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High Rep / High Frequency For Hypertrophy


I know the conventional wisdom re: muscular hypertrophy is that moderate (8-12) reps with moderate to heavy weight is generally recommended for maximal muscular growth. Similarly, low resistance, high repetition work is usually looked at as being good for muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness yet, terrible for building mass.

However, there seem to be some obvious exceptions to this. Distance cyclists often have massive thighs and calves. The so-called "prison workouts" which typically centre on extremely high reps of standard bodyweight exercises often seem to produce well-developed upper-bodies (Herschel Walker and young Mike Tyson are examples). I believe Chad Waterbury wrote an article on here in 2001 (?) regarding a self-experiment he did where he performed literally thousands upon thousands of chins and pull-ups over several months and noticed substantial back hypertrophy. German Volume Training also seems to fit this description although the weights used, while far from maximal, are still more significant than bodyweight or the resistance of a bike pedal. I'm sure there are other examples that I've missed.

Therefore, my question centres around how this can be explained. Is the conventional wisdom generally right until it's pushed well beyond typical limits (ie. doing 50 pushups wouldn't cause much growth but doing 1000 will)? Is it that this extreme training volume elicits substantial growth of the slow-twitch fibres to increase mass? Or are these examples simply genetic freaks that would respond with muscle growth no matter what training methods were used? (Keep in mind that I'm not saying any of these examples are pro-bodybuilder level physiques, just that they are much more overdeveloped than you would expect from such training).


I don't know about 1000 pushups, but 300 pushups, every other day, did nothing for me long-term. Nor did distance running, even when progressively improving my times.

My guess is that with prison workouts, you're not seeing the whole picture [e.g., there are drugs and some amount of basic resistance training going on], and that with cyclists, there's a fair amount of hypertrophy from focusing on increased force production/explosiveness over time.


You're mentioning a few different things here...

First of all, Thighs and Lats in particular love high volume - so yes, it works.

Concerning Herschel Walker and Tyson: You have to keep in mind that these two are absolutely gifted. What works for them won't work for most people. Some people will look massive just from playing sports. Others will have to lift heavy weights and eat a lot to get close to it.


I think I disagree with your definition of the words "often" and "massive". Some cyclists do have muscular legs (relative to the average person), but it seems like the "biggest" legs on cyclists are on the sprint cyclists - the guys who pedal at much higher intensities for shorter distances (more comparable to lifting in that low-to-moderate rep range vs doing dozens and dozens and dozens of reps).

13,064 Pull-ups in 5 Months from 2011.

I don't think GVT is the best comparison for what you're discussing. If anything, crazy-high rep/high frequency bodyweight training is comparable to the old "one day arm cure" where you do a few sets for bis and tris every few hours over the course of a whole day.

Again, sorry but I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing throughout. Low weight, high rep sets are pretty much only good for building endurance, not muscle. But once we increase total volume (doing 6x50 vs. 1x50, for example) then it's a different animal and you start, eventually, pushing the stimulus for growth, however inefficient and roundabout it may be.

Go back and look at how Waterbury set up that pull-up experiment. It was lots of easy/not to failure sets in the 7-15ish range done throughout the day to accumulate a high training volume. He wasn't doing one set of 30 in the morning, another set of 40 in the afternoon, and a set of 50 at night.

Long story short (too late), higher rep work can build muscle if you're doing enough total volume, but it's an odd method to choose because it requires the use of significantly submaximal weights. Doing lots of sets for lots and lots of reps with a light weight won't build any strength worth noting, so... what's the point?


You are confusing being cut and ripped, with Maximum muscle growth.


Combination of the individuals youre thinking of are genetically pre-disposed to getting those results, and as mentioned by someone earlier some body-parts respond better to very high volume and are more likely to 'big'. Tyson would have looked like a meataxe no matter what.


All good points. Bear in mind I'm not advocating this type of training. Just some interesting observations that caused me to ponder things.