The thing is. Gerald DID make a huge achievement in weight loss. He would probably had gotten FAR more credit for that IF he hadn't started is online presence with a HIT campaign that was dogmatic, unreasonable and insulting.
I think what happened is his weight loss achievement went to his head and he now fancies himself as a weight training authority.
There is absolutely no way anybody can claim a program as being best (even for them) without being on a muscle gain program for a few years while experimenting with different programs.
What Gerald has done is ASSUME that HIT is so great because he got lean on it in line with his dieting. He hasn't actually been on a "bulk" or experienced any REAL muscular gains. He has very little experience on what actually puts on mass.
Britlifter I guess the biggest mistake he has done , along cutting he didn't make adjustments in frequency,volume and intensity of the workouts and that caused him overtrained . After doing some researchs he passed to HIT and blamed volume for the reason of overtraining . He could get better results with a higher volume if he could made adjustments in the other variables. The problem he is so dogmatic that he doesn't want to accept this and when a person tells , proves that he is wrong he gives people rude answers. Even I am not mentioning the other things he has done and still doing . He must change his attitude.
Maybe HIT worked well for him while cutting but if he continues same type of training in bulking he will stall after a while. As you want to mention he will see the difference between 'bulking' and 'cutting' and then maybe he will begin to understand what we are working to tell him.
This is my attempt to get this thread back on track.
INTENSITY OF STRENGTH
TRAINING FACTS AND THEORY:
RUSSIAN AND EASTERN
Vladmir M. Zatsiorsky, Ph.D.
Biomechanics Lab The Pennsylvania State University, University Park,
Pennsylvania and Central Institute of Physical Culture-Moscow, Russia
Re-printed with permission by the author.
Many attempts have been made to determine which training is more effective,
lifting maximal or intermediate weights. This is similar to the question of whether
800-meter runners should train at distances shorter or longer than 800 meters. It
is advisable to run both. The same holds true for strength training; exercises with
different resistances must be employed.
The objective of this paper is to describe and explain the training routine
employed by elite Russian and Bulgarian weightlifters. Athletes from these
countries have won almost all of the gold medals at the World and Olympic
championships over the last 25 years.
Three main problems exist in strength conditioning of elite athletes:
1. Selection of exercises used by an athlete;
2. Training load, in particular training intensity and volume; and
3. Training timing, i.e. the distribution of the exercises and load over the time
The training intensity of elite athletes is the only problem covered in this article.
Exercise Intensity Measurement
Exercise intensity during heavy resistance training can be estimated in four ways:
1. Magnitude of resistance, i.e., weight lifted, expressed as a percentage of
the best achievement (FM) in relevant movement. Expressing the weight
lifted in kg, it is difficult to compare the training load of athletes of various
skill levels and from different weight classes.
2. Number of repetitions (lifts) per set (a set is a group of repetitions
3. Number (or percentage) of repetitions with maximal resistance (weight).
4. Workout density, i.e. the number of sets per one-hour workout.
The first three methods are described below:
1. To characterize the magnitude of resistance (load), use the percentage of
the weight lifted relative to the best performance. Depending on how the
best achievement is determined, two main variants of such a measure are
utilized. The athletic performance attained during an official sport
competition (competition FM = CFM) is used as a ?best performance? in the
first case. In the second, a so called maximum training weight (TFM) is
used for comparison.
By definition, maximum training weight is the heaviest weight (one
repetition maximum - 1 RM) which can be lifted by an athete without
substantial emotional stress. In practice, experienced athletes determine
TFM by registering heart rate. An increase in heart rate before the lift is a
sign of emotional anxiety. The weight exceeds TFM in this case. The
difference between the TFM and the CFM is approximately 12.5 +/- 2.5
percent for superior weight lifters. The difference is greater among
athletes in heavy weight classes. In the case of an athlete who lifts 200 kg
during competition, 180 kg weight is typically above his TFM.
The difference between CFM and TFM is great. After an important
competition, weight lifters are extremely tired, although they perform only
six lifts in comparison to nearly 100 during a regular training session. The
athletes have a feeling of ?emptiness?and they cannot lift large volumes of
weight. The athletes need about one week of rest and may compete in the
next important competition only after one month of rest and training
(compared with other sports in which athletes compete two to three times
a week). The reason for this is the great emotional stress while lifting CFM,
rather than the physical load itself. TFM can be lifted at each training
It is more practical to use CFM rather than TFM for the calculation of
training intensity. In a sport such as weight lifting, the training intensity is
characterized by an intensity coefficient.
average weight lifted, kg.
intensity coefficient =
(Snatch plus clean and jerk), kg
On average, the intensity coefficient for superior Russian athletes is 38 +/-
It is recommended to use a CFM value (the average of the two
performances attained during official contests) immediately before and
after the studied period of training. For instance, if the performance was
100 kg during a competition in December and it was 110 kg in May, the
average CFM for the January - April period was 105 kg.
There are many misconceptions in sports science literature regarding
weight loads used in heavy resistance training. One reason is that the
difference between CFM and TFM is not always completely described. The
reader must be attentive to this difference.
Figure 1: The distribution of weights lifted by members of the National Olympic
team of the USSR during preparation for the 1988 Olympic Winter Games; one
year of direct observations. (From: ?Preparation of National Olympic team in
weight lifting to the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.? Technical report #1988-67,
All-Union Research Institute of Physical Culture, Moscow, 1989)
2. The number of repetitions per set (repetition maximum - RM) is a popular
measure of intensity in exercise where maximal force (FM) is difficult or
even impossible to evaluate, such as sit-ups.
The magnitude of resistance (weight, load) may be characterized by the
ultimate number of repetitions possible in one set (to failure). RM
determination entails utilizing a trial-and-error process to find the greatest
amount of weight a trainee can lift a designated number of times. RM is a
very convenient measure of training intensity in heavy resistance training.
However, there is no fixed relationship between the magnitude of the
weight lifted (expressed as a percentage of the FM in relevant movement)
and the number of repetitions to failure (RM). The relationship varies with
different athletes and motions.
Thus, 10 RM corresponds to approximately 75 percent of FM. This is valid
for athletes in sports in which strength and explosive strength are
predominate qualities (weight lifting, sprinting, jumping, throwing, etc.).
However, it should be taken into account that a given percent of 1 RM will
not always elicit the same number of repetitions to failure when performing
During training, elite athletes use varying numbers of repetitions in
3. The number for repetitions with maximal resistance is used as an
additional measure of the intensity of strength training. All lifts with a
barbell above 90 percent of CFM are included in this category. These
loads are above TFM for most athletes.
Intensity of training
The practical training experience of elite athletes is a very useful source of
information in sports science. This experience, while it does not provide sound
scientific proof of the optimum results that can be expected from the employed
training routines, reflects the most efficient training techniques known at the time.
The distribution of training weights in the conditioning of elite weight lifters is
shown in Figure 1. Elite athletes use a broad spectrum of different loads. The
loads below 60 percent of CFM are used mainly for warming up and restitution
(they account for eight percent of all the lifts). The main portion of weights lifted
(25 percent) is 70 to 80 percent of the CFM . The loads above 90 percent of CFM
account for only seven percent of all lifts.
According to numerous observations, the average training intensity for elite
Russian athletes is 75 +/- 2 percent of the CFM. Athletes from other countries
often use higher or lower training weights. For instance, Finnish weight lifting
champions exercise (1987) at an average intensity of 80 +/- 2.5 percent.
The number of repetitions per, set varies by exercise. In both the snatch and
clean and jerk lifts (Figure 2), the major parts of all sets are performed with 1-3
repetitions. In the snatch, only 1.8 percent of the sets are done with three four
repetitions; in the clean, the percentage of sets with four through six lifts is not
more than 5.4 percent. The majority of sets, roughly from 55 to 60 percent,
comprise two repetitions.
In auxiliary strength exercises, such as squatting with a barbell, in which motor
coordination only partially resembles the coordination in the snatch squats, the
range is from two to seven lifts per set (more than 93 percent of all sets are
performed in this range, Figure 3).
Generally, as the intermuscular coordination in an exercise becomes more
simple, and as the technique of the exercise deviates from the technique of the
main event (in this example, from the technique of both the snatch and clean and
jerk), the greater the number of repetitions. In the clean and jerk, it is one to three
(54.4 percent of sets were with two lifts only); the typical number of reps in
squatting is three to five, and in the inverse curl the average number of lifts is five
to seven per set (Figure 4).
The numbers of repetitions with maximal resistance (CFM) are relatively low.
During the 1984 -1988 Olympic training cycle, elite Russian athletes lifted a
barbell of maximal weight in main exercises (snatch, clean, and jerk) 300 to 600
times a year. This amount comprised 1.5 - 3.0 percent of all their lifts. These
weights were distributed as follows:
Weight of Barbell Number of lifts
(Percent of CFM) (Percent)
90 - 92.5 65
92.6 - 97.5 20
97.6 - 100 15
In a one-month period before important competitions, weights above 90 percent
of CFM are lifted in the snatch and / or clean and jerk 40 to 60 times.
During the 1980s, Russian and Bulgarian weight lifting teams won almost all of
the gold medals at World and Olympic competitions. It has been reported many
times that Bulgarian athletes lift barbells of maximal weight more than 4,000
times a year. The training intensity of Bulgarian athletes is actually higher than it
is for Russian athletes. However, the real source of such a huge discrepancy
(600 versus 4,000 lifts a year) is not the training itself, but the method of
determining maximal weight. Russian athletes use CFM in their plans and logs,
while Bulgarians stick to TFM (1 RM in a given training session).
The aforementioned integers should not be mechanically copied. Rather, the
underlying concept of such training must be understood and practiced.
The concept was formulated in 1970 and has since been used as a theoretical
background for strength conditioning of elite athletes. Though the concept is not
scientifically validated in detail (it should be considered as a hypothesis rather
than a scientific theory), it is useful from a practical standpoint. When training
elite athletes, it is impossible to wait until scientific research provides all of the
The training concept is based on the idea that strength manifestation is
determined by two latent factors:
1. Peripheral muscles and
2. Central coordination.
These factors should be trained in different ways. It is assumed that there is no
optimal exercise intensity to develop maximal strength, however, it is possible to
choose an exercise intensity which is optimal for the improvement of either
peripheral or central factors.
Causes and Effects in Strength Manifestation
The following briefly explains biological mechanisms which form the basis of
The capacity of a muscle to produce force depends on its physiological crosssectional
area, and in particular on the number of muscle fibers. Muscle size
increases primarily as a result of increases in individual fiber size and not by fiber
gain (through fiber splitting).
Two types of muscle fiber hypertrophy can be schematically discerned,
sarcoplasmic and myofibril (Figure 5).
1. Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy of muscle fibers is characterized by the growth
of sarcoplasmic (semi-fluid interfibrillar substance) and non-contractile
protein which do not contribute directly to the production of muscle force.
Specifically, filament area density in the muscle fibers decreases, while
the cross-sectional area of the muscle fibers increases without an
accompanying increase in muscle strength.
2. Myofibrillar Hypertrophy is defined as an enlargement of the muscle fiber
size by gaining more myofibrils and, at the same time, more actin and
myosin filaments. Furthermore, contractile proteins are synthesized and
filament density increases. This type of fiber hypertrophy leads to
increased muscle force production.
Except for very special cases, when the aim of heavy resistance training is to
achieve body weight gains, athletes are interested myofibrillar hypertrophy.
Training must be organized in a manner to stimulate synthesis of contractile
protein and to increase filament muscle density.
It is assumed that exercise activates protein catabolism (break down of muscle
proteins) creatine conditions for the enhanced synthesis of contractile proteins
during the rest period (break down and build up theory). During the strength
exercise, muscle proteins are forcefully converted into more simple substances
(breaking down); during restitution (anabolic phase) the synthesis of muscle
proteins is vitalized. Fiber hypertrophy is considered to be a supercompensation
of muscle proteins.
The mechanisms involved in muscle protein synthesis, including the initial stimuli
triggering the increased synthesis of contractile proteins, have not been well
A few hypotheses, popular among coaches 20 to 30 years ago but completely
disregarded today, include:
1. The blood over-circulation hypothesis suggests that increased blood
circulation in working muses is the triggering stimulus for muscle growth.
One of the most popular methods of body building training, called flushing,
is based on this assumption. It has been shown, however, that active
muscle hyperemization (i.e. increase in the quantity of blood flowing
through a muscle) caused by physical therapeutic means does not, in
itself, lead to the activation of protein synthesis.
2. The muscle hypoxia hypothesis, contrary to the theory described above,
stipulates that deficiency, not abundance, of blood and oxygen in muscle
tissue during strength exercises triggers protein synthesis. Muscle
arterioles and capillaries are compressed during resistive exercise and
blood supply to an active muscle is restricted. Blood is not conveyed to
muscle tissue if the tension exceeds approximately 60 percent of maximal
However, by inducing a hypoxic state in muscles it has been shown that
oxygen shortage does not stimulate an increase in muscle size.
Professional pearl divers, synchronized swimmers and others who
regularly perform low intensity movements in oxygen-deficient conditions
do not have hypertrophied muscles.
3. The ATP-debt theory is based on the assumption that ATP concentration
is decreased after heavy resistive exercise (about 15 repetitions in 20
seconds per set were recommended for training). However, recent
findings indicate that even in a completely exhausted muscle, the ATP
level does not change.
Finally, the energetical theory of muscle hypertrophy appears more realistic and
appropriate for practical training, despite the fact that it is not validated in detail.
According to this theory, the crucial factor for increasing protein catabolism is a
shortage of energy in the muscle cell that is available for protein synthesis during
heavy strength exercise. Synthesis of muscle proteins requires a substantial
amount of energy. The synthesis of one peptide bond, for instance, requires
energy liberated during hydrolysis of ATP molecules. For each instant in time,
only a given amount of energy is available in a muscle cell. This energy is spent
for anabolism of muscle proteins and muscular work. Normally, the amount of
energy available in a muscle cell satisfies these two requirements. During heavy
resistive exercise, however, almost all of the available energy is conveyed to the
contractile elements of muscle and spent for muscular work (Figure 6).
Since the energy supply for the synthesis of proteins decreases, protein
degradation increases. The uptake of amino acids from the blood into muscles is
depressed during exercise, while the mass of proteins catabolized during heavy
resistive exercise exceeds the mass of protein that is newly synthesized. As a
result, the amount of muscle protein decreases somewhat after a strength
workout and the amount of protein catabolized (estimated, for instance, by the
concentration of non-protein nitrogen in the blood) rises above its resting value.
Between training sessions, protein synthesis is then increased. The uptake of
amino acids from the blood into muscles is above resting values. This repeated
process of enhanced degradation and synthesis of contractile proteins may result
in super-compensation of protein (Figure 7). This principle is similar to the
overcompensation of muscle glycogen that occurs in response to endurance
Whatever the mechanism for stimulating muscle hypertrophy, the vital
parameters of a training routine that induce such results are exercise intensity -
the exerted muscular force - and exercise volume - the total number of
repetitions, performed mechanical work, etc.
The nervous system uses three options for varying muscle force production:
1. Recruitment ? gradation of total muscle force by addition and subtraction
of active motor units;
2. Rate coding ? changing the firing rate of motor units; and
3. Synchronization ? activation of motor units in a more or less
synchronized way. Motor units (MU) can be classified as fast or slow on
the basis of contractile properties.
Slow MU, or slow twitch (ST) motor units, are specialized for prolonged usage at
relatively slow velocities. They consist of small, low threshold motoneurons with
low discharge frequencies, axons with relatively low conduction velocities and
motor fibers highly adapted to lengthy aerobic activities.
Fast MU, or fast twitch (FT) motor units, are specialized for relatively brief
periods of activity characterized by large power outputs, high velocities and high
rates of force development. They consist of large high threshold motoneurons
with high discharge frequencies, axons with high conduction velocities and motor
fibers adapted to explosive or anaerobic activities.
MU?s are activated in accordance with the all-or-none law: at any point in time,
the MU is either active, or it is inactive. There is no gradation in the level of
motoneuron excitation. The gradation of force of one MU occurs through
changes in its firing rate (rate coding).
In humans, contraction times vary from 90 to 110 milliseconds for ST motor units
and from 40 to 84 milliseconds for FT motor units. The maximal shortening
velocity (VM) of FT fibers is almost four times greater than the VM of ST motor
fibers. The force per unit area of fast and slow motor fibers is similar; however
the FT motor units typically possess larger cross-sectional areas and produce
greater force per motor unit.
Almost all human muscles contain both ST and FT motor units, but the proportion
of fast and slow MU?s in mixed muscles varies among athletes. Endurance
athletes have a high percentage of ST motor units, while FT motor units are
predominant among strength and power athletes.
Recruitment. It is accepted in strength training, that during voluntary contraction,
the orderly pattern of recruitment is controlled by the size of motoneurons (socalled
size principle). Small motoneurons with the lowest threshold are recruited
first and demands for larger forces are met by the recruitment of an increasingly
forceful MU. The MU?swith the largest motoneurons, those which possess the
largest and fastest twitch contractions, have the highest threshold and are
recruited last. This implies, in mixed muscles containing both ST and FT motor
units, that the involvement of motor units is forced, regardless of the magnitude
of muscle tension and velocity being developed. On the contrary, full FT motor
unit activation is difficult to achieve. Untrained people cannot recruit all of their FT
motor units. Increased motor unit activation is observed in athletes engaged in
strength and power training.
The recruitment order of MU?s is relatively fixed for a muscle involved in a
specific motion, even if the movement velocity or rate of force development is
altered. However, the recruitment order can be changed if the multifunction
muscles operate in different motions. Different sets of MU?s within one muscle
might have a low threshold for one motion and a higher threshold for another.
The variation in recruitment order is partially responsible for the specificity of
training effect in heavy resistance exercise. If the object of interest in training is
full development of a muscle (not high athletic performance), one must exercise
this muscle in all its possible ranges of motion. This situation is typical for
bodybuilders and novice athletes, but not elite athletes.
Rate Coding. This is a considered the primary mechanism for the gradation of
muscle force. The discharge frequency of motoneurons can vary over a
considerable range. However, generally the firing rate increases with increased
force and power production.
The relative contribution of recruitment versus rate coding in grading the force of
voluntary contractions is different in small and large muscles. In small muscles,
most MU?s are recruited at the level of force less than 50 percent of FM;
thereafter, rate coding plays the major role in further development of force up to
FM. In large proximal muscles, such as the deltoid and biceps, the recruitment of
additional MU?s appears to be the main mechanism for increasing force
development up to 80 percent of FM and even higher. In the force range between
90 and 100 percent of FM, force is increased almost exclusively by intensifying
the firing rate of MU.
Synchronization. Normally MU?s work asynchronously to produce smooth,
accurate movement. However, there is some evidence that in elite power and
strength athletes MU?s are activated synchronously during maximal voluntary
In conclusion, maximal muscular force is achieved when the maximal number of
both ST and FT MU?s are recruited, rate coding is optimal to produce a fused
tetanus in each of the motor fibers and MU?s work synchronously over the short
period of maximum voluntary effort.
The psychological factors are also of primary importance. Under extreme
circumstances, i.e. in a ?life-or-death? situation, people may develop
extraordinary strength. When untrained subjects (not superior athletes!) are given
hypnotic suggestions of increased strength, strength increases are found,
whereas strength decrements are shown both by athletes and untrained people
after hypnotic suggestion of decreased strength. Such a strength enhancement is
interpreted to mean that the central nervous system, in extraordinary situations
(extreme fear, hypnosis, etc.), either increases the flow of excitatory stimuli or
decreases the inhibitory influence to the motoneurons.
It may be speculated that the activity of motor neurons of the spinal cord is
normally inhibited by the central nervous system and it is not possible to activate
all of the motor units within a muscle group. Under the influence of strength
training and under exceptional circumstances, important sport competitions
included, a reduction in neural inhibition occurs with the accompanied expansion
of the recruitable motoneuron pool and increase in strength.
Exercising With Different Resistance
When exercising with varying levels of resistance (weights), differences exist in
both metabolic reactions and neural coordination.
Metabolic Reactions. According to the ?energetic hypothesis? of muscle cell
hypertrophy described above, the crucial factor determining the balance between
protein catabolism and anabolism is the amount of energy available for protein
synthesis during exercise. If the resistance is relatively small, the energy
available in the muscle cell is conveyed for muscle action and at the same time
for anabolism of muscle proteins. Thus, the energy supply satisfies both
requirements. During heavy weight lifting, a greater amount of energy is provided
to the contractile muscle elements and spent on muscular work. Energy transfer
for the synthesis of proteins decreases, while the rate of protein breakdown (the
amount of degraded protein per one lift) increases. The rate of protein
degradation is a function of the weight lifted; the heavier the weight, the higher
the rate of protein degradation.
The total amount of degradated protein is, however, the function of both the rate
of protein catabolism and the mechanical work performed or the total weight
lifted. The mechanical work is greater if resistance is moderate and if several
consecutive lifts are performed in one set. For instance, if an athlete presses a
100 kg barbell one time (it is his 1 RM), the total weight lifted is also 100 kg.
However, if he lifts a 75 kg barbell to failure, and he can lift it about 10 times, the
total weight lifted equals, in this case, 750 kg.
The mass of protein catabolized during heavy resistive exercise can be
presented as a product of the rate of protein breakdown and the number of lifts. If
the resistance is very large, such as 1 RM, the rate of the protein breakdown is
high but the number of repetitions is small. At the other extreme, if the resistance
is small (50 RM), the number of lifts and mechanical work are great, but the rate
of protein degradation is very small. So the total amount of the degradated
protein is small in both cases but for different reasons. The optimal (for inducing
maximal changes in protein metabolism) solution is somewhere in the range of
five and six through 10-12 RM (Table 1).
An additional feature of such training, which is important from a practical
standpoint, is that a very high training volume (or the total amount of weight lifted
during a workout), is five to six times greater than during a conventional training
routine. Athletes who train over a certain period of time in this manner (to gain
body weight and induce muscle cell hypertrophy in order to compete in a heavier
weight class) amass a training volume in one workout over 20-30 tons and in
some cases above 50 tons per day. Such a training volume hinders the athlete?s
capacity to perform other exercises during this period of training.
Coordination. When lifting maximal weight, the maximum number of MU?s are
activated, the fastest MU?s are recruited, the discharge frequency of
motoneurons is at its highest and MU activity is synchronous.
However, MU?s exist that many athletes cannot recruit or raise to the optimal
firing rate intensity to develop maximal force.
The ?hidden potential? of a human muscle to develop higher force can also be
demonstrated by electro-stimulation. In experiments during maximum voluntary
contraction, the muscle is stimulated with electrical current that induces an
increase in the force production. This indicates that human muscles typically
have hidden reserves for maximal force production that have not been used
during voluntary efforts.
One objective of heavy resistance training is to teach an athlete to recruit all the
necessary MU?s at a firing rate that is optimal for producing a fused tetanus in
each motor fuser.
When lifting sub-maximal weight, an intermediate number of MU?s are activated,
the fastest MU?s are not recruited, the discharge frequency of the motoneurons is
submaximal; and MU activity is asynchronous. The difference in intramuscular
coordination between exercises with maximal versus sub-maximal weight lifting,
are evident. Accordingly, exercises with moderate resistance are not an effective
training means for strength development, particularly when improvement of
intramuscular coordination is desired.
In the preparation of elite weight lifters, the optimal intramuscular coordination is
realized when weights equal to or above TFM are used in workouts. It is not
mandatory from this standpoint to lift CFM during training sessions. Differences in
the best performance attained during training sessions (i.e. TFM) and during
important competition (i.e. CFM) are explained by psychological factors, such as
the level of arousal and by increased rest before a contest. Differences in
coordination (intra and intermuscular), however, do not affect performance.
Weights above TFM are only used sporadically in training (four to seven percent
of all the lifts).
The differences in underlying physiological mechanisms, while exercising with
various loads, explain why muscular strength only increases when exercises
requiring high forces are used in training. In principle, workloads must be above
those normally encountered. The resistance must continually be increased as
gains in strength are made (the principle of progressive-resistance exercises).
In untrained people, the strength levels fall when resistance is below 20 percent
of their FM. In athletes who are used to great muscular efforts, reduced strength
may result even if they use relatively heavy loads, although lower than their
usual level. For instance, if qualified weight lifters train with weights of 60 to 85
percent TFM and not lift these loads in one set to failure (to fatigue), the strength
level is kept constant over the first month of such training and drops five to
seven percent during the second month. Athletes in seasonal or winter sports,
such as rowing, lose the strength level previously attained in the preparation
period if they do not use high resistance training during a competition period,
regardless of intense specific workouts.
Only muscle size, not muscular strength, may be retrained with moderate (nonmaximal)
resistances and moderate (non-maximal) repetition in qualified athletes
over a period of several months.
Methods of Strength Training
Strength training is classified according to methods of attaining maximal
muscular tension which can be attained in one of three ways:
1. Method of maximum efforts. Lifting a maximum load (exercising against
2. Method of repeated efforts. Lifting a non-maximal load to failure; during
the latest repetitions the muscles develop the maximum force possible in
the fatiguing state.
3. Method of dynamic efforts. Lifting, throwing, etc. a non-maximal load with
the highest attainable speed.
In addition, the lifting of non-maximal loads an intermediate number of times (not
to failure) is used as a supplementary training method (method of sub-maximal
Methods of maximum efforts.
Considered superior for improving both intramuscular and intermuscular
coordination. The method of maximum effort should be used to bring forth the
greatest strength increments. Central nervous system inhibition, if it exists, is
reduced with this method; thus, the maximal numbers of MU?s areactivated with
optimal discharge frequency and the biomechanical parameters of movement
and intermuscular coordination are similar to analogous values in a main sport
exercise. A trainee then ?learns? to enhance and to ?memorize? these changes in
motor coordination (evidently on an unconscious level).
It was previously mentioned that the magnitude of resistance should be close to
TFM while employing this training method. To avoid high emotional stress, CFM
must be included into the training routine only intermittently. If the aim of a
training drill is to train movement (i.e. both intramuscular and intermuscular
coordination are the object of training), the recommended number of repetitions
per set is one to three. Exercises such as the snatch or the clean and jerk may
serve as an example (Figure 2). When training muscles, rather than movement
training, is the drill objective (i.e., the biomechanical parameters of the exercise
and intermuscular coordination are not of primary importance since the drill is not
specific and its technique is different from the sport technique of the main
exercise) the number of repetitions increases. One example is the inverse curl
(Figure 5), in which the typical number of repetitions is four to eight.
The method of maximum efforts, while a popular method among elite athletes,
has several limitations.
The main limitation is the high risk of injury. Because of this, it cannot be
recommended for beginners. Only after proper technique of an exercise (i.e.
barbell squat) is acquired and the relevant muscles (spinal erectors and
abdomen) are adequately developed, can maximal weights be lifted. In some
exercises, such as sit-ups, this method is rarely used.
The method of maximum efforts, when employed with a small number of
repetitions (one or two), has the limited ability to induce muscle hypertrophy. This
is because only a minor amount of mechanical work is performed and in turn, the
amount of contractile proteins degradated is limited.
Due to the high motivational level needed to lift maximal weights, athletes can
easily become burned out. The staleness syndrome is characterized by
decreased vigor, elevated anxiety and depression, sensation of fatigue in the
morning hours and increased perception of effort while lifting a fixed weight, etc.
High blood pressure at rest is also a further symptom. This response is typical if
CFM, rather than TFM, are used too often in workouts. Staleness depends not
only on the weight lifted but also on the type of exercise used. It is easier to lift
maximal weights in the bench press, in which the barbell can simply be fixed and
the leg and trunk muscles are not activated, than in the jerk, where demands for
the activation of leg and trunk muscles, balance and arousal are much higher.
Sub-maximal efforts and repeated efforts
These methods differ only in the number of repetitions per set ? intermediate for
sub-maximal efforts and maximal (to failure) for repeated efforts.
The stimulation of muscle hypertrophy is similar between the two methods.
According to the energetic hypothesis described above, two factors are of
primary importance to induce a discrepancy in the amount of degraded and
newly synthesized proteins. Those factors are the rate of protein degradation and
the total value of performed mechanical work. If the number of lifts is not
maximal, mechanical work somewhat diminishes. However, if the amount of work
is relatively close to maximal values (i.e., if 10 lifts are performed instead of the
maximum 12 possible) then the difference is not crucial. It may be compensated,
for example, by shortening the time intervals between sequential sets. It
is a common belief that the maximal number of repetitions in a set is desirable,
but not required, for inducing muscle hypertrophy.
The situation is different if the main objective of a heavy resistance drill is to learn
a proper pattern of muscle coordination.
This issue is analyzed in the following example (Figure 8):
Suppose an athlete is lifting a 12 RM barbell with a given rate of one lift per
second. The muscle subjected to training consists of MU?s having different
endurance times from one to, for example, 100 seconds (in reality, some slow
MU?s have much longer endurance times; they may be active dozens of minutes
without any sign of fatigue). The maximal number of lifts until fatigue among
MU?s varies from one to 100. If the athlete lifts the barbell only one time, one
division of the MU?s is recruited and the second is not (Figure 8). According to
the size principle, the slow, fatigue-resistant MU?s are recruited first (theslow
MU?s are shown at the bottomof MU columns, Figure 8). After several lifts, some
of the shortest endurance times become exhaust. After six repetitions, for
instance, only the MU?s withendurance times less than six seconds are
exhausted. Since the exhausted MU?s now cannot develop the same tension as
at the beginning, new MU?s are recruited. These newly recruited MU?s are fast
and non-resistant to fatigue. Thus, they may become exhausted very quickly. If
only 10 lifts of 12 maximum possible are performed, the entire population of MU?s
is divided into three divisions (Intermediate lift column, Figure 8). The three
divisions of MU?s are:
1. MU?s that are recruited but not fatigued are not trained. All MU endurance
times above 10 seconds are in this category. Evidently, this subpopulation
consists of slow MU?s. Therefore, it can be concluded that it is
very difficult to increase the maximal force of the slow MU?s which are
2. Only MU?s which are recruited and exhausted. Only these MU?s are
subjected to training stimulus in this set. These MU?s possess
intermediate features; there are no slowest, although recruited, and fastest
MU?s, which are not recruited all, in this sub-population. The ?corridor?of
MU?s that are subjected to atraining stimulus may be more narrow or
more broad. This depends on the weight lifted and on the number of
repetitions in a set. One objective of a strength program can be to
increase the sub-population of MU?s influenced by training, or to increase
3. MU?s that are not recruited or trained.
If the exercise is performed to failure (method of repeated efforts), the picture is
changed in the final lifts. A maximal number of available MU?s is now recruited.
All MU?s are divided into two subpopulations: exhausted (fatigued) and nonexhausted
(non-fatigued) with a substantial training effect on the first group only.
If the total number of repetitions is below 12, all the MU?s with endurance times
above 12 seconds fall into the second group. In spite of their early recruitment
(due to the higher endurance), these MU?s are not exhausted.
When maximal weights are lifted (method of maximal efforts), the MU?s ?corridor?
includes a smaller number of MU?s (Figure 8) than if a sub-maximal weight is
lifted a maximum possible number of repetitions. This is certainly a disadvantage
for the method of maximal efforts. Only fast MU?s are subject to the training effect
in this case. However, the advantage of this method (see above) outweighs any
If the method of repeated efforts is used, the weight must be lifted with sincere
exertions to failure (maximum number of times). This requirement is very
important. The popular jokes among coaches are: ?Lift the barbell as many times
as you can and after that three more times,? and ?no pain, no gain? I reflect the
demand very well. With this method, only final lifts in which a maximal number of
MU?s are recruited are actually useful. If an athlete can lift a barbell 12 times but
lifts only 10, the exercise set is worthless.
In comparison with the method of maximal efforts, the method of repeated efforts
has certain pros and cons. Three advantages are most important:
1. A greater influence on muscle metabolism and consequently on the
inducement of muscle hypertrophy;
2. The greater sub-population of the trained MU?s (the ?corridor?, compare
the two right columns in Figure 8); and
3. A relatively low injury risk.
This method has two limitations:
1. The final lifts in a set are performed when the muscles are tired. Thus, this
training alone is less effective than the lifting of maximal weights; and
2. Very high training volume (the total amount of weight lifted) restricts the
application of this method in the training of elite athletes.
All of the methods discussed should be used in the strength training of elite
Method of Dynamic efforts
It is impossible to attain FM in fast movement against intermediate resistance.
Therefore, the method of dynamic efforts is not used for increasing maximal
strength. It is employed only to improve the rate of force development and
In conclusion, the following methods are used to increase maximum strength FM:
To improve neuro-muscular coordination (MU recruitment, rate coding, MU
synchronization, entire coordination pattern), use the method of maximal efforts
as the first choice and the method of repeated efforts, as the second.
To stimulate muscle hypertrophy, use the methods of repeated efforts and / or
method of sub-maximal efforts.
To increase the ?corridor? of recruited and trained MU?s, use the method of
I would like to express my gratitude to Peter Brown and Sherry Werner for their
editorial assistance in the preparation of this manuscript.
KILLER article on single set versus multiple sets!
Resolving the Single-
Matthew R. Rhea, PhD, CSCS
For decades, debate has persisted regarding the amount of work (volume or number of
sets) a person must perform in the weight room to elicit maximal strength gains. A very small, but
vocal group has promoted their opinion that single-set training programs will elicit maximal, or near
maximal, strength gains and additional sets of training are of no value. The vast majority of exercise
professionals and leaders in our field, however, have founded their prescription of training volume
on two fundamental exercise principles: the dose-response and progression. These principles, the
experience of our most knowledgeable professionals, and the body of research examining this issue
overwhelmingly support the need for multiple-set training programs to achieve maximal strength
The dose-response is a training principle that states that a given stress or dose will result
in a certain response with higher doses eliciting a greater response up to a certain point. After this
point of maximal effectiveness, benefits of increased dosages begin to diminish and an overdose is
observed. In the pharmaceutical world, the principle of the dose-response is a very familiar and
important concept. Physicians must know the degree of impact that a specific dose of a drug will
have in order to prescribe the correct amount. Too little dose will fail to achieve the needed change
in health or condition while an overdose may carry severe adverse effects. Similar to pharmaceutical
drug prescriptions, exercise professionals prescribe resistance training programs (of varying doses) to
elicit the needed or desired degree of strength development. Prescribing too little work will result
in a failure to achieve the desired or needed strength gains while too much work could result in
overtraining. The principle of progression states that once an individual has become accustomed to
a stimulus, they must add additional stress in order to stimulate continued responses. In other
words, the dose must be progressively increased to result in continued adaptation. These principles
have been developed through years of research and practice and have continually been supported by
Hundreds of studies have examined the amount of strength improvement elicited by
training programs involving different training doses (i.e. sets, intensity, etc.). Unfortunately, taken
separately, each study provides only a small glimpse of the dose-response relationship. Luckily,
methods have been developed over the past 20 years for combining individual studies in a way that
leads to reliable information (5, 6, 7). Such procedures, called meta-analysis, involve a process of
systematically combining separate but related studies so that the findings can compared. The metaanalysis
allows researchers to come to a consensus regarding disputed outcomes among individual
studies by increasing statistical power and summing the results of the body of research as a whole.
This is especially important among bodies of research, such as strength training, where statistical
power in each study may be low due to small sample sizes.
Recently, several meta-analyses have been completed on a large body (nearly 200
studies) of strength training literature (2, 3, 4, 8) in search of the dose-response for strength
development. Taken individually, many of these studies have found no statistical difference
between single- and multiple-set training programs due to low statistical power. Most of these
studies included little more than a handful of participants making it almost impossible for
conventional statistics to identify a difference between the training programs when, in fact, a
difference did exist. With the results of hundreds of studies combined through meta-analytical
techniques, it becomes quite obvious that single-set training programs do not elicit maximal, or
even near maximal, strength gains. Even in groups of people just beginning a training program,
those requiring the least amount of training to see improvements, up to four sets per muscle group
is needed to see maximal strength gains. In this population, one set results in less than half of the
strength elicited by multiple sets. For trained populations, progression to five or six sets is required
to see maximal gains, while athletes (very highly trained populations) must perform about eight sets
per muscle group to experience maximal strength gains. In athletes, the meta-analyses
demonstrated that single-set training programs elicited minimal, if any, strength gains.
This research has made it apparent that different doses of training volume will result in a
different magnitude of strength development and the amount of strength improvement with
different doses changes as an individual becomes more highly trained. Once again, strong evidence
supports the principle of the dose-response. Since publication of these analyses, additional studies
have been added to the database and the dose-response for strength development has been further
Having dispelled the myth that single-set programs will elicit maximal gains, the
question of who might benefit from performing just one set arises. To answer such a question, one
must ask how much strength gain is needed and how much time an individual has to exercise. If
only small amounts of strength gain are desired, single-set programs can be sufficient for lesser
training populations because even low amounts of stress are sufficient to stimulate some
improvements. However, if large gains are desired or needed, much more work must be performed.
If time is limited, then performing as much work as time permits is better than doing nothing.
However, it must be acknowledged that such a situation will not result in maximal strength gains
and any argument to the contrary is misleading and unsubstantiated.
The meta-analyses have supported what most serious strength trainers already knew: it takes significant time and effort to develop high levels of strength. Applying this knowledge to real-life situations can assist in the development of training
programs for a variety of populations. First, beginners should be cautious about attempting to do
too much work too soon. They should begin slowly, perhaps following a single-set, low-intensity
training program. As they become accustomed to training, usually in a matter of a few months,
additional sets can and must be added if increased strength gains are desired. Such progression
should occur gradually with no more than one set added each week but must occur for additional
strength gains to be achieved.
Progression is a principle that every avid strength trainer can attest to. Even more
importantly, a group of the most experienced and knowledgeable leaders in our field recently
compiled one of the most thorough and respected statements in support of the principle of
progression for the American College of Sports Medicine (1). Training experience and vast amounts
of research have demonstrated that low volume (single-set) programs become less and less effective
as people become more highly trained. Such programs do not present sufficient stimulus to cause a
highly developed neuromuscular system to improve itself. An individual must progress to a greater
stimulus in order to elicit continued adaptations.
By adhering to physiological principles such as the dose-response and progression,
exercise professionals can develop safe, effective strength training programs. The vast body of
research examining different doses of training has provided us with ample evidence and detail
regarding how much work should be done to achieve a given increase in strength. The past
confusion among some in our field and the resolution of the debate over single versus multiple set
training programs should teach us that exercise principles that have been established, tested, and
validated should be the foundation of prescription for strength development.
1. American College of Sports Medicine. (2002). Position Stand: Progression models in
resistance training for healthy adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 34: 364-380.
2. Peterson, MD, Rhea, MR, and Alvar, BA. ?Maximizing Strength Development in Athletes:
A Meta-Analysis to Determine the Dose-Response Relationship?. Journal of Strength and
Conditioning Research. 18(2): 377-382. 2004.
3. Rhea, M, Alvar, B, Burkett, L. ?A Meta-Analysis of One and Three Sets of Weight Training
for Strength?. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 73(4): 485-88. 2002.
4. Rhea, M., Alvar, B., Burkett, L., Ball, S. ?A Meta-Analysis to Determine the Dose-Response
Relationship for Strength Development: Volume, Intensity, and Frequency of Training?.
Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise. 35(3): 456-464. 2003.
5. Rhea, M. ?Synthesizing Strength Training Research Through the use of the Meta-
Analysis?. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 18(4) 921-923. 2004.
6. Thomas, J. and K. French. The use of meta-analysis in exercise and sport: a tutorial. R.Q.
7. Thomas, J., W. Salazar, and D.M. Landers. What is missing in p < .05? Res. Q. Exerc. Sport.
8. Wolfe, LeMura, and Cole. (2004).?Quantitative Analysis of Single- vs. Multiple-Set
Programs in Resistance Training?. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 18(1): 35-
Last edited by britlifter; 06-15-2008 at 04:31 AM.
Recent Question to Charles Poliquin on the MBN member's board.....
"Working to failure". Do you recommend it for long-term use? The reason I ask is that I like (love!) going to failure on each and every set, except warm ups of course. I find it an easy indicator of strength gains/losses from workout to workout, recording everything including time between sets. Is there 'room' for it in your 'Intensification/Accumulation' phases? Also, I've been lifting for about 3 months now, making consistent strength gains on this 'failure' system, up until 3 weeks ago.
Now, each workout, I am weaker than the one before. I've changed little in my diet during this period except my protein powder, now being 'Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey' which has significantly fewer carbs but more protein than its predecessor; have also upped my EFA's (essential fatty acids).
So, if anything at all, that I can really see here, is a lower intake of carbs.
Could this be my problem, or have I been overtraining i.e. to failure for too long, or both? It's slowly driving me crazy trying to figure it out..please help!!![/font]
And here's Charles Poliquin's answer...
Let's define absolute muscle failure. The first step in defining this term is to review the fact that there are three types of muscle contraction: concentric, isometric and eccentric.
When a muscle shortens, it is called a concentric contraction, like when you raise the barbell in curls by shortening the elbow flexors.
When you lower the same barbell, your muscle lengthens - perform an eccentric contraction.
Finally, a muscle can also contract without changing the joint angle or also known as an - isometric or static contraction, like in the case of a gymnast holding an iron cross.
Isometric contractions are normally 10-15% stronger than concentric contraction, while eccentric contractions are as much as 75% stronger than concentric contraction, with the average between 25 to 40% greater than the concentric contraction.
In other words, if you can curl 100 lbs, you can hold 110-115 lbs at pretty much any angle in the range of motion, and can lower safely 125 to 140 lbs.
There are three types of muscular failure, one associated with each type of contraction One is known to fail concentrically when one cannot raise the weight, to fail statically when one is not able hold the weight at any given point in the range of motion, and to fail eccentrically when to not able to lower the weight under control at a given tempo.
When one reaches failure on all three types of muscular contraction, he is known to have reached "absolute muscle failure".
Rarely you will find athletes who train to this level of failure - simply because it's masochism has fallen out of grace.
Since there are three types of contraction, there are three degrees of failure.
You can train to just concentric and/or static and/or eccentric failure. Typically, the higher the degree of failure (closer you approach total eccentric failure), the less you can control the weight, and hence common sense will tell you that exercise performance is not being safe anymore.
Your muscles simply cannot generate enough strength to control the weight, thus you are predisposing yourself to injury.
To answer your question, is it absolutely necessary to achieve muscle growth? Certainly not, just look at the hypertrophy of powerlifters and Olympic lifters, they rarely if ever train to failure and yet achieve significant hypertrophy in the trained muscles.
The only people that I have seen make significant gains on ?absolute failure? had the following in common:
1. They were amphetamines user like Ritalin who disguised their animalistic training drive by claiming it is was instead influenced by the readings of German philosophers and/or listening to Wagnerian music prior to training, Please don't piss on my leg and tell me its raining.
2. They were severe exogeneous androgen users i.e. 2,000 mg to 3000 mg of various testoterones a week, and 100-300 mg of orals a day (i.e. Dianabol and Anadrol)
3. The obsession with making progress in training loads leads to improper technique. They all ended up tearing one or more of the following: biceps, pec, lat and quadriceps. One Mr. Olympia finalist, tore a biceps training in this fashion while loosely curling an 85 lbs on a Scott bench, while a more reasonable weight in good form would have been 65 lbs.
4. They all suffered from adrenal exhaustion and paranoia, probably because of the abuse of 1.
Training to absolute muscle failure is a concept that has been around for about the last 25 years or so. Mike Mentzer and Nautilus machine inventor Arthur Jones were the initial proponents of this training methodology.
It gained rapid popularity because it went strongly against the grain of the training methodology popular in the bodybuilding meccas of Northern Europe and Southern California.
In the early seventies, we were told to do 20 sets a bodypart, two workouts a week per bodypart, and only take Sundays off .
So obviously doing only 1-2 sets per bodypart 2-3 per week in full body workouts was considered either heresy or something valid to look at.
Since then, many training systems have been used. In my opinion, training to absolute failure should be used vary sparingly, maybe once every 8 weeks should suffice, and only after a very progressive warm-ups.
Systematic variations in both intensity and volume, not training to absolute failure are the keys to muscle growth.
In certain training methods like German Volume Training, one does not need to reach concentric failure on every set. Unless specifically mentioned you can assume that every set prescribed is a work set. Therefore you should reach concentric muscle failure.
However I also believe that many trainees fail to achieve their training goals by exhausting their neuro-endocrine.
You know the type of trainee that does a 6 seconds isometric contraction after failing to complete the concentric range.
A principle is always for long-term use. Hence the name principle.
From: Lyle McDonald
Subject: Here's one for you to chew on for a while: Is Failure Necessary
Date: Fri, 9 Feb 96 23:39:45 -0500
Ok, it's time for some more musings from the guy who never hangs out
on m.f.w any more. So, here in all it's glory is hopefully the answer
of the following question.
Why go to failure?
The question of how much stimulation (and what type) is sufficient to
cause maximal/optimal muscle growth is one that does not have an easy
answer. Many groups and individuals feel that going to the point of momentary
muscular failure (or beyond with certain techniques) is the key to causing
muscular adaptation. That is, taking the muscle to the point of attempting
the momentary impossible is the key ingredient to muscular failure.
There have been several schools of thought as to why going to failure is
necessary. One of those is the simple microtear theory wherby the muscle
literally undergoes physical tearing. Various individuals feel that going
to the point of ischemic rigor (where the muscle essentially locks up) causes
minute tears to occur in the muscle during the eccentric phase (the
lowering phase of a weight training movement) and that is the stimulus
for growth. If true, this is incedentally why the eccentric point of the
movement is both critically necessary for growth (for the most part)
as well as the cause of the majority of muscle soreness. That is, since
the tearing occurs during the eccentric portion, it seems reasonable to conclude
that one must perform an accentuated negative to get increases in size and
strength. Proponents of this theory offer as evidence the fact that
muscles stressed in a concentric only method do not undergo growth
consistently and that the eccentric portion of the movement has been
shown to be the stimulus for growth. However, they also feel that negative
only movements (which are often used to increase the intensity of
training since more weight can be lifted with eccentric vs concentric
contractions) do not work as well as combined concentric/eccentric
lifting as the concentric is necessary to 'prime' the muscle in some way
for the above mentioned microtears.
Now we do know that heavy training (especially eccentric contractions)
cause an increase in biochemical markers of muscle damage which lends
some support to the theory that muscle damage is a key stimulus for
growth. But, even this brings up the question of just how much muscle
damage is needed to stimulate optimal growth. This is not a question
that anyone is even close to answering at this point and I have a feeling
that it may depend on the person and their genetics (which might explain
why some individuals can grow from greater amounts of training while
others overtrain with anything but the least amount).
Now, at this point in time, there is not adequate data to say exactly what
it is about lifting a weight X number of times that causes it to grow. Various
other theories have been offered instead of the above including ATP depletion
(which, at least during high intensity cycle ergometry has not been shown to
occur), CP depletion (which, if correct would argue against creatine loading),
decreased blood flow (which occurs as a result of near maximal muscular
contractions which cause capillaries near the muscle to collapse), increased
blood flow (i.e. the pump theory of growth), muscle ischemia (oxygen
deprivation but we don't see huge muscles in individuals who spend lots
of time at high altitude) and the simple tension/metabolic work
theory (covered in great detail in a seminal review article by
Goldspink et. al.) that argues that forcing the muscle to do high intensity
work is the prime stimulus for growth.
Now we also know that involuntary high intensity contractions (like with
electrical simulation) does not cause growth except in very untrained or
injured inviduals. So, not only does there seem to be a need to perform
high intensity muscular work, it has to be generated by a person's own
nervous system to be effective.
Ok, so why failure? Is there anything special about going to muscular failure
which might be the primary stimulus for growth. Other than the microtear
theory which mandates failure so that the tears can occur, none of the above
theories seem to require going to failure. And, it may be that tearing can
occur without going to failure seeing as it does occur with downhill running
(which forces the muscle to contract eccentrically as well). But, we know
that long distance running doesn't spur muscle growth so there must be
something else going on.
Let's say you're lifting a load that puts you above the threshold to recruit
100% of your motor units (about 8RM for upper body movements and 15RM
for lower body movements). And, let's further say that you are performing
an upper body movement with your 8RM. Well, strict proponents of the
failure theory would argue that you must perform 8 reps to achieve growth
and that stopping short of this would not generate any growth. But, if
you were to stop this set at 7 reps (knowing with 100% accuracy that
it was your 8RM) you would achieve almost 100% of the (take your pick
here) ATP depletion, CP depletion, decreased blood flow, increased blood
flow, oxygen deprivation or time under tension. So, the question still
remains: Why failure?
Let's take as an assumption that the critical component to muscle growth
is simply the time spent under high tension (supported by ample evidence
as presented by Goldspink et. al.) and that other factors (those listed above
as well as hormonal factors) are secondary in nature but may increase the
adaptations seen. Several groups suggest specific set
times like 60-90 seconds (HIT advocates although the times change
>from source to source), 20-60 seconds (strength coach Charles Poliquin),
Superslow (generally 60 seconds per set in 4 slow 15 second reps) which lends
at least anecdotal evidence that some minimum time under high tension
may be a pre-requisite to simulate size and strength increases. I don't
think we can say with complete accuracy what that time is for
optimal strength or size gains but let's take for granted now that some
minimal time is necessary. Or, put a better way, slamming out 8 reps in
8 seconds with your 8RM will in all likelihood not achieve the same
level (or type) of adaptation as doing 8 reps in 48 seconds with your 8RM.
Although the rep count is the same, the total time under tension (and
presumably other factors like ATP depletion et. al.) will not be the same.
Ok, so still why failure? Assuming that stopping an 8RM set at 7
reps will achieve most of the time under tension that doing the final
rep will, why push to 8 reps? I mean, that 8th rep hurts like hell and
in the case of movements like squats and deadlifts, it may cause injury
due to form breakdown so why not stop just short of that point if we
can get similar results from it? Let me digress before I answer that
Is there any evidence to the contrary in terms of the need for failure
to spur muscle growth in either the scientific or anecdotal world?
Yes, there is. We have at least one excellent example of how growth can
occur without going to failure (or even including an eccentric motion
in your lift). And that is the Olympic lifters. While many individuals
will bitch and moan about how useless the Olympic lifts are and how
dangerous they are, you cannot deny that they are some
massively muscled individuals. Having seen Wes Barnett (one of
the current US Heavyweight lifters), I can vouch for his extreme
muscularity. Not that he's as big as even the smallest pro bodybuilder
but he's built considerable muscle with the Olympic lifts. Now, Olympic
lifters can't go to failure in their lifts as it will disrupt their technique.
Also, the primary Olympic lifts (clean and jerk, snatch, etc) do not contain
an eccentric movement. And, even on movements like squats and such, most
Olympic lifters move rather quickly so there is no accentuated negative
movement in their training. Now, I don't want to give everyone the
impression that Olympic lifting is the most effective, most efficient, or
safest way to get bigger muscles since I don't think it is. But, the fact that
these individuals (who again lift very quickly, don't go to failure since
it's not feasible with the types of lifting they are doing, and don't
perform slow eccentric movements) show muscular hypertrophy throws
a bit of a wrench in the simple theory of "You must go to the point of
muscular failure in X seconds with a slow eccentric to achieve growth."
To achieve optimal growth? Well, that's a different question entirely.
Additionally, if you look at tradesmen who perform heavy manual labor,
you often see large scale muscular hypertrophy caused by much lower than
maximal work. However, their work requires large amounts of submaximal
work (time under tension) which also seems to stimulate growth.
So, we have at least two data points that show growth to occur without
muscular failure occurring. And, any theory which can't adequately
explain all data points needs to be revised. So, I'm revising it here.
Now, there is one more interesting observation that can be made from
Olympic lifters which is their generally large total training volumes
(at least when compared to systems like HG and HIT and such).
Since they rarely perform more than 3-5 reps per set and the reps are
very short (less than 1 second generally), they tend to perform lots
and lots of sets. We've all heard of the Bulgarian's training 3-6 times per
day but each session was very short, these individuals were genetically
superior, and they were most likely taking steroids so they are not
the best example. But, at the Olympic training center, the Junior
Olympic team lifters frequently train twice daily. So, although each
set is minimal in length and there is no accentuated eccentric, it may
be possible that these lifters make up for it with a large total time
that their muscles are under tension. In any event, it does make quite
a big hole in the theory that failure is the primary stimulus for growth
since it's obviously not. The story, as they say, thickens.
Now, I hate to bore you with this but Dave told me I better back up the
above argument with some numbers rather than just give a hand-waving "OL's
may perform similar amounts of total work" argument. So here goes but
we have to make some major simplifying assumptions or the math will
be impossible. Let's compare 'Typical HG Training' over the course of
a year to a 'Typical OL Training' in terms of total time under tension.
Last edited by britlifter; 06-15-2008 at 04:53 AM.
Let's assume a fairly advanced HG routine made up of squats, a pull
and a push (ignoring abs and calves in terms of total training volume).
Let me make a few simplyfying assumptions here:
1. All exercises are worked for 2 sets of 8. Yes, I know it's not the optimal
range for legs and many won't do two work sets all cycle but let me go with
it to simplify the calculations.
2. The individual trains twice per week all year round. Which is not going to
happen with movements like squats if you're training hard as we all know.
3. The individual's rep speed is a constant 5 seconds total for
concentric and eccentric (since I have never seen anyone really lift with
a 2 up, 4 down as suggested by HIT. I lift slowly but I can't even do 2/4).
4. We ignore warmup sets below 70% in terms of total volume (i.e. most
5. All sets are to failure. Again, this discounts the runup in most HG
cycles but I don't want to deal with the math.
So, You've got 3 exercises/workout *16 total reps/exercise which is 48 reps
240 seconds/workout. In 52 weeks, at two workouts/week, we have 104
workouts. So, total time under tension for this HG workout is
104 workouts * 240 sec/workout = 24,960 seconds per year that the
muscles are kept under high tension (above 80% of max) which may stimulate
Ok, onto the OL's. A couple of simplifying assumptions (which are most likely
incorrect). *BTW, the 10,000 rep number came from a friend of Dave's who
says he uses that value with his high school athletes. I have no idea
what kind of total volume Elite OL's actually use. The 10,000 value
also does not include warmups below 70% of 1RM.*
1. Rep speed is 1 second for the Olympic lifts themselves and related
movements (C&J, snatch, hang clean, power clean, jerk, etc.)
2. Rep speed is 2 seconds per rep for accessory stuff like squats, front
squats, SLDL, overhead press, etc.
3. Total training volume is divided 50/50 between primary and accessory
So, 10,000 reps of which 5,000 are primary at 1 sec/rep = 5,000 seconds.
5,000 reps of accessory reps at 2 sec/rep = 10,000 sec. Even still, this only
total 15,000 total seconds of time under tension and even that's not accurate
as all the time during the primary lifts is not spent with the muscles under
tension due to momentum. But, I don't want to dig out my calculus book to
figure this out with total accuracy.
So, for a HG workout, we have 24,960 total seconds of work/year and for
OL's we have 15,000 total seconds of work/year. Are these values close enough
to give similar results? I would posit that the HG workout will give greater
mass gains in the short run due to more time under tension. But, 15,000 secs
is a lot of work no matter how you cut it and could explain why OL's, despite
breaking all the other sacred rules of gaining muscle do so: their total time
is fairly significant. Also, in all likelihood, the value for the HG trainee
is overestimated (since it would be rare for a trainee to do 2 work sets
every week of every cycle for a year) and the value for the OL is
underestimated (if we assume that elite OL's, who probably aren't
indicative of the average lifter anyway, would do more than 10,000
total reps per year). So, the numbers may be closer than they seem.
Ok, back to the original gist of this article.
I'm going to take the stance here that the primary stimulus for
growth is the time under tension that a muscle undergoes (or
total metabolic work performed or whatever. They are ultimately
identical in concept but differ semantically) as I think it's
best supported by the data. Hopefully I've made the point that failure
is not the critical component to growth although it may be a component
with the example of the Olympic lifters. So, why failure?
Two reasons I think.
#1: One of the big criticisms of periodization schemes is the rather large
time spent working submaximally. I happen to agree with this criticism.
Strictly periodized training programs (by that, I mean programs that
lay out the weight, sets and reps an athlete is to do in advance) leave out
one critical component which is daily variation. That is, let's say I've
measured my 10RM in the squat some time ago and, based on that, I'm
scheduled to do some percentage above or below it for a certain
number of reps (based on the relationship between percentage of max
and the number of reps one should be able to do). Well, what if I'm
feeling really good one day and can get 12 reps with a weight I could
previously only do 10? Or I'm feeling really bad and can only get 8
reps? I'm screwed is what. I'll either be working far below my maximal
potential or forcing myself to work outside my current limits which
could cause overtraining or, worse, injury. And, as much as I gripe
about HIT, I think that the double progressive system has a lot going for
it in that it avoids this problem entirely. If instead of saying I'm to do
10 reps and stop no matter what I set a range of 8-12 reps (or 4-8 or
whatever rep range I'm in at the time), I can simply accomplish whatever
I'm maximally capable of at the time ensuring I'm working at that intensity
range (if desired) regardless of daily variations.
This is how I periodize my programs by the way. HIT and periodization
are not mutually exclusive. I might have clients of mine do the following:
12-15 reps double progressive to failure for 4 weeks or more
8-12 reps double progressive to failure for 4 weeks or more
4-8 reps double progressive to failure for 4 weeks or more
rest and repeat.
Low volume periodized HIT. And they said it couldn't be done.
So, one good reason to work to at least concentric failure is to ensure
that you are working at maximum capacity instead of at some pre-
determined level which may or may not reflect daily variations.
#2: Going to failure maximizes time under tension/total metabolic
work which I argue is the primary stimulus for growth. When you
consider that failure may occur at any one of 7 sites along the
path from brain to muscle, I find it awfully naive to say that
failure (whose cause we can't even identify and which may be
different for different set times) is the primary stimulus for
growth. Obviously, going to failure in 2 reps (about 10 seconds at 5sec/rep)
will most likely have a different cause than going to failure in
15 reps (75 seconds assuming 5sec/rep). But, let's say we're
working towards size gains and let's assume for now that 8-12
reps (40-100 seconds or so per set) is the optimal range (for
the record, I don't think it is but that's another dicussion for another
day). Going to failure within that range (irrespective of how we feel
that day of training) will maximize the time spent under tension.
It's great for me to say in theory that stopping a 10RM set at 9
reps will stimulate growth. I think it would. But, that's only useful
if you know your 10RM weight on any given day. Since we can't know
without testing it every single day to take into account variations
in physical ability (and which would negate the whole point anyway since
you've already done a set to failure) all we can do to maximize
time under tension (also assuming here also that maximum time under
tension = optimal time under tension) is take a given set to failure during
any given training session.
(Oh, before I forget, some individuals who are in very good touch with their
muscles are able to pretty much know when they are getting close to failure.
Considering that certain movements (deadlifts come jumping to mind) cannot
be trained to complete failure safely, for those movements stopping
the set just short of failure (i.e. if you 'know' that you've got only 2 more
in you you just do 1 more) is probably not a bad idea and will still net
you some growth. You might make up for the lack of failure by performing
a second set (to increase total time under tension) or not, it just depends
on the person, their genetics, etc.) or not.
And, that, my friends, hopefully answers the question of "Why failure?"
To be honest, I remain unconvinced that going to momentary muscular
failure is the only way to get growth as we have examples of individuals
who have rather large muscles without every going to failure. Might it
be the most efficient way to get growth? That's a horse of a different
color as the saying goes and not one I'm ready to tackle right now. But,
it's certainly not the only way.
Lyle McDonald, HB (which stands for Human Being which I am, you and
everyone else are. So forget about putting all those letters after your
name as they don't really impress anyone but you and your mom anyway.)
P.S. Please send any comments on this piece via email a I don't log on here
Well, thanks to some excellent comments I received via email, I realized
a couple of major screwups in my argument regarding time under tension
and failure, etc. So, here's an attempt to correct those screwups.
Last edited by britlifter; 06-15-2008 at 04:35 AM.
#1: While I frequently used the term 'time under tension' in my article,
it was semantically a bit incorrect. Instead, it would have been better
to use 'Time under high tension'. That is, no amount of low tension work
(like walking, etc) will spur muscle growth for various reasons. First
and foremost of which is that you won't be recruiting the High Threshold
Motor Units (Type II muscle fibers) below about 80% of max. Now I did
mention that my assumption was that we were working above 80% of
max for all my example but that was apparently lost somewhere in the
discussion. I would probably set the cutoff for high tension to be 60%
at the minimum and I think most will get better results using higher
tensions. So, why not take this to it's ultimate extension and just work
with 1RM loads or higher to subject the muscle to even higher tensions?
See #2 below.
#2: One individual made the comment that tension (and more specifically
high tension overload) was the key stimulus. While I agree with the
specific case, I must take issue with the first. Simply subjecting the
muscle to high tension for an arbitrary time will not be sufficient to
stimulate growth. That is, at the core of my argument was the idea
that maximizing total time under high tension (or metabolic work, see
correction #3) above 80% of maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) was
the optimal way to get growth. I think anecdotally (and experimentally
if you take the time to dig out the research) you will find greater results
IN THE SHORT TERM using a weight that allows more work (say an 8RM
which would allow 40 seconds of high tension time overload vs a 1RM
which might allow 5 seconds of high tension time overload). Obviously
in the long run (assuming progressive overload) either system (or a system
of 20-50+ reps as used by Dr. Ken) will work.
I guess it would be more accurate to use the area under the curve of
muscle torque (which correlates with load lfited but takes into account
biomechanical factors) vs. time (again, assuming a load equal to or
greater than 80% of 1RM) would correlate most highly with growth.
#3: A glaring oversight I made while talking about time under tension
was in not mentioning the need for mechanical work (i.e. cross-bridge
cycling in the muscle) to occur. We know that isometric work does not
reliably increase muscle size compared to standard isotonic weight
training. So, even though you could conceivably equal the same amount
of time under tension with isometric work, the lack of cross bridge
cycling would lead to poor results as far as growth were concerned.
Additionally, studies into electrical muscle stimulation seem to point
out the need for voluntary muscular contractions to stimulate growth.
#4: In my attempt to argue time under tension over failure as the
primary stimulus, I overlooked what is actually THE prime stimulus
for any type of adaptation which is progressive overload. I assumed
that was taken for granted but you know what happens when you
assume thing. Obviously, regardless of how much total time under
tension (or total time vs. muscle torque or however you want to
describe it), if you don't progressively overload the system (by
adding weight to the bar, or performing more reps, or moving more
slowly, or doing more sets or whatever) you will not get further
adaptation. Which brings me to another oversight.
Reason #3 why going to failure in a double progressive system is
useful: it gives you an easy barometer of when to add weight.
Simply, if you are in a 4-8 rep range, you know it's time to
add further tension overload when you can accomplish 8 reps.
If you can only accomplish 4 reps with the new load (tension),
you would then accomplish overload by attempting to add reps
(or by doing another set but that's another complicated discussion)
up until 8 and then add more weight. Again, in contrast to strict
periodization schemes, this type of system makes it easier for
the individual to know when to add weight to the bar which, in
the long run, is the key to reaching your musular potential. Even
those individuals in great touch with their muscles may not know
when to increase the overload as it comes down to a subjective analysis
of how difficult performing 7 reps at an 8RM load is or whatever.
Some can get away with this but others cannot.
Sorry about the mistakes in this one. And, thanks to the individuals
who helped set me straight. And, if you're wondering who Dave is
in the article, this was not originally intended to be posted to misc.
fitness.weights but rather elsewhere. Dave is the guy (some of you
know who I'm talking about) who keeps me straight and thinking
critically about things so I don't write stupid things like the
Question to Lyle:
You're correct in that overload is one component of a successful training protocol. However, your overload analogies do not work when it comes to the human body. For example, how can you tell if you've overloaded a bone? It breaks. However, is this the optimal way that you try to make a bone bigger and stronger? No. Bone . And that analogy is just as bad. Muscles are not the same as bone, so should you train them the same?
I'm using this analogy because, in general, all of the body's
methods of adapting are basically the same. You provide the body
with a stress, you give it some time to recover, and the body
responds by adapting to better handle that stress. However, if
the stress is too great, the body will not be able to handle
it, and you will not get the effect you desire. Other examples
other than my bone analogy:
1. Short periods of sun exposure will give you a tan. However,
stay out in the sun too long, or go out in an area where the sun's
rays are very intense (like near the equator), even for a short
period of time, and you get a burn.
2. Sprinters often show large amounts of muscular hypertrophy.
However, they never sprint to "failure", where they can't sprint
any more. Many powerlifters and Olympic lifters also do not
train to failure, and they show large amounts of muscle mass.
What about Olympic gymnasts? They have huge upper bodies, and
yet they don't do anything to failure.
Question to Lyle:
Your definition of overload is "beyond what is currently capable." You can do 100 reps to failure with a light weight and you'll be going beyond what is currently capable. However, will you experience muscular hypertrophy? No. Yes, in fact you will. Will it be on the same scale? No..... and did I say anything about number of reps? No, that is out of the conversation. Besides, you will gain a significant amount of endurance from that...
Who cares about endurance? When you're interested in muscular
hypertrophy, endurance is not what you're looking for. Anyway,
100-rep sets may cause a slight increase in the size of Type I
fibers, but this difference would be barely noticeable. Also,
endurance training can cause Type II to Type I fiber conversion,
which is not something you want if you're looking to get bigger
and stronger (I'm not saying that you're recommending 100-rep
sets; I'm just making a comment here). So, even if you get
a slight increase in Type I fiber size, you may get a decrease
in overall muscle size since you can get the Type II to Type I
conversion (Type II fibers are much larger than Type I fibers).
Question to Lyle:
There is no scientific evidence out there that training to failure is better than not training to failure. Actually, a comparison of the two methods was recently done in a recent issue of the NSCA Strength and Conditioning Journal. Most of the studies out there have shown that training to failure may not be as beneficial as not training to failure. For one thing, there isn't that much science out there proving ANYTHING other than "overtraining is bad, and explosive movements cause most injuries."
There's alot more science out there than you think. Read the journals;
I'm not just talking NSCA; there's also the Journal of Applied
Physiology, Sports Medicine, etc. Also, I'm
not saying studies prove anything; they just show strong evidence
pointing one way or the other.
Question to Lyle:
As for the NSCA thing, two problems:
1/ Were both programs exactly the same except for failure? There's a problem.
Have you read the article I'm talking about? It wasn't a study.
It was a review of many past studies done on the subject.
Question to Lyle:
2/ Since the NSCA doesn't like going to failure, why would they publish info against what they recommend?
Read the article. The NSCA is not against training to failure;
it simply points out that it is a tool that should not be
overused. No tool should be used for all applications. Read
Charles Staley's home page for an excellent discussion of
failure vs. nonfailure training.
Go back to my bone analogy. You don't need to break a bone to make it stronger. Also, if you were a distance runner, and you wanted to get better at distance running, would you run until you couldn't run anymore? Of course not. This is not the optimal way to train. Those analogies are just as bad as the ones you got me on. Are bones muscles? Do you lungs work the same as the muscles?
No, lungs don't work the same as muscles, but, again, I'm pointing
out that in any type of exercise, pushing the body beyond its
limits is usually not the optimum way to achieve adaptation.
I'm not saying training to failure is bad. It is simply a tool that should not be overused. I train to failure often and use it as one way of measuring my progress. It should not be, however, the main goal in one's training. I ask again, on a bicep curl WHY NOT GO TO FAILURE? Not the bone analogy, that has no bearing on this, think of it in muscular terms.
I am thinking of it in muscular terms. There are many reasons
why you may not want to go to failure:
1. Going to failure will dramatically reduce training volume,
and science has demonstrated a direct correlation between
training volume and muscular hypertrophy.
If one is doing multiple sets to failure, the weight will have
to be significantly reduced on each set due to fatigue, reducing
the amount of overload that can be placed upon a muscle for each
2. Fatigue is not the main component of the stimulation of
muscular hypertrophy. The main mechanism behind tissue remodeling
is the damage caused by the eccentric portion of a muscular
contraction. Again, sets to failure will dramatically increase
fatigue and cause weight reductions on sets, reducing the overload
and eccentric-induced damage that can be inflicted upon muscle
fibers. Some people may try to argue that muscle damage will
increase when a muscle is fatigued. However, a study presented
at the annual ACSM convention a few years back showed that muscle
fatigue will actually reduce eccentric-induced damage on following
3. Exercise physiologist Paul Ward states that training to
failure will cause oxygen deprivation followed by oxygen perfusion.
This results in extreme damage to cell membranes and DNA.
4. Heavy sets to failure can cause a dramatic drain upon the
CNS. This dramatically increases recovery time and may reduce
You asked for evidence why you should not go to failure, and I
gave it to you. I have yet to see hard evidence that training
to failure is more beneficial than not training to failure.
Failure is NOT what causes hypertrophy.
SOME ASPECTS AND
VIEWPOINTS OF STRENGTH
By Ants Nurmekivi
Achieving the best event specific results from your weight training program can
be a rather complicated task. In the following text the author from the University
of Tartu, Estonia, looks briefly at some aspects and developments of strength
training, including some interesting views from Bulgaria. The article is based on
translated extracts from lecture notes. Re-printed with permission from Modern
Athlete and Coach.
It is universally agreed today that strength us an extremely important component
in track and field performances. While athletes in the 1940?s devoted only 10% of
their training to the development of movement strength, the distribution of
strength and technique training was already equal in the 1940?s. Since then the
share of strength development has increased even further.
We are now in practical strength training faced with the development of maximal,
relative, static, dynamic, explosive, explosive-reactive, ballistic, isometric,
isotonic, plyometric, general, specific and specialized strength.
Without going into detailed definitions of the above listed strength categories, it
can be said that the modern strength development methods have convincingly
proven that strength should not be developed ?ad ultimo?. ?. There are
complicated correlations between the quality of strength and the quality of
techniques in the different track and field events. This is decisive for the quantity
of strength training in proportion to technique development.
Many training programs over-emphasize absolute or maximal strength, instead of
planning to reach optimal strength. In order to determine optimal strength for
different track and field events it is necessary to establish an athlete?s:
Biological age and physical development level;
Technical preparation level;
Training age and,
The concrete requirements of the event involved.
The above indicates that the determination of maximal strength is associated
with several individual characteristics. The same applies to the development of
optimal strength and it is therefore useful to clarify the common principles that
create the general base of strength training for track and field events. The first
problem in the long-term (six months, a year) planning of strength training is to
decide the sequence of the development of different kinds of strength capacities.
A common and rather simplified order is:
1. Strength endurance.
2. Maximal strength.
3. Explosive (speed) strength.
Strength endurance can from a general viewpoint be regarded as a preparation
of muscles, tendons and joints for the subsequent phases of strength training.
This is a particularly important component in the training programs of beginners
and young athletes. Maximal strength represents the quality that influences the
indicators of dynamic and static strength, as well as strength endurance, while
explosive, or speed strength, represents the capacity of the muscles to overcome
resistance in a rapid contraction.
One of the major problems in strength training is to find training means and
methods to develop the strength and methods to develop the strength and speed
components according to the competition demands. According to Verhoshansky
we should differentiate here between three groups of training means:
3. Non-specific (general).
Specific strength development exercises represent isolated versions of the
fundamental performance with the aim to adapt the organism to the competition
exercise. For example, by using varied weight implements in throwing events we
develop the specialized movement capacity of the explosive-reactive-ballistic
strength. Appropriate training means are here important, as too heavy or too light
implements can change the rhythmical and biomechanical structure of the
Specialized strength development exercises represent ?analytical strength
training? in so far as they take into consideration only one aspect of the demands
of a particular event. An example here would be the employment of heavy
implements to work on some muscle groups in simplified technique phases.
From this viewpoint specific strength bridges the gap between specialized and
general (non-specific) strength.
According to Jimmy Pedemonte, specific strength development exercises in the
throwing events should be executed according to the following basic rules:
The exercises must be performed explosively.
Specific strength training means using ?strength drills? of the technical
movements. The coach must pay attention to technical elements and a full
range of movement in a correct sequence.
The choice of implements must be strictly individual.
It is not recommended to develop general and specific strength in the
same training session. However, the development of specific strength and
technique, with the aim to transfer the stimulus of specific strength to the
competition movement, can take place.
It is interesting to note here the structure of strength training recommended by
Ruth Fuchs to elite female javelin throwers. It is based on the following structure:
1. General strength training.
2. Maximal strength training.
3. Specialized strength training.
4. Specific strength training.
In this structure the first training phase includes 70% of general and 30% of
specialized strength development. Specialized strength training takes place all
year round but virtually no strength training is performed during the competition
Finland?s specialists, Hirvonen and Auras, have worked out a detailed structure
of strength training in which the authors use the term ?duration strength?, divided
into muscular endurance (aerobic-anaerobic energy production dominates). They
also divide maximal strength into basic strength and maximal strength, in which
the first term refers above all to the enlargement of the cross section area of the
muscle and the second to the quality and volume of the nervous innervation.
Finally, the authors divide speed-strength into the speed and explosiveness
Nearly all track and field events require from the neuro-muscular system
momentary high intensity work (event specific speed) or the capacity to maintain
sub-maximal strength (event specific endurance). For this reason it is necessary
to separate strength and speed-strength exercises, that are directed to the
development of the neuromuscular (speed, intensity) side of the system, from
strength endurance exercises, that are concerned with energy production (speed
endurance, endurance). The event specific speed and event specific endurance
system is presented in Fig. 1.
As far as muscular endurance is concerned, the performance of an exercise has
to be fast, but the blood lactate level should not exceed 4 mmol/l. On the other
hand, strength endurance exercises that are performed at a low intensity have
lactate levels between 6 to 8 mmol/l, while lactate reaches 8 to 12 mmol/l in the
execution of high intensity exercises. It is important that a progressive upward
direction is maintained in the performance of these exercises. This is achieved
Increasing the resistance,
Increasing the number of sets,
Reducing the recoveries between the sets.
In the development of maximal strength it is generally recommended to use 2 to
4 exercises in 3 to 6 sets. The exercises are executed as fast as possible and the
lifts of maximal weights (over 95%) should be restricted to 10 to 20 in any one
training session. In order to avoid the development of excessive muscle mass the
maximal strength training phases should last 3 to 5 weeks and are followed by
speed strength training.
Bulgarian weight lifting expert, Spassov, stresses that maximal intensity secures
best results in the development of maximal strength. Intensity should ideally be
maintained at 80 to 85% level in training. It should not drop below 60 to 65%
during the transition period in order to avoid a time consuming return to the
optimal level. Spassov also stresses that the so called ?Bulgarian system? is
suitable for everybody who wishes to improve maximal strength.
The system is based on the following:
Warm-up (10 lifts): 3 sets of 2 reps 50%, 22 reps. 60%, 1 rep. 80%.
Development of maximal strength: 1 x 90%; 3 x 100%; 2-3 (3 x 85-90%);
1 x 90%; 3 x 100%; 2-3 (3 x 85-90%); 1 x 90%; 3 x 100%; 3 (3 x 85%).
Recoveries: 1:30min. for 70%; 1:45-1:50min for 80%; 2:00-2:10mm for
90%; 2:30-4:00mm for 100%
As far as track and field events are concerned, it is important to find means for
the transfer of maximal strength into speed-strength or explosive strength.
Bulgarian specialists recommend here the use of 25 to 28% loads, executed at
maximal speed. The percentage is calculated from the athlete?s current maximal
strength level and is increased as the athlete improves. Four weeks is the
longest time recommended for the use of the same resistance.
The development of speed-strength according to the Bulgarian system is based
on a 4:1 ratio, in which four weeks of gradually increasing loads is followed by a
recovery week. For example, the gradually increased load is made up from three
sets in the first, four sets in the second, five sets in the third and six sets in the
fourth week. In other words, we are dealing with a totally intensive approach.
The chosen training means in strength development must obviously be specific
for a particular task. For this reason several authors claim that the so called
pyramid system has justified itself as one of the best methods to develop
maximal strength for track and field events. In the use of the pyramid system it is
common to distinguish between ?wide? and ?narrow? pyramids. The wide
pyramids are made up from 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 7 repetitions against 70%-80%
resistances. The narrow pyramids from 3 to 8 sets of 1 to 4 repetitions against
The development of speed-strength usually takes place by employing around
75% intensity from the maximum, while 30 to 50% from the maximum is applied
to the development of explosive strength. Several authors recommend here the
use of a complex method, where maximal strength development is combined
with explosive strength improvement. Verkhoshanski, for example, considers the
following two variations useful for the development of explosive strength:
Variation 1: 2 (2-3x90%) + 3 (6-8x30%)
Variation 2: 2 (3-4x50-75%) + 2-3 (6-8x30%)
Finally, another important strength training aspect, as far as track and field
events are concerned, appears to be the need to differentiate between the
exercises directed to the development of arm and leg strength. Studies by
Ivanova indicated here that the use of heavy resistances with a small number of
repetitions corresponded better to the energetics and coordinative characteristics
of the arm muscles. On the other hand, moderate resistances with a large
number of repetitions appeared to be better suited to the demands of the leg
muscles. For example, the author found that the most effective combination in
throwing events was 3 repetition maximum in the bench press plus 10 repetition
maximum in the squat.
MAXIMAL STRENGTH TRAINING IN
By Yuri V. Verkhoshansky
The following is an excerpt from the author?s recently published book ?Special
Strength Training ? A Practical Manual for Coaches? published in 2006 by Ultimate
Athlete Concepts (www.ultimateathleteconcepts.com) and available from the
publisher. Re-printed with permission from the publisher.
Translation by Dr. Michael Yessis.
For Special Strength Training in speed-strength sports, various exercises are used.
This includes exercises with weights, isometric exercises, exercises in the shock
regime of muscle work, jump exercises, and complex methods. They are all directed
to perfection of the athlete?s ability to display powerful concentrated efforts based on
the development of maximum, explosive and high-speed strength and reactive ability
of the muscles.
DEVELOPMENT OF MAXIMAL STRENGTH
Exercises with weights and isometric exercises are mainly used for development of
Exercises with loads
The repeat and repeat-serial methods are predominantly used.
The repeat method
This includes exercises with large (maximal, sub-maximal, and super-maximal) loads.
The training effect of this method is directed mainly to the improvement of the central
nervous system to:
a. generate a powerful flow of motor impulses to the muscles;
b. include a greater number of muscle fibers in the work effort; and
c. increase the power of the energy acquisition mechanisms for the muscle
This method is characterized by a limited number of repetitions in one set and in the
numbers of sets. For example:
1. Execute 2-3 repetitions with the weight at 90-95% of maximum.
In the session execute 2-4 sets with a rest pause of 4 to 6 minutes in between.
Two regimes of muscle work can be used here. In one of them themovements
are executed without relaxation of the muscles between repetitions, as for
example in squats with the weighted barbell held on the shoulders for the
entire set. In the other regime, after each squat, the bar is placed on the racks
for a few seconds in order to instantly relax (?shake up?) the muscles. Both
regimes are effective for development of maximum strength, but the second
one is better for improving the ability to display explosive strength and to relax
2. Five sets are executed.
1. with the weight at 90% of maximum - 3 repetitions;
2. with the weight at 95% of maximum - 1 rep.
3. with a weight of 97% - 1 rep;
4. with the weight at 100% of max - 1 rep; and
5. with the weight at 100% of maximum plus an added weight of 1-2 kgs.
The last set is not done if the athlete has a feeling that he will not be
successful. The rest between sets is 3-4 minutes. The five sets are repeated
2-3 times [2-3 series] with a rest of 6-8 minutes in between the series.
3. Work is executed in an eccentric regime with the weight 120-130% of
maximum for the given exercise. Four to five repetitions are done for 3 sets
with the rest between sets, 3-4 minutes. The load is raised to the initial
position with the help of partners.
4. The combination of eccentric and concentric regimes of muscle work in the
barbell squat with the use of separate suspensions are now being made (Fig.
21). For example, the squat descent is executed with a weight of 120-140% of
maximal. The athlete then rises up from a low squat after the suspensions
(hook apparatus) touch the floor and are separated from the ends of the
When starting the bar is on the shoulders taken from special pillars adjusted to
the needed height. After the suspended weights are removed the remaining
weight, which is about 70-80% of maximal, is used for coming up from the
squat very quickly. The bar is then once again put on the pillars and the
athlete shakes the leg muscles. The partners at this time once again suspend
the additional weights on the bar.
Two to three repetitions with compulsory relaxation and shaking of the
muscles are executed for one set. In one series there are three sets with 4-6
minutes rest in between sets. There are a total of two to three series with a
rest of 8-10 minutes in between series.
Figure 21: Special suspension device for using additional loads in the squat
In the examples mentioned above (and in the future) the optimum dosage of
exercises for use in practice is indicated. The dosage depends on the number of
muscle groups involved in the work. In conditions of total body work, as for example
when doing the barbell squat, the dosage of exercises in regard to the number of
sets should be less and the rest between them longer than when there is local work
as for example, when doing the bench press.
The repeat-serial method
This method is different from the previous one according to the following factors. In
this method the main training factor is not the amount of weight load but the duration
of work (muscle tension) with sub-maximal weight. The training effect of this method
is directed predominantly to activating the processes connected with functional
adaptation and working hypertrophy (morphological specialization) of the muscles.
This method is characterized by an increased volume of work at the expense of
increased repetitions and sets. The movements are executed slowly and some of the
sets are united in series, which are repeated for some time.
Two variants of the repeat-serial method, distinguished according to their primary
emphasis on the training effect, are recommended. They include a moderate and
considerable increase in muscle mass.
For development of maximal strength and a moderate increase in muscle mass, the
resistance used is 70-90% of maximal. In this, it is necessary to be guided by the
1. The work should be very intense so that as much as possible, the optimal
working condition of the athlete?s body will be maintained for an extended
period of time;
2. The strength work should not be executed as an addition to some other work
as for example, perfection of sports technique, speed, or endurance. It should
be an independent training session or a part of themain training;
3. It is necessary to maintain the rest pauses between sets and series very
strictly. This is needed for sufficient restoration of the specific work capacity of
the athlete; and
4. The rest between training workouts for development of maximum strength with
large loads should be 2-3 days.
1. The weight is 85-95% of maximum and there are 5-6 reps in one set. There
are 2-3 sets in one series with a rest of 4-6 minutes in between each set
There are 2-3 series with a rest of 6-8 minutes in between.
2. A series with 3 sets is executed as follows:
a. with a weight of 80% of maximum - 10 reps;
b. with a weight of 90% of maximum - 5 reps; and
c. with a weight of 93-95% of maximum - 2 reps.
The rest pause between sets is 4-5 minutes. In one training session there
are 2-3 series with a rest of 6-8 minutes between series.
3. Four sets with a rest of 5-6 minutes between sets:
a. in the first set the weight is 70% of maximum for 12 repetitions.
b. in the second set the weight is 80% of maximum for 10 reps.
c. in the third set the weight is 85% of maximum for 7 reps.
d. in the fourth set the weight is 90% of maximum for 5 reps.
There are two series done with a rest of 8-10 minutes in between.
4. Slow movements in the eccentric regime with the load at 75-80% of
maximum are executed. The very lowest position is maintained for 2-3
seconds and then, with the greatest speed possible, the concentric move is
executed. The exercise is repeated 2-3 times in 2-3 sets with rest pauses
of 4-5 minutes in between sets. Two series with a rest of 6-8 minutes in
between are performed.
5. In the static-dynamic regime ofmuscle work, the load is 70-80% of
maximal. At the beginning, there is a gradual, 2-4 seconds of isometric
tension build-up within the limits of 80-90% of the weight being used. After
the hold, there is fast movement in a concentric regime. In one set there
are 4-6 reps. In one training session there are 2-4 sets with a rest pause of
4-6 minutes in between. In all, there are two series with a rest of 6-8
minutes in between series.
This variant of the repeat-serial method produces a considerable increase in muscle
mass. This method is based on the intensification of the body?s metabolic processes.
This variant involves an intense regime of muscle work based primarily on the
glycolytic mechanism of energy production. When this mechanism is strongly
involved, protein break down is especially strong. Their synthesis begins at rest and
is expressed more strongly, the greater the quantity of protein broken down. The
greater the quantity the stronger the synthesis. It is necessary to keep in mind that
the activation of protein synthesis is developed very slowly and proceeds for about 48
to 72 hours after heavy work.
The main features of this method are expressed in the following:
1. The resistance is not the greatest, but is sufficient for the stimulation of
significant muscle tension;
2. The work is executed for a long period of time and to total fatigue;
3. The rest pauses between sets are shortened to 1-2 minutes;
4. Muscle relaxation is not required between the repetitions in one set;
5. The work executed is local in character and involves one group of muscles for
2-3 sets. In one training session 2-3 muscle groups are involved.
6. The load on the muscle groups is alternated from session to session so that
they receive at least 72 hours of rest
This variant of the repeat-serial method is good for promoting the development of
maximal strength in slow movement conditions. However, it has little effectiveness in
development of explosive strength and speed of movement. This is why it is best
used with low volume at the beginning of a yearly cycle.
In order to increase the training effect of this method it is necessary to follow these
1. Increase only one variable of the training load-weight or the number of
2. Increase the number of reps and sets before increasing the weight;
3. Reduce the number of repetitions in accordance with increases in resistance
or number of sets;
4. Reduce the rest pause between sets by small amounts.
Examples of this method include:
1. With the resistance at 75-85% of maximum, the movements are executed
slowly to obvious fatigue. Do 10-12 reps for 2-3 sets with a rest of 2
minutes between sets.
2. With the resistance at 80% of max, do 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps with a rest of
2-3 minutes in between sets. If the fatigue is significant, the time of rest
between sets is increased to 5 minutes.
3. With the weight between 84-95% of maximum, do 3-8 sets of 3-8 reps with
the rest pauses between sets, 3-5 minutes. If the last repetition in the set
cannot be executed because of fatigue, a partner assists in overcoming the
4. With the resistance between 85-90% of maximum the number of
repetitions is optimal (to fatigue) and then two additional movements are
done with the help of a partner. When the weight is lowered the partner
does not assist. Two sets are executed with the rest pause depending
upon the individual.
5. The same number of repetitions is executed in each set but with less
resistance in each set. For example, 65 x 10, 60 x 10, 55 x 10, 50 x 10.
The rest pause between sets is 1-2 minutes. This variant is useful for
targeting the small muscle groups which fatigue quickly or when the rest
pauses between sets are reduced.
6. Squat jumps on two parallel benches or on the floor with kettlebells, (24-36
kgs.) held in the hands (Fig. 22, B). In one set there are 8-10 jumps with
sub-maximal effort. In one series with two sets, the rest between sets is 2
minutes. In 2-3 series the rest between series is 3-5 minutes.
Figure 22: Squat jump with the bar on the shoulders (A) and with kettlebell in hands
standing on 2 parallel exercise benches (B)
^AWESOME links Brit and All. I love that Poliquin answer in that artical Brit! Money man, absolutely money!
Oh, and where's Ger-d-dog saying "ya'll cants make no progrez wit no failurez trainin!!!!!" "I huge cause of it!"
Gerry is doing double duty. He's attempting to break are balls at Darden's. When he gets frustrated, he comes back here and tries. It's comical. He only has 3 word answers at best. I guess if it isn't answered by MM in one of the books he owns, he's clueless and tries to BS his way through it. It's funny to watch.