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Reignite Progress with New Science
In this article, you will learn more about: Using myo-reps to reactivate mechanisms f or muscle growth Using higher training f requency to make better progress Using both light and heavy days in your program For those of you who don’t know me (and that is probably most of you), I’ve been working as a coach f or the last f if teen years or so. I’ve worked with clients ranging f rom “average Joes” to elite athletes, and in the past, I even coached a Mr. Universe and a top f ive f inisher in the Mr. Olympia. I’ve also published hundreds of articles, and during periods when I’ve had that pesky virus called “writers block-itis,” I’ve worked behind the scenes with new training methods and diet strategies (to the delight of all my clients who get to be my personal lab rats). T he results have been f ormidable, if I may say so myself , and this article is a brief overview of some of my latest ideas. For the f ew of you who are able to get through one of my articles without having to resort to several double espressos and an oxygen mask, bear with me. My head sometimes f eels too big f or my body, and when I f eel the need to empty it of some of my thoughts, it won’t be small drips of inf ormation…it will be more like a tsunami. Bathroom breaks along the way are not only acceptable—they are also an utter necessity.

Occlusion t raining
In recent years, there have been several paradigm shif ts in training theory as new research is published. Of particular interest is occlusion training, where subjects with what looks like a large blood pressure cuf f on the arm or leg have induced signif icant muscle growth—even in trained elite lif ters—using ridiculously low weights at 20–30 percent of one’s one rep max. Yes, whole body occlusion by tightening the cuf f around your neck is still a f unny notion, and I know a f ew who have tried it (a f riend of my cousin’s distant relative’s brother, not me). Later studies have shown that you can achieve a similar ef f ect without occlusion cuf f s simply by exercising to the point of f ailure. T he criterion to get a training ef f ect appears to be a high muscle f iber activation, and this is obtained f rom the very f irst rep of heavier weights (in the range of 1RM to 8RM). With lighter loads (12RM or more), however, you need to work closer to f ailure and will only reach the ef f ective range on the last reps of the set T he metabolic consequence of the lack of oxygen, known as hypoxia, increases muscle f iber activation earlier in the set. It also seems to amplif y the ef f ect of the mechanical tension applied. If you want to obtain “natural” occlusion, you need to choose exercises and a rep execution that keep the muscle under constant tension. T his makes isolation exercises especially suitable whereas compound or complex lif ts such as squats, deadlif ts, and Olympic lif ts are not. Go CrossFit (sorry, couldn’t help it) and you risk running out of breath and compromising technique way bef ore reaching the f ailure point .

When doing a Pub Med search on occlusion, the name Mathias Wernbom shows up quite of ten. Mathias is a Swedish scientist and researcher who is passionate about hypertrophy, and I’m f ortunate enough to know him. Several long discussions and email conversations where he eagerly shared research results and insights (many of which is unpublished—the peer review process has its pros and cons) have contributed to the development of myo-reps. T he myo-rep protocol is basically a rest-pause method with some similarities to DC training, but it also has some important dif f erences.

A brief synopsis of myoreps
Af ter warm ups and a f ew minutes of rest, unrack the chosen load and do reps until you hit the f ailure point (leaving one rep in the tank can be a good idea). T his is the “activation set.” Rerack the weight, count three to f ive deep breaths, unrack, and do a set of three to Mathias We rnb o m in his lab /to rture c hamb e r. f ive reps. (T hat’s about a quarter of your f irst set. For example, complete f ive reps when you did 20 reps on the f irst set.) Now re-rack, rest, and repeat until you hit another f ailure point. T his is the autoregulation aspect. On some days and on some exercises, you may only get something like 20 + 5 + 4 reps, but on other days/exercises, you may get 20 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 (or more). T he point is to achieve high muscle f iber activation on the activation set and extend this ef f ect by balancing on the verge of f atigue to perf orm more “ef f ective” reps, taking advantage of all the hypertrophic signaling ef f ects of occlusion training.

For those of you who are imagining a scientist as a skinny geek with a white lab coat and binocular glasses (as I did), I can tell you right now that Mathias blew that image out of the proverbial water the very f irst time I met him. He truly is one who both talks the talk and walks the walk. T he man is as big as a house—a bulldozer in the heavyweight category. Oh, and Mathias is no stranger to sticking giant biopsy needles into his quads af ter a brink of death, 50-rep set of leg presses and then limping over to the electron microscope to see how the piece of meat (which was part of his muscle just a f ew seconds ago) responded to the onslaught. Anyway, the point is he has observed that myo-reps with weights f rom around 50 percent of a 1RM can be equally ef f ective to occlusion training with 20–30 percent of a 1RM. T he myo-rep protocol that I recommend f or replacing occlusion training is 20 to 25 + 5X or even up to 25 to 30 + 6X if you want to be really bold and have a high pain threshold.

Myonuclei and muscle size
Ingrid Marie Egner at the University of Oslo has contributed to a paradigm shif t in hypertrophy research in recent years. I’ll try to explain this in short and simple terms because this is the f airly advanced stuf f . See, there exists a certain ratio between the size of a muscle cell and the number of nuclei that it has. Generally speaking, the more nuclei, the bigger the muscle…or at least the potential f or a bigger muscle. One of several mechanisms of hypertrophy is the activation of satellite cells—dormant stem cells located in the vicinity of muscle cells. T hese satellite cells merge with muscle cells and donate their nuclei when conditions demand it. For this to happen, the muscles must be subjected to mechanical overload. Occlusion research has shown that the metabolic ef f ects of high rep training also activates satellite cells, even in the presence of low mechanical tension. T his, in turn, explains how occlusion and metabolic stress are believed to “amplif y” mechanical loading. Ingrid and her team f ound that even when a muscle is subjected to deloading, or to resting and consequently shrinking (atrophies), the number of nuclei is maintained. T his is probably the reason f or the muscle memory ef f ect. When you start training again af ter a hiatus or longer period of rest, you will quickly return to your previous muscle size and strength. T he muscle is simply seeking to maintain the relationship between the number of nuclei and its size and it responds quickly to stimuli. You all know that it takes less time to recover lost muscle mass than it takes to surpass your previous bests in muscle mass, but to know the underlying reason is valuable both in the name of exercise science and in order to stimulate f urther research. Ingrid and her group recently made headlines with their research showing how anabolic steroid use/abuse leads to a higher number of myonuclei than what can be achieved naturally. If you can’t increase the number of nuclei, there will be a limit to how large the muscle can be, and the more advanced you are, the harder it is to stimulate this mechanism. Studies into the “repeated bout ef f ect” show that whereas moderately advanced lif ters can see a muscle protein synthesis (MPS) anabolic response f or 2448 hours af ter a workout bef ore returning to baseline, advanced lif ters may see the same MPS peak but the duration is shorter, on the order of 12–16 hours. Extreme eccentric protocols utilizing loads heavier than a concentric 1RM have been shown to reactivate satellite cells. Alas, this type of training can also cause microtrauma, inf lammation, and brutal soreness, which require several days of recovery. A low training f requency with extreme training protocols requires a long time to make a noticeable impact on the myonuclei pool. Wernbom has seen that you can achieve satellite cell activation even in elite and well trained athletes with occlusion and light weights. See the f ollowing illustration and note that “f ree f low” is without occlusion.

T he f ree f low group was only a f ew repetitions away f rom f ailure on the f irst set and probably had very high levels of muscle f iber activation (as per the af orementioned criteria). Blood f low restriction (BFR) equals occlusion. Take particular note of the response at its peak only 24 hours af ter the workout f or the f ree f low group (MRF positive is activated satellite cells). Sparing the nervous system, joints, and connective tissue f rom excessive mechanical tension, the inf lammation that arises f rom this type of training is usually transient and the muscle can be trained with a high f requency. Wernbom showed me research where they observed dramatic increases in muscle cross-sections over a f ourweek period with twice daily occlusion training of the quads. T hese were advanced lif ters without any measurable increases in muscle size f or many months bef orehand. T his is to be expected. If you already spend several hours at the gym with high loads, it is dif f icult to increase volume or loading signif icantly over a certain time span. T he elite spend several years building up volume, so don’t think that you can get away with haphazardly jumping straight into a high volume routine if you come f rom a HIT background. T he recovery capacity is also trainable but unf ortunately doesn’t increase proportionally to training volume. So the myonuclei count, and muscle size remains unchanged until you do something drastic (or smart).

Train more of t en
In my opinion, f requency is the most underrated training variable. Most lif ters are all too eager to increase volume by doing more sets and more exercises. Honestly, do you really believe that you need f our dif f erent biceps exercises to get bigger arms? I think there isn’t anything that stagnates progress more or f aster than training volume, especially combined with excessive f ailure training and intensity techniques such as f orced reps and super/triple/giant sets. T here exists a certain threshold of work that you have to exceed in order to stimulate an adaptation (i.e. strength and muscle growth). T his threshold increases with training age and experience. However, a common misconception is that if you double the training volume, you also double the stimulus. Sorry, but if it were that easy, we would all be massive just f rom copying the high volume routines of Arnold or Ronnie. Anyone who idolized Arnold back in the 80s or Ronnie back in the late 90s knows f or a f act that this line of logic didn’t turn out as well as we hoped. Meta-reviews (Rhea, Wernbom, and Fry) indicate the training variables, which will provide maximum ef f ect, based on a cross-section of available research and observations. Look at the f ollowing graph as a model loosely based on this where the lower part of each set range applies to beginners. T he upper part of the range applies to advanced lif ters.

As you can see, the dose-response curve increases sharply at f irst but then f lattens out until it eventually drops. Excessive volume will require more recovery time obviously. At best, you create low grade inf lammation and that soreness we all secretly f all in love with. At worst, you get injured or f all into the spiral of overtraining. Doubling the volume f rom one to two sets f or a novice and f rom two to f our sets f or an advanced lif ter could potentially increase the training ef f ect f rom about 50 percent to about 80–90 percent. Doubling the number of sets again f or the advanced lif ter f rom f our to eight sets only increases the ef f ect f rom 80–90 percent to (a hypothetical) 100 percent. Double it again to sixteen sets and you’ll be way over to the lef t where you f ind yourself sliding down the steep slope of the curve, acutely leading to overreaching and accumulating into overtraining or even repetitive strain injury over the long term. In some cases, it is absolutely worth doing those extra sets to potentially squeeze out 10 percent extra gains, but it is easy to f orget that this will also increase recovery requirements. We can saf ely and logically assume that a high volume requires a lower f requency to work over the long haul. Now, do a little thought experiment f or me—what if you could be satisf ied with an 80 percent training ef f ect at a more conservative volume if it allowed you to recover f aster and train more of ten? Let’s say that you can achieve a hypothetical 100 percent training ef f ect by doing eight sets, but you need f our days of recovery enabling you to hit that muscle group once every f ive days. Over f if ty days, this is ten workouts, so let’s give it a theoretical value of 10 X 100(%) = 1000. If you can get 80 percent training ef f ect with f our sets and it allows you to train every other day or even every day, over f if ty days, this is 25–50 training sessions and by the same logic 25–50 X 80(%) = 2000–4000. T hat is two to f our times more gains, bro! Yes, I know that this is a purely theoretical calculation, but if we look at some anecdotal stuf f coming up next, it may very well be a valid assumption.

The Frequency Project
Let me tell you about the Frequency Project f rom 2009, a collaboration between the Norwegian Powerlif ting Association, the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, and Olympiatoppen.

Advanced and elite powerlif ters were divided into two groups. One group trained the classical power lif ts (bench press, squat, deadlif t, or variations of these) three days a week with a program developed by national head coach Dietmar Wolf . T he second group divided the same weekly training volume over six days (i.e. half as many sets each training day as the three times a week group). Average intensity/load was equalized between groups.

Twenty-three-year-old Carl Yngvar Christensen, a multiple world record holder and a genetic freak of nature but also a product of high frequency training T he results haven’t been published in peer-reviewed journals nor have they received the attention they deserve. It kind of looks like the NSF would rather keep it a closely guarded secret and dominate internationally with their lif ters instead of share what they have learned with the rest of the world. As a powerlif ting nation, Norway is actually a f orce to be reckoned with. A handf ul of lif ters dominate their respective classes, perhaps not in total medals, but Norway is a country with a population half that of New York where most of the adolescents are either partying or doing CrossFit and not easily swayed into moving heavy slabs of iron through space in a misty f og of chalk and bromance with Rammstein playing at f ull volume. Compare that to the giant locomotive that is Russia, where boys are recruited when they’re barely out of kindergarten and then selected based on those who have the genetics and work ethics to survive brutal training regimes over a decade or more. And lest we f orget, I doubt that the WADA shows up at their doorstep at 4:00 a.m. to make them pee in a cup f or a drug test. Just sayin’. Norwegian lif ters have to expect and accept this as a regular occurrence if they want to avoid being shut out of the organization and society in general with “cheater” tattooed on their f oreheads. But let’s look at the study results:

As you can see, there was a pretty dramatic dif f erence in both strength gains and muscle mass af ter the twelve-week study period with a clear advantage to the group training six days per week. In f act, the total strength gains in the six times a week group were double those of the three times a week group. Even if this was a classical “strength training program,” muscle cross sectional area (CSA) increased by an incredible 5–10 percent in the six times a week group with no change (and even some regression) in the three times a week group. Oh, and look at that f reak who gained 30 percent in his vastus lateralis…everyone knows a guy like that. And we all envy him or whisper “steroids” when he isn’t within hearing distance.

Junior f emale lif ter Erle Engmark f ollowed an autoregulated high f requency program under my tutelage. Af ter only nine months of specif ic training f or powerlif ting (including suit and shirt work), she beat the national records in all three lif ts as well as the total. She later won the national championships and is now on the national team receiving f ull support and individual programming f rom their expert trainers. And yes, she’s still on a high f requency approach that the NSF adopted and f urther developed in the wake of the Frequency Project. It’s kind of sad to see how many f itness enthusiasts cling to the prevailing and dogmatic notion f rom the bodybuilding world where it is believed that you will blow up f rom overtraining if you do squats more than once every f ull moon. If you even publicly entertain the twisted and ludicrous concept of combining squats and deadlif ts in the same workout, baby Jesus will cry and you will be submitted to exorcism and restrained in a straitjacket. An important caveat of the Frequency Project is that in order to achieve a high volume and f requency, intensity measured as a percentage of the 1RM was relatively low—an average of 73.1 percent. See the graph below, showing weekly number of reps per exercise (of the bench, deadlif t, and squat) as well as intensity expressed percentages of the 1RM.

Seventy-three percent is a load that most people can lif t f or 10–12 reps. Looking at the training logs, lif ts were usually perf ormed in the three- to eight-rep range. In f act, they never grind or train to f ailure in training; maxing only happens in competition. Reduce neural stress and improve recovery and the power lif ts can be very successf ully trained 4–6 days per week. T his is in stark contrast to the local hero at the gym who, on every Monday—international bench press day—keeps grinding out twenty sets of bench presses to f ailure with f orced reps aided by a spotter who happens to have a set of enormous biceps f rom repeatedly saving his bench buddy f rom a crushed rib cavity every time the barbell hits a sticking point and f ree f alls down to his underdeveloped, overtrained chest, obviously with the same load on the bar as has been employed the previous 2–3 years of benching. His Gainer2000 shake is gulped down with a good conscience even though he’s so f atigued that he can barely hold his camera phone steady to post shirtless self ies on Instagram and Facebook. #hardcorebro #nopainnogain #nobrainnopain If you are interested in some f urther reading of the ins and outs of high f requency training, read Matthew Perryman’s excellent book Squat Every Day (I happen to have a couple honorable mentions in it). Google legendary Bob Peoples and his training philosophy or even renowned weightlif ting coach John Broz, who some of you might have heard of . T he Glute Guy Bret Contreras also had great success with his daily squatting experiment and has published some stuf f on it. T here lots of reading material out there if you care to look.

Summary – how can t his be set up in a t raining program?
OK, so we’ve covered a lot of ground, and I hope you’ve made it this f ar. T he main points are: Reactivate satellite cells and myonuclei additions by using high rep myo-reps instead of , or in addition to, occlusion training. I recommend protocols of 15–20 + 4X and 20–25 + 5X, but start conservatively with only one set and one exercise and increase only when you see that you can survive and thrive on it. Aim f or a total of 35–50 reps per muscle group. T his will “prime” you f or the heavier loading in the 70–85 percent range as early as 24–48 hours later.

Use a higher f requency approach, training each muscle group at least three times per week and even more productively f our to seven times a week. I know that some of you, especially those who have a f unctioning social lif e outside of the internet and Facebook, will cringe at the thought of spending every day in the gym. Just remember that the above high rep, myo-reps protocol can be improvised at home with body weight exercises and elastic bands or even sandbags or other light to moderate weight implements. Use a higher weekly volume, but remember that if you double or triple the f requency, that in itself increases volume. Simple math shows that if you previously did eight sets twice a week f or a total of sixteen sets, doing three sets on a six times a week program yields a weekly volume of eighteen sets. Also go back and review the dose-response curve, where a conservative bout of volume combined with a high training f requency will ensure a suf f icient stimulus that you can easily recover f rom. Personally, I like the sequence high rep myo-reps, potentiating high load, low rep “powerlif ting” in the three- to six-rep range the next day f ollowed by higher volume and moderate intensity the third day. By higher volume, remember that 6–12 reps are already double the time under tension as 3–6 reps, so either limit it to 3–4 sets or do a cluster rep set up of 6–8 sets of 2–4 reps with short rest between sets using elastic bands or chains f or maximum explosiveness (also known as accommodating resistance training). Follow this rotation with either a rest day (in my experience, high volume requires more recovery than high intensity) or go right into high rep myo-reps on day f our. If you want to implement this on all muscle groups, it will obviously end up being a f ull body program, but consider picking a f ew select muscle groups that you want to f ocus on and just add high rep myo-reps the day prior to your main workouts. T his way you can keep using your pref erred 5/3/1 or 5 X 5 routine, the 2- or 3-way DC splits, the Westside program, or the upper body/leg or push/pull splits. T he possibilities are endless. I do pref er to keep the signal f or the training ef f ect that I’m af ter as “clean” as possible f or a muscle group in each workout. So I recommend that you stay within a given loading and rep range (e.g. 3–6, 6–9, 9–12, 12–15, etc). You may use dif f erent rep ranges and loads f or dif f erent muscle groups, though, so adding high rep myoreps training f or the upper body to your heavy leg workouts will potentiate the heavy upper body work in the next session where you may add in high rep myo-reps f or the legs. If you want to ask questions in the comment section, remember that it is hard to give you a def initive answer. When I’m designing training programs f or my clients, it is based on a comprehensive evaluation of training history, goals, and individual response. Results so f ar have been amazing. One guy with seven years of training experience did six reps with his previous 1RM in the bench press af ter only two weeks, and another guy added 20 kg to his 5RM squat in the same time f rame. It’s too soon to tell about hypertrophy obviously, except f or reports of visual improvements in f ullness and density, but I have no doubt that the increased strength will translate into more muscle mass in a f ew weeks time. A f inal reminder—don’t think that you’re one of those special snowf lakes who these guidelines don’t apply to. Start conservatively with a low volume of only 2–3 sets and see how you do with a higher f requency f irst. Only af ter 2–3 weeks when you’re absolutely certain you can recover f rom the f requency should you consider increasing the number of sets. And that’s only if you’re absolutely certain that the gains you’re already seeing can be improved. It is all too easy to become overzealous and burn out too f ast, so enjoy continuous progress instead of adding in that extra set or exercise here and there and eventually slipping down the slippery overtraining slope on the right-hand side of the dose-response curve.

Ref erences
Here are some selected ref erences. Unf ortunately, I couldn’t f ind all the ref erences that I wanted to include and much of the content is based on unpublished work.

Adams GR, Bamman MM (2012) Characterization and regulation of mechanical loading-induced compensatory muscle hypertrophy. Compr Physiol 2(4):2829–70. Bruusgaard JC, Johansen IB, Egner IM, Rana Z A, Gundersen K (2010) Myonuclei acquired by overload exercise precede hypertrophy and are not lost on detraining. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 24;107(34):15111– 6. Bruusgaard JC, Egner IM, Larsen T K, Dupre-Aucouturier S, Desplanches D, Gundersen K (1985) No change in myonuclear number during muscle unloading and reloading. J Appl Physiol 113(2):290–6. Burd NA, West DW, Staples AW, Atherton PJ, Baker JM, Moore DR, Holwerda AM, Parise G, Rennie MJ, Baker SK, Phillips SM (2010) Low-load high volume resistance exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis more than high-load low volume resistance exercise in young men. PLoS One 5(8). Burd NA, Andrews RJ, West DW, Little JP, Cochran AJ, Hector AJ, Cashaback JG, Gibala MJ, Potvin JR, Baker SK, Phillips SM (2012) Muscle time under tension during resistance exercise stimulates dif f erential muscle protein sub-f ractional synthetic responses in men. J Physiol 590(Pt2):351–62. Raastad T, Kirketeig, A, Wolf , D, Paulsen G (2012) Powerlif ters improved strength and muscular adaptations to a greater extent when equal total training volume was divided into 6 compared to 3 training sessions per week (abstract). Book of abstracts, 17th annual conf erence of the ECSS, Brugge, 4–7 July, 2012. Wernbom M, Apro W, Paulsen G, Nilsen T S, Blomstrand E, Raastad T (2013) Acute low-load resistance exercise with and without blood f low restriction increased protein signalling and number of satellite cells in human skeletal muscle. Eur J Appl Physiol 2013 Sep 28 [Epub ahead of print]

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