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High Reps for Low Rep Athletes

March 22, 2006 08:13 AM

Besides the ever famous "I am going nowhere in my training, and oh by the way I don't eat that much, why am I not making progress?" complaint, the new source of more angst than a Sara McLachlan CD is the chasm between higher reps with Kettlebells or bodyweight and lower reps with Barbells.

The higher reps with bodyweight can be fixed by just eating more and then you will then have to do lower reps as you get heavier. (Or you can just strap weight to your body like in Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" and make it harder on yourself?whatever it takes) If that doesn't completely solve the philosophical gap that eats away at you when you Compare and Contrast PTP with RKC/BBB, then this article will help you work through your issues and let you return to a full and happy life.

Let me say right off that I am not going to give in to the "all of the above" crowd and tell you how to excel in every strength and conditioning discipline simultaneously. You can't, but the good news is Sarah is on tour this summer and lots of disappointed people will commiserate with you there at her concerts. For the rest of us who like to lift heavy weights for low reps because it is clearly the correct way to go, (lots of resources on why this is true, this article will not be another one) the conundrum and secret guilt of sneaking in some higher reps must be addressed.

I mean if we all occasionally hear that voice to do higher reps, isn't it possible God made us that way and it is part of our nature to desire higher reps? Yes and yes. Higher reps have a place in your training, but indiscriminate high reps will lead you to the dreaded place where even eating everything cannot save you. I am here to help you, so take my chalk covered, wrist wrap swathed hand, and let's get your head on straight before the voices return.

Higher reps can do a few things, some "good" and some "bad", depending on your value system. On one hand the old sarcoplasmic hypertrophy thing is public enemy number one. On the other hand higher reps build connective tissues, increases capillarization (blood flow to the muscles for Dummies), increases GPP, and enhances recovery.

Let me be clear I am not talking about 4 sets of 10 to failure or doing 100 KB snatches or 20 rep squats and then passing out. That will help your connective tissue but it is strength endurance work and not what I am talking about here Willis. I am also not talking about adding sets and lowering reps or adding sets to a low rep approach to increase volume, although those are all good ideas and build connective tissue too.

What I am talking about is doing about 50-100 reps total in 20-50 rep sets and staying 3-5 reps away from failure in order to enhance our heavy low rep training. Blasphemy I know, but hear me out before you build the Pyre or find out if Powerlifters really float in all that gear. There will be plenty of time for grabbing the pitchforks and flambeaux later if you don't like this article.

There are two main things that you would use higher reps for (I define anything above 7 as higher reps), and those would be conditioning (GPP) and recovery.

These added reps will also increase your capillarization and build your connective tissue, but those explanations are a lot like muscle fiber type discussions. They are vaguely interesting, say if you were languishing in a cell awaiting burning or bobbing, but absolutely useless in the gym or in competition.

I doubt Holmgren ever said to Favre, "Brett, glad you did all that Type IIb work this summer, try to isolate and recruit those fibers as you impart maximum speed to the implement on this play?"

If you enhance your GPP and recovery, you will be less fatigued, have better workouts, and be less sore and with less injuries. You are left focused on getting results and meeting your goals.

Here are two methods I use to "facilitate" these results:

The Brutally Hard on the Lungs Stuff

This is the type of fun you can have by doing 4-10 sets of 10-20 reps in KB swings. You can also drag a sled or push a truck or car. If you make this too intense than it is a more of a strength or strength endurance workout, and if you make it too easy it is just an endurance drill. You want to push it for about a minute or two maximally at a time, and repeat it 6-15 times. I used to like 6-10x10 each hand of KB swings with a 53. Do 10 each hand, rest, do over, for 6-10 sets. I now prefer swapping the Kb on the fly or 10 each hand x2, so I get 40 swings in one set, and a nice rattling sound in my lungs at about rep 36. This does not impact my heavy lifting on other days. If I used a heavier KB this might be more of an assistance exercise as I would be limited by muscle fatigue not lung phlegm. If I used a lighter KB it would be straight painful endurance work. No thanks.

This type of work lets you avoid what Pavel calls the "dishonor of aerobics". You can crank this up or dial it down independently of the rest of your training. Before a Military Physical readiness Test, I crank it up a bit and do more work with less rest between sets. Other times I back it off if I am doing some higher volume base work or peaking for a meet. In other words I just skip it. Then I pay for it later.

The How to Really Get a Pump Method

The mythical "pump" fills every Mullet's vocabulary and replaces the Sugarplum in their visions while snuggled in their beds. The joke is conventional weight training does not "pump" blood in the muscles. To the contrary, lifting a weight 12-15 times or less forces Blood OUT of the muscle as each fiber is recruited and contracted. If you put a garden hose in the street and run it over with a car or cars, will the water stay in the hose or be pushed out? Bueller? Bueller?

There is no "pump" with conventional training. If you want to really pump blood (and increase recovery by increasing nutrient flow and capillarization) into a muscle, then you have to do higher (25-50) reps avoiding failure by stopping within 3-5 reps of failing.

The best way to do this is with light bands, but bodyweight can work well too.

For bands, put a band over the top of the power rack or behind your head and do tricep pushdowns, choke it to a post and hook your heel or heels in the band and do leg curls, or stand in the band and do good mornings. The possibilities are endless. You are going to build up to two sets of 50 reps, starting at about 25 reps per set over a time period of your choosing in a day. I do these when I get home at the end of the day having worked out a few hours earlier. I split the sets by about 5-15 minutes, but since you are only trying to get blood moving it is not that important how you do it, just that you do it.

It is important here to minimize the eccentric portion of the motion. No slow lowering or eccentric here at all. Do the concentric crisply but not as fast as possible. You can do these with bodyweight via pushups, free squats, box pistols, one legged squats, or even burpees for the true hardcore pain addict. You are not working to failure here, just trying to feel localized fatigue set in. When you terminate the set you will feel a nice fullness to the muscle, similar to the pump you used to pursue, only this pump will have a use.

That use will be to have you better recovered for your heavy lifts in a few days. A great mix of bodyweight work and band work is to choke a band to the pullup bar or power rack and then slide your back into the loop with the band under your shoulders. You can now do higher rep pistols. This personally helps my IT Bands recover like nothing else.

A Little Lagniappe In South Louisiana

There is an expression for doing a little more than expected, "Lagniappe". My Lagniappe for you is a tool that enhances recovery but uses a different technique than I have previously explained. This Lagniappe technique is to add in some light sets of other exercises after your main workout.

These should be light, low rep sets, similar to your ramp up sets. For example, I Bench Press on Monday and Thursday, and Squat/Deadlift on Tuesday and Friday. However, on Monday and Thursday after I finish my Bench workout I do 2-3 sets of squats that copy almost exactly my first three ramp up sets. On Tuesday and Friday between my squats and deads I do 3-5 sets of light benches that are very similar to my Bench ramp ups.

These are low rep sets, and being less than 50% of my 1RM I do not count them in my volume for the week, but they serve the purpose of reducing soreness, enhancing recovery, practicing technique, and moving my shoulders and hips through the critical range of motion. I tried this with very light barbell weights and higher reps and it didn't work. So you have no excuse. The only high reps with a barbell I ever advocate are rep workouts on a backoff week. See my workout logs if you have questions.

Those of you who have read some of the rest of my rantings will recognize my theme of Innocence and Experience, and how we cycle from one thing to another and end up back where we started, with more understanding of Innocence as we start the cycle again.

High reps needed to be abandoned by most of us, but eventually we need to put them back in carefully to assist our lower reps. Remember, high reps are not to get stronger or build muscle, but to enhance our GPP and recovery so we can lift those heavier low rep sets more often and heavier, and not have a heart attack either, for good measure.

I better end there before I have to use my speed strength to escape. JMO?




Jack Reape, AKA powerlifter54, is a Graduate with Merit of the US Naval Academy with a BS in Operations Analysis. He serves in the US Navy and competes locally and nationally when time permits. He is a multi time State, Region, and US Military National Champion.
 

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