By Todd Bumgardner ProSource
Fast, Explosive Movements Are The Key to Massive Growth
When you think of mass training, what comes to mind? Is it high-reps? Maybe an image of a grinding set on a leg press.
Even though I now know better, images of old-school bodybuilding magazines creep into mind. The ones I picked up as a kid, I read cover to cover three times before I snagged the next issue. Each program was laden with an excessive amount of exercises done for an obnoxious amount of reps. If it worked for the super-human bodybuilders on the cover, it had to work for all of us.
It's not true.
Those high-volume programs are difficult for any non-genetic freak lifter. And, the truth is, they don't potentiate the longest lasting hypertrophy gains. Programs using explosive, and heavy, movements do.
Two Types of Hypertrophy
Hypertrophy is most often thought of as one, indivisible entity. It's not. Physiological reality gives us two types of hypertrophy -- sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar.
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy deals in cellular fluid. This happens with tons of high-rep volume; your muscle cells hold more fluid. Picture the guy at your gym that's "puffy" and huge. Most of his hypertrophy gains are sarcoplasmic and inherently fragile and subject to change.
Myofibrillar hypertrophy is the actual growth of the contractual elements of the muscle cell. Think dense, powerful size gains. For a visual, think of an Olympic lifter or powerlifter with low body fat. This type of hypertrophy serves a purpose: it makes you stronger and isn't as quickly diffused as delicate fluid hypertrophy.
Constructing Myofibrillar Gains
If you want to stay big for a span of years you have to focus on getting, and staying, strong. It's in the rep ranges where strength is trained that time-enduring hypertrophy is constructed. As my colleague Josh Bryant once said to me, you can't fire a cannon from a canoe.
The construction process starts by offering your body enough threat to elicit a dense, muscular adaptation. You won't get that threat from repping leg extensions for sets of twenty.
High-rep work leans toward metabolic adaptation. It's more about making sure that your body readily has the fuel to complete future bouts of similar work, hence the fluid response of sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Constructing myofibrillar gains, however, is more about telling your brain and peripheral nervous system that it needs more muscle to meet work demands.
To make the brain "care" about the work enough to elicit a myofibrillar adaptation we need tasks that require high nervous system output. We need tension and speed. High-tension and high-velocity lifts recruit the highest threshold motor units, the ones tied most intimately with myofibrillar hypertrophy.
Where do we find these often unsung hypertrophy variables? They lay boldly in front of our faces in the form of explosive compound movements, as well as in their confidants: heavy, powerful barbell movements.
Meeting our desired end of long-term hypertrophy gain-and-maintain requires a shift in focus away from immediate volume and to gradual volume increases.
Immediate, large increases in volume will make you bigger. Some hypertrophy is myofibrillar, but mostly it's sarcoplasmic. But gradually, over a period of months and years, increasing your ability to handle more training volume of explosive and heavy power movements makes for longer, denser hypertrophy. It's the stuff that powerful physiques are erected on.
The allure of the high-rep hypertrophy response is ever-present, but it must be staved off for greater purpose.
Movements and Programming
Before we get into exercises and programming, here's a pneumonic device to frame our thought process : BBBB; Basics Build Big Bodies.
The exercises have been around for over one hundred years. As always, the work and the innovation are in their application. The heroes of our hypertrophic saga are the same storied players: Olympic lifts (and variations), rack pulls, deadlifts, squats, rows and the plethora of pressing variations.
Rep ranges remain between three and five, but intensity of loading varies. On the RPE scale, we'll bounce between @7 and @9. Volume raises through waves of upward slopes and slight declines, but increases overall from cycle to cycle.
I won't prescribe movements for you; I'm not sure what works for your body or what you need. But I'll lay out the parameters for a solid program and stoke your thoughts on exercise selection and placement. Check the template below.
DAY 1: UPPER BODY
EXERCISE SETS REPS INTENSITY REST
A1) Push Press or Push Jerk 8 3 @7 60 seconds
A2) Thoracic Spine Mobility 5 5/side
B1) Push Press or Push Jerk 5 3 @8 90-120 seconds
B2) Soft-tissue care of external rotators
C1) Bench Press or Standing Overhead Press 5 5 @8 120 seconds
C2) Bent Row Variation 5 5 @7 120 seconds
DAY 2: LOWER BODY
EXERCISE SETS REPS INTENSITY REST
A1) Clean or Snatch Variation 8 3 @7 60 seconds
A2) Hip mobility
B1) Clean or Snatch Variation 5 3 @8 90-120 seconds
B2) Thoracic Spine Mobility
C1) Squat or Deadlift 5 5 @7-@8 120 seconds
D1) Rack Pull Below Knee 5 5 @8 120 seconds
The programming examples above are mid-position volume and intensity. They either could go up or down. Individuality is vital. You have to find the loading that meets your needs.
Start by using a Week 0: during this week load your exercises with middle-of-the-road volume and intensity. You'll have a solid needs-assessment at the end of this week. Then, during Week 1, you'll either increase or decrease the volume as necessary. If you increased volume on Week 1, decrease it on Week 2, and vice versa. Week 3 employs a steeper volume and intensity increase followed by a cut of each on Week 4. Continue on this way during all of your explosive hypertrophy training.
What about Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy?
I don't what you to get the wrong impression. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is not all bad; it's just not as dependable as its lower-rep counterpart. If you like high-rep work, keep it in your program, from time to time, during your assistance training.
It's tough to break mindsets and routines, but commit to lifting fast and heavy while building volume over time and you'll enjoy gains that high-rep work can't produce. Load the bar, move it with vim and vigor, and you'll get bigger.