Mechanical tension, or mechanical loading, is resistance stress on the muscle fibers. It’s the big key to hypertrophy.
And for the purpose of muscle growth, we want mechanical loading that targets fast-twitch engagement. That occurs optimally with a cascade effect, activating slow-twitch fibers first followed by fast-twitch…
That’s the Size Principle of muscle-fiber recruitment, which I explain in Old Man Young Muscle…
On a set of 10 reps to failure, the first easy reps are accomplished with mostly slow-twitch. As the set progresses and the reps get harder, more and more fast-twitch fibers are dialed into the action.
It would appear that taking a set to failure engages the most fast-twitch fibers; however…
New interpretations suggest that going “all out” may do more harm than good with heavier loads (lighter loads are somewhat different, as you’ll see).
Researcher Chris Beardsley says that heavier sets to failure do most of the damage on the last two reps; therefore you should stop two reps short to avoid that severe damage.
It appears that you get all or most of the fast-twitch hypertrophy stimulation from going close to failure without severe damage. Hitting the wall has negative-growth consequences—much like, well, hitting a wall.
But doesn’t muscle damage trigger muscle-protein synthesis, which promotes muscle hypertrophy?
While damage activates muscle-protein synthesis, it appears that it does so for damage repair only. That means the more damage, the more protein synthesis is leached from the muscle-growth process.
Muscle-protein synthesis is activated first to repair the damage. Of course, some damage is unavoidable, but if there’s too much, there’s very little or nothing left for growth.
When you hammer a muscle into submission with heavy sets to failure, the damage is usually not fully repaired by the time you train that muscle again—hence, slow to no growth (unless you’re on steroids).
Bottom line: Try stopping a couple of reps short of failure to minimize the damage and allow growth during recovery rather than everything going toward repair.
Keep in mind that we’re talking heavier sets here—in the single digits.
In tomorrow’s newsletter you’ll see that higher-rep sets appear to be a different animal.
New: Get the ideal exercise for each muscle, the best add-on moves for ultimate mass, complete 35-minute workouts, exercise start/finish photos, and details on building muscle fast and efficiently in Old Man, Young Muscle.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
Former Editor in Chief
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