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Bodybuilding Basics - Know Your Muscles
The following is an excellent article that explains the basic differences between your muscle fibres, and how you need to train them.
It will help you clear up a lot of the mystery about training with heavy and light weights, how the weight size affects the different muscle strands, and how you can ensure you get the "look" you want by training correctly.
Know Your Muscles
When it comes to the best way to build muscle, there are several schools of thought. Some experts subscribe to the "go heavy or go home" approach to strength training. They contend that lifting heavy weights for low reps in an explosive a manner as possible, is the best way to shock your muscles into new growth. Others however maintain that a more controlled, rhythmic style of lifting with moderate loads is the key to packing on size. There are even those who advocate the use of light weights and high reps- sometimes as many as one hundred per set! With such a wide range of opposing viewpoints it's easy to see where the average trainee could get a little confused. After all, they can't all possibly be right…….or can they?
What you have to keep in mind here is that all muscle is not created equal. Skeletal muscle (the kind that enables us to move about), is comprised of hundreds of thousands of individual muscle fibers. In order for you to engage in any form of physical activity, from taking a leisurely stroll to riding a bike up a steep hill, your central nervous system must first recruit these muscle fibers to contract. Exactly which one's it selects however, is completely dependent upon the task at hand. Like some specialized task force, your muscle fibers are divided into several distinct types, the proportion of which varies from person to person and even muscle to muscle.
First up are your Type I or slow twitch fibers. They're relatively easy to recruit, possess tremendous endurance capacity and recover quickly between workouts. Unfortunately, they don't offer much in the way of horsepower. Aerobic activities like distance running and cycling rely predominantly on these fibers. At the other end of the spectrum you have your Type II b, or fast twitch muscle fibers. Whenever you need a quick burst of energy such as running an all out sprint or lifting a heavy weight, you summon these little powerhouses. They're the hardest ones to recruit, kicking in only when other fibers have tried and failed. Though highly explosive, they fizzle out pretty quickly and take their sweet time to recover. Between these two extremes lie your Type II a muscle fibers. These are sort of a hybrid of the other two, possessing both aerobic and anaerobic properties. They come into play during activities like wrestling and basketball.
The problem this presents from a conditioning standpoint is that these different fibers do not all respond to the same type of training; a fact that often gets overlooked according to Dr. Fred Hatfield, president of The International Sport Sciences Association. As Dr. Hatfield explains "when you train slowly with relatively light weights as most people do, you recruit primarily slow twitch muscle fibers. If hypertrophy is your goal, why bother consistently targeting fibers with such limited growth potential?" To make significant gains in strength and mass you have to subject your muscles to the kind of heavy load, high speed training that most effectively stimulates your fast twitch muscle fibers. The best way to do this is through what Dr. Hatfield calls Compensatory Acceleration Training or C.A.T. Simply put, with this technique you use moderate to heavy loads (70 to 85% of your 1 rep max), only instead going slowly, you attempt to accelerate the weight through the concentric or "positive" phase of the range of motion. Yet, because the weight is so challenging the bar isn't really moving fast at all, thereby limiting your potential for injury. Just be sure to decelerate the weight as your near the lockout position to spare your precious joints, a technique you'll likely master after just a few workouts.
As effective as C.A.T. may be in inducing muscular growth, it's not the only way you should train. For the ultimate muscle-building stimulus, try combining C.A.T with other more conventional types of lifting. By using a variety of loads and repetition speeds not only can you effectively train all three fiber types in the same workout, but better yet, in the same set! For instance, let's say you're going to train your chest. To hit your type IIb fibers, start out with barbell bench presses for 5 explosive reps at about 85% of your 1 Rep Max. Next, immediately switch over to incline dumbbell presses for 12 rhythmic repetitions at about 70% of your 1 RM to target your type IIa fibers. Finish it off by frying your type I fibers with 40 reps of slow, continuous tension cable crossovers at about 40% of max. Depending on your level of conditioning, you can then rest anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes before repeating the entire sequence.
Of course if you're really a glutton for punishment you could always try what Dr. Hatfield terms holistic sets. What makes these so tough is that instead of resting after completing the three different movements, you continue until you've performed a total of about 200 reps! You do this by alternating between low rep explosive movements and medium rep rhythmic movements with the occasional high rep set thrown in for good measure. The rationale here being that because you are targeting a different type of fiber with each lift, you will be able to continuously switch from one exercise to the next without succumbing to the affects of fatigue. You may find however that you need to reduce the weights slightly (5 to 10 pounds) on subsequent sets in order to meet the required rep ranges. Just make sure this is done quickly so as not to interfere with the flow of the workout.
A word of warning about training this way: it is definitely not for beginners. Make sure you have a couple of years of solid training experience under your belt before even attempting these workouts. Take it from someone whose tried both versions of this style of training, aside from being incredibly time efficient and giving you an unbelievable pump, it's not fun. In fact, it's not uncommon for people to become slightly nauseated by the high concentrations of lactic acid generated from such continuous high intensity effort. This holds especially true when training large muscle groups like the chest, back and legs. You'll also probably need more time to recover between workouts than usual. Where you would normally take 2 to 3 days before training that muscle group again, expect to extend that by another day or so. Despite all that, if you're still willing to give them a try the following workouts should provide quite a challenge.
Sample 7-day routine for those who respond well to high volume programs:
Day 1: Chest, Back, & Abs
Day 2: Legs & Calves
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Shoulders, Arms, & Abs
Day 5: Off
Day 6: Repeat Day 1
Day 7: Repeat Day 2
Sample 7-day routine for those who require more rest between training sessions:
Day 1: Chest, Back & Abs
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Legs & Calves
Day 4: Off
Day 5: Shoulders, Arms & Abs
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Off or repeat day 1
The Workouts: When performing these as giant sets (3 exercises in succession) do 2 to 3 sets max. When performing holistic sets 1 will be sufficient.
1. Flat Bench Press 5 reps @ 85% 1 R.M.
2. Incline Dumbbell Press 12 reps @ 70% 1 R.M.
3. Cable Crossovers 40 reps @ 40% 1 R.M.
1. Pull-ups 5 reps @ 85% 1 R.M. (use additional weight if necessary)
2. Cable Rows 12 reps @ 70% 1 R.M.
3. Bent over lateral raises 40 reps @ 40% 1RM
1. Front squats 5 reps @ 85% 1 R.M.
2. Leg Press 12 reps @ 70% 1 R.M.
3. Leg Extensions 40 reps @ 40% 1 R.M.
1. Lying Leg Curls: 5 reps @ 85% 1 R.M.
2. Stiff leg Deadlifts 12 reps @ 70% 1 RM
* Since hamstrings are predominantly fast twitch "speed" muscles, refrain from performing high rep sets.
1. Dumbbell Press 5 reps @ 85% 1 R.M.
2. Lateral Raise 12 reps @ 70% 1 R.M.
3. Military Press 40 reps @ 40% 1 R.M.
1. Standing E-Z bar Curls 5 reps @ 85% 1 R.M.
2. Incline Dumbbell Curls 12 reps @ 70% 1 R.M.
3. Preacher Curls 40 reps @ 40% 1 R.M.
1. Close Grip Bench Press 5 reps @ 85% 1 R.M.
2. French Curls 12 reps @ 70% 1 R.M.
3. Pushdowns 40 reps @ 40% 1 R.M.
1. Hanging Leg Raises 5 reps done explosively (use extra weight if necessary)
2. Oblique Crunches 12 reps performed rhythmically
3. Crunches 40 reps performed slowly
1. Standing Calf Raise 5 reps @ 85% 1 R.M.
2. Donkey Calf Raise 12 reps @ 70% 1 R.M.
3. Seated Calf Raise 40 reps @ 40% 1 R.M.
About the Author
Michael Mejia MS, CSCS is a private conditioning specialist based out of Long Island New York. He is a specialist in the design and implementation of sports specific training programs as well as a freelance writer and lecturer.
1. Fitness: The Complete Guide. International Sport Sciences Association. Copyright 1993. Frederick C. Hatfield, editor. Pages 75-80
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