth is intensity, and that rep ranges don’t really matter. Can’t I just keep doing about eight to 10 reps, the best range for muscle growth, on all my exercises and train intensely, to failure, to make the best gains? Do I really need different rep ranges?
A: While intensity is the big key to forcing muscle growth, there is no doubt that the predominant fiber type in a particular muscle dictates its best rep range for fastest size gains.
For example, most trainees’ calves and forearms contain more endurance-oriented fibers—both fast twitch and slow twitch—with fewer pure fast-twitch power fibers. That means higher reps—longer tension times—produce the best size results in those
Also, remember that all muscles have a combination of fiber types, the ratios are just different. So all rep ranges can produce some growth in all muscles, just in different capacities…
For example, hardgainer types, like Steve, tend to have more endurance-oriented muscles. That means most bodyparts respond best to higher reps—because it takes longer tension times to get a response from endurance-oriented fibers. A study we’ve discussed before showed that very result. Here’s a quick review of what happened…
Researchers took about 100 randomly selected subjects and trained them using various set-and-rep protocols. Those with a so-called ACE-2 variant, or endurance gene (skinny folks), responded best to training using 12 to 15 reps, or extended tension times. When those subjects used heavier weight that limited their reps to around eight, they showed close to zero gains. (Hardgainers, read that again—doing all of your sets in a lower rep range won’t work for you!)
On the other hand, the subjects who were more anaerobic, with something called an ACE-DD variant, showed similar gains from both types of loads. They also made greater strength gains than the endurance-oriented group. Still, this anaerobic DD group made the most gains from the heavier training, implying that they respond best to that kind of lower-rep weight work. [Colakoglu, M., et al. (2005). Eur J App Physiol. 95(1):20-26.]
We’ve noticed that exact response variance in our own training. Steve’s muscles are more endurance oriented (ACE-2) and Jonathan’s are more anaerobic (ACE-DD). If our training has too much extended-tension work, Jonathan stagnates; if we do too much heavy straight-set work, Steve’s muscle gains stall or regress. Notice our body type differences in this photo…
The bottom line: Everyone needs both types of training to max out muscle mass, along with a good dose of intensity, but the right amount of each can be different depending on your genetics and fiber makeup. The eight-to-10 range is like
We’ve found that the way to achieve the most growth with the least time in the gym, and less recovery drain, is to use different rep ranges, but not randomly—use the range that fits a specific exercise type’s purpose.
For example, lower reps (seven to nine, plus X Reps) on your big midrange exercise, like chins; medium reps (nine to 12) on your stretch-position move, like pullovers; and higher reps (12 to 15, slower cadence) on your contracted-position exercise, like stiff-arm pulldowns, for longer tension and more occlusion, or blood-flow blockage (drop sets on the last exercise work well too). Each of those exercise/rep-range pairings trains a unique facet of muscle growth, as shown in our Hypertrophy Hierarchy…
Midrange Exercise: Max Force
Stretch-Position Exercise: More Max Force Plus Stretch Overload
Contracted-Position Exercise: Continuous Tension/Occlusion/Super Saturation
All it takes is one or two work sets in each position, and you cover all the “layers” of muscle growth, building size fast along all the different pathways. That’s efficiency of effort.
By the way, Steve has been using Positions-of-Flexion training for much of his training career, and it’s a big reason he’s been able to build an impressive physique with hardgainer genetics (his mom weighed 95 and his dad 115 when they were married in their early 20s—talk about genetically challenged!). 3D POF has helped improve a number of his so-called genetic flaws and restructured his anabolic capacity.
For more on POF training plus X Reps for each bodypart, see the 3D Muscle Building e-book.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson
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