Q: I just started the Size Surge program for some new size this year, and it feels great so far. I love the workouts. One problem I’m having is that on some exercises that I’m supposed to pyramid the weight up, I don’t get enough reps on the second heaviest set. For example, on dumbbell presses, my reps go 9 and then 4 or 5 after I add weight. Should I just keep doing that, use the same weight on both sets or what?
A: We’ve answered a similar question concerning barbell curls before, and we suggested using the same weight on both sets; however, that’s a single-joint move. It sounds as if you’re having problems pyramiding on the big compound, or multi-joint, exercises, which is common for thin guys looking for muscle size…
Hardgainers—wiry, high-strung types—have a hard time putting on muscle. One of the big reasons is less-than-stellar nerve-to-muscle connections—you no doubt have a hard time feeling the target muscle working—and/or a dominant endurance muscle-fiber type. A study we’ve discussed before explains and provides a clue to a mass-building solution for you…
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 (extended tension times). When those subjects used heavier weight that limited their reps to around eight, they showed close to zero gains.
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 training before. Steve’s muscles are more endurance oriented (ACE-2) and Jonathan’s are more anaerobic (ACE-DD). It used to be that if our training had too much extended-tension work (longer sets), Jonathan would stagnate; if we did too much heavy lower-rep work, Steve’s muscle gains would stall or regress. You can see our body-type differences in this photo…
In fact, when Jonathan pyramids on the big exercises, his reps will often stay the same. For example, on bench press he’ll do 8, rest, add weight, and then get 8 again—same reps, MORE weight. Steve on the other hand is like you: He’ll get 8, add weight, then get only 4 on his second heavier set. The solution for Steve on those exercises where a pyramid causes extreme rep regression is a reverse pyramid…
With a reverse pyramid you still do progressively heavier warmup sets, but on your first work set you take your heaviest weight, one with which you can get 7 reps. Now instead of adding weight, you subtract it—enough so you can crank out 10 to 12 reps…
So instead of a medium-rep set and a low-rep set, which, as the research shows, does almost nothing for hardgainer types, you do a medium-rep set followed by a higher-rep set. The heavier set first also gives you nervous system priming, which is important. Remember, we said hardgainers tend to have below-average neuromuscular efficiency. The reverse pyramid can help you overcome that on your second KEY growth set.
Heavy-weight low-rep sets cause the nervous system to crap out early; however, they also heighten nervous system response. That means after one heavy low-rep set, you’ll be able to activate more fibers on your second.
So going from a heavy, lower-rep set to a lighter, higher-rep set on the compound exercises in the Size Surge program is tailor made to give hardgainers like you a better hypertrophic response. In other words, a pyramid in reverse to give you a muscle-mass burst.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson
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