Q: In the 3D HIT program [listed in the X-traordinary Arms e-book], you say to end each bodypart with one slow, higher-rep set of an isolation exercise for tension and occlusion. You also mention drop sets for those exercises. Which is better, one higher-rep set or a drop set?
A: Keep in mind that doing a drop set is a volume increase because it’s two sets back to back. For example, on concentration curls for biceps, you do a set of 10 reps to exhaustion, grab a lighter dumbbell, and immediately rep out again, getting about six more reps. Is that better than one set of 12-15 reps? That depends…
As explained in most of our e-books, the size principle of fiber recruitment says that the slow-twitch fibers, which depend on oxygen from the blood, fire first on any set, followed by the endurance-oriented fast-twitch fibers followed by the high-threshold fast-twitch fibers (which have the most potential for growth but don’t need oxygen to fire). That domino effect is why those last tough reps are so important—to get at the key fibers with the most growth potential, which fire last.
So while a higher-rep set provides a longer continuous-tension time—no break—you get almost the same blood-blockage effect with a drop set, with one quick break to change the weight. There’s a bonus with drop sets, however; you also attack more high-growth fibers on the second phase.
Why? Because the slow-twitch fibers have very little blood from which to pull oxygen—you’ve depleted it on the first phase. In other words, the second phase of a drop set forces more medium- and high-threshold motor units to fire (if you can change the weight quickly to prevent too much blood flow and you can grit your teeth and rep through the fire!).
The question then becomes, Is getting more high-growth fast-twitch fibers to fire really the goal of contracted-position exercises? Not really. Those isolated exercises are more about occlusion and tension. So is breaking up the tension time to reduce the weight counterproductive? Not if you do a drop set correctly, as follows (then it becomes better than one higher-rep set)…
Pick a weight that you can get 10 reps with using a slow cadence—2 seconds up, 3 seconds down. That gives you 50 seconds of tension time (that’s very close to the parameters in the study we’ve discussed—56 seconds with
On the second phase with the reduced weight, you can activate more fast-twitch fibers—and to do that we suggest you use a faster cadence, on the order of 1 second up and one second down. Explosive-but-controlled reps have been shown to activate pure fast-twitch fibers best, and with depleted oxygen from your first drop-set phase, that will happen faster—efficiency of effort (once again, if you can stand the fire).
Remember, reduce the weight for the second phase quickly and begin repping immediately, as the less blood (oxygen) that gets in the muscle the better you can force the fast-twitch fibers to fire almost immediately.
If you do your drop sets in that manner—
Try the drop-set tactic on slacker bodyparts only—like on the contracted-position exercises—and be prepared for a blast of new mass.
Note: For more info on the 3D HIT, and for proven ways to pack size on your bi’s and tri’s, check out the X-
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson
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