T Nation

Rep Range vs Motor Unit Recruitment

Hi CT,

What do you think of motor unit recuitment as the only (true?) key to hypertrophy? Chad Waterbury says you’ll recruit all of your motor units within 10-15 seconds in most cases, that’s why you actually have no reason to lift lighter than a load that allows for 3 reps. He says TUT is bullshit when it comes to hypertrophy, in fact, it is, he says, only really good for muscular endurance.

Is that true? What do you think? He says there’s research suggesting the exact same thing.

If it’s true, then why is is everybody recommends going for 8-12 reps, and says that low reps/‘strenght’ reps (1-4) are for building strength?

Listen, if there is one proponent of low rep training here that’s me! If I were to train doing only what I like best I’d only do sets of 1 repetition!

But after working with a wide range of athletes… from bodybuilders to Crossfitters, hockey players, etc. I must say that it’s bullshit that low reps is the only optimal way to build muscle.

Science is a great thing and leads to many advances. But if it is considered at the expense of in-the-trenches experience then it can actually hinder your quest for maximum results.

I’ve seen natural bodybuilders build a lot of muscle doing mostly sets of 8-12 reps. I’ve seen Crossfitters become very muscular doing anything from low to super high reps.

On the other hand I’ve seen olympic lifters training mostly using sets of 1-3 reps being able to lift over 400lbs over their head, without having a physique that would stand out in the slightest in a “24 Hour Fitness” gym.

You can’t look at hypertrophy from only one angle. Recruiting muscle fibers is not the only way (or even the best way) to stimulate growth. There are a myriad of chemical and cell signaling pathways that can promote growth. For example the activation of mTor, which is accomplished mostly via slow eccentrics and load stretches, or the ERK pathway which is dependant more on time under tension. There are also more “mechanical” phenomenons like the transport of amino acids into the muscle, which is increased during exercise where there is an increase in blood flow toward the muscle (getting a pump) which is easier to accomplish with higher reps.

I will say this… from my experience those who grow the biggest are those who use several types of rep ranges to use all the different pathways… heck, even the Westside guys who train for strength also do isolation work for higher reps.

The athletes who tend to stick to only one type of loading tend to have less physical development.

In reading that, keep in mind that I AM a low rep guy. I believe in low reps and that’s how I like to train most of the time. I would LOVE to be able to tell you that if you ONLY do low reps you will grow optimally. But for most people it’s not true.

When reading articles on the internet, especially on privately owned websites understand one thing:

Every “expert” trying to make a living is in competition with the others. To win over the others they must (a) have something different to say (if they all say the same thing how can one be superior?) (b) be more convincing than the others… So oftentimes you have coaches coming up with their own “angle” and then they want you to buy into what they are saying so they act pretty much like a lawyer: trying to convince you that they are right.

I’m personally above that. I don’t care if someone makes more money than me. I don’t care if someone finds a method that is superior to mine… if that’s the case than I’ll change my method since all I care about is finding how to build the body as rapidly and completely as possible.

Also one more thing on that last subject. “Where’s the muscle?” … If someone claims to be an expert on building muscle, that he has the absolute best way to get larger muscles and more strength, then that person should at least have “some” above average muscular development? It’s like someone who knows the secret to being rich but who is crumbling under debts.

I’m not saying that the person with the most muscle is the smartest. Far from it! Genetics, available time, motivation and even drug use can all affect how muscular one is. BUT if you know the SECRET to building muscle you must be able to show some results on your most important client, the only one on which you have 100% control: YOU!

BTW this was not directed to Chad. It was more of a rant against dogmatic experts and how you should keep both an open, but doubting mind everytime you read something about training and nutrition.

[quote]Christian Thibaudeau wrote:
Listen, if there is one proponent of low rep training here that’s me! If I were to train doing only what I like best I’d only do sets of 1 repetition!

But after working with a wide range of athletes… from bodybuilders to Crossfitters, hockey players, etc. I must say that it’s bullshit that low reps is the only optimal way to build muscle.

Science is a great thing and leads to many advances. But if it is considered at the expense of in-the-trenches experience then it can actually hinder your quest for maximum results.

I’ve seen natural bodybuilders build a lot of muscle doing mostly sets of 8-12 reps. I’ve seen Crossfitters become very muscular doing anything from low to super high reps.

On the other hand I’ve seen olympic lifters training mostly using sets of 1-3 reps being able to lift over 400lbs over their head, without having a physique that would stand out in the slightest in a “24 Hour Fitness” gym.

You can’t look at hypertrophy from only one angle. Recruiting muscle fibers is not the only way (or even the best way) to stimulate growth. There are a myriad of chemical and cell signaling pathways that can promote growth. For example the activation of mTor, which is accomplished mostly via slow eccentrics and load stretches, or the ERK pathway which is dependant more on time under tension. There are also more “mechanical” phenomenons like the transport of amino acids into the muscle, which is increased during exercise where there is an increase in blood flow toward the muscle (getting a pump) which is easier to accomplish with higher reps.

I will say this… from my experience those who grow the biggest are those who use several types of rep ranges to use all the different pathways… heck, even the Westside guys who train for strength also do isolation work for higher reps.

The athletes who tend to stick to only one type of loading tend to have less physical development.

In reading that, keep in mind that I AM a low rep guy. I believe in low reps and that’s how I like to train most of the time. I would LOVE to be able to tell you that if you ONLY do low reps you will grow optimally. But for most people it’s not true.

When reading articles on the internet, especially on privately owned websites understand one thing:

Every “expert” trying to make a living is in competition with the others. To win over the others they must (a) have something different to say (if they all say the same thing how can one be superior?) (b) be more convincing than the others… So oftentimes you have coaches coming up with their own “angle” and then they want you to buy into what they are saying so they act pretty much like a lawyer: trying to convince you that they are right.

I’m personally above that. I don’t care if someone makes more money than me. I don’t care if someone finds a method that is superior to mine… if that’s the case than I’ll change my method since all I care about is finding how to build the body as rapidly and completely as possible.[/quote]

Thanks very much for the valuable post.

So this means it’s best to utilize ALL rep ranges (low, medium, high), right? But then, you did write an article about 75-80% of 1RM to be the best for hypertrophy (which is 7-10 reps)… Which one would you pick? Thanks CT!

[quote]GetBigs wrote:

[quote]Christian Thibaudeau wrote:
Listen, if there is one proponent of low rep training here that’s me! If I were to train doing only what I like best I’d only do sets of 1 repetition!

But after working with a wide range of athletes… from bodybuilders to Crossfitters, hockey players, etc. I must say that it’s bullshit that low reps is the only optimal way to build muscle.

Science is a great thing and leads to many advances. But if it is considered at the expense of in-the-trenches experience then it can actually hinder your quest for maximum results.

I’ve seen natural bodybuilders build a lot of muscle doing mostly sets of 8-12 reps. I’ve seen Crossfitters become very muscular doing anything from low to super high reps.

On the other hand I’ve seen olympic lifters training mostly using sets of 1-3 reps being able to lift over 400lbs over their head, without having a physique that would stand out in the slightest in a “24 Hour Fitness” gym.

You can’t look at hypertrophy from only one angle. Recruiting muscle fibers is not the only way (or even the best way) to stimulate growth. There are a myriad of chemical and cell signaling pathways that can promote growth. For example the activation of mTor, which is accomplished mostly via slow eccentrics and load stretches, or the ERK pathway which is dependant more on time under tension. There are also more “mechanical” phenomenons like the transport of amino acids into the muscle, which is increased during exercise where there is an increase in blood flow toward the muscle (getting a pump) which is easier to accomplish with higher reps.

I will say this… from my experience those who grow the biggest are those who use several types of rep ranges to use all the different pathways… heck, even the Westside guys who train for strength also do isolation work for higher reps.

The athletes who tend to stick to only one type of loading tend to have less physical development.

In reading that, keep in mind that I AM a low rep guy. I believe in low reps and that’s how I like to train most of the time. I would LOVE to be able to tell you that if you ONLY do low reps you will grow optimally. But for most people it’s not true.

When reading articles on the internet, especially on privately owned websites understand one thing:

Every “expert” trying to make a living is in competition with the others. To win over the others they must (a) have something different to say (if they all say the same thing how can one be superior?) (b) be more convincing than the others… So oftentimes you have coaches coming up with their own “angle” and then they want you to buy into what they are saying so they act pretty much like a lawyer: trying to convince you that they are right.

I’m personally above that. I don’t care if someone makes more money than me. I don’t care if someone finds a method that is superior to mine… if that’s the case than I’ll change my method since all I care about is finding how to build the body as rapidly and completely as possible.[/quote]

Thanks very much for the valuable post.

So this means it’s best to utilize ALL rep ranges (low, medium, high), right? But then, you did write an article about 75-80% of 1RM to be the best for hypertrophy (which is 7-10 reps)… Which one would you pick? Thanks CT![/quote]

Don’t use all the rep range all the time. That’s not what I meant. I personally pick one main rep range that fits my goal and psychological profile… for example I do a lot of olympic lifts… I do these for 1 to 3 reps… my strength movements (main exercise) are done for sets of 3-5 reps. That’s the most important part of my own workouts. I also do supplementary work for sets of 6-10 reps, but that’s not a huge part of my training.

With several clients I do a simple periodization scheme that looks like this:

PHASE 1 (3 weeks): Sets of 10
PHASE 2 (3 weeks): Sets of 6
PHASE 3 (3 weeks): Sets of 4
PHASE 4 (3 weeks): Sets of 1 to 3

That’s for the main lift of the day and the two assistance exercises. Simple approach that I use for clients who are intermediate and are looking for a blend of strength and size.

I’ll give you an example. I used a pure strength cycle with one of my client, never exceeding 5 reps per set, most of the work being done with sets of 3. During this cycle he only gained 1 pound of body weight yet improved his squat by 50lbs, his deadlift by 40 and his bench by 40 (push press also went up 25lbs but it wasn’t a focus lift). That was done in 6 weeks plus 1 peak week.

Now, after 2 phases of the approached mentioned above (3 weeks of 10’s, 3 weeks of 6’s) he gained 5lbs.

Alright, thanks.

So this means if my main goal is hypertrophy, then what you wrote in that article is correct and you recommend me to use it, right? (75-80% of 1RM for hypertrophy)

Thank you CT

[quote]Christian Thibaudeau wrote:

[quote]GetBigs wrote:

[quote]Christian Thibaudeau wrote:
Listen, if there is one proponent of low rep training here that’s me! If I were to train doing only what I like best I’d only do sets of 1 repetition!

But after working with a wide range of athletes… from bodybuilders to Crossfitters, hockey players, etc. I must say that it’s bullshit that low reps is the only optimal way to build muscle.

Science is a great thing and leads to many advances. But if it is considered at the expense of in-the-trenches experience then it can actually hinder your quest for maximum results.

I’ve seen natural bodybuilders build a lot of muscle doing mostly sets of 8-12 reps. I’ve seen Crossfitters become very muscular doing anything from low to super high reps.

On the other hand I’ve seen olympic lifters training mostly using sets of 1-3 reps being able to lift over 400lbs over their head, without having a physique that would stand out in the slightest in a “24 Hour Fitness” gym.

You can’t look at hypertrophy from only one angle. Recruiting muscle fibers is not the only way (or even the best way) to stimulate growth. There are a myriad of chemical and cell signaling pathways that can promote growth. For example the activation of mTor, which is accomplished mostly via slow eccentrics and load stretches, or the ERK pathway which is dependant more on time under tension. There are also more “mechanical” phenomenons like the transport of amino acids into the muscle, which is increased during exercise where there is an increase in blood flow toward the muscle (getting a pump) which is easier to accomplish with higher reps.

I will say this… from my experience those who grow the biggest are those who use several types of rep ranges to use all the different pathways… heck, even the Westside guys who train for strength also do isolation work for higher reps.

The athletes who tend to stick to only one type of loading tend to have less physical development.

In reading that, keep in mind that I AM a low rep guy. I believe in low reps and that’s how I like to train most of the time. I would LOVE to be able to tell you that if you ONLY do low reps you will grow optimally. But for most people it’s not true.

When reading articles on the internet, especially on privately owned websites understand one thing:

Every “expert” trying to make a living is in competition with the others. To win over the others they must (a) have something different to say (if they all say the same thing how can one be superior?) (b) be more convincing than the others… So oftentimes you have coaches coming up with their own “angle” and then they want you to buy into what they are saying so they act pretty much like a lawyer: trying to convince you that they are right.

I’m personally above that. I don’t care if someone makes more money than me. I don’t care if someone finds a method that is superior to mine… if that’s the case than I’ll change my method since all I care about is finding how to build the body as rapidly and completely as possible.[/quote]

Thanks very much for the valuable post.

So this means it’s best to utilize ALL rep ranges (low, medium, high), right? But then, you did write an article about 75-80% of 1RM to be the best for hypertrophy (which is 7-10 reps)… Which one would you pick? Thanks CT![/quote]

Don’t use all the rep range all the time. That’s not what I meant. I personally pick one main rep range that fits my goal and psychological profile… for example I do a lot of olympic lifts… I do these for 1 to 3 reps… my strength movements (main exercise) are done for sets of 3-5 reps. That’s the most important part of my own workouts. I also do supplementary work for sets of 6-10 reps, but that’s not a huge part of my training.

With several clients I do a simple periodization scheme that looks like this:

PHASE 1 (3 weeks): Sets of 10
PHASE 2 (3 weeks): Sets of 6
PHASE 3 (3 weeks): Sets of 4
PHASE 4 (3 weeks): Sets of 1 to 3

That’s for the main lift of the day and the two assistance exercises. Simple approach that I use for clients who are intermediate and are looking for a blend of strength and size.

I’ll give you an example. I used a pure strength cycle with one of my client, never exceeding 5 reps per set, most of the work being done with sets of 3. During this cycle he only gained 1 pound of body weight yet improved his squat by 50lbs, his deadlift by 40 and his bench by 40 (push press also went up 25lbs but it wasn’t a focus lift). That was done in 6 weeks plus 1 peak week.

Now, after 2 phases of the approached mentioned above (3 weeks of 10’s, 3 weeks of 6’s) he gained 5lbs.[/quote]

Alright, thanks

So this means that if I want maximal hypertrophy, I should use what you suggested in that article, which is 75-80% of 1RM, right? It’s 7-10 reps

[quote]GetBigs wrote:
So this means that if I want maximal hypertrophy, I should use what you suggested in that article, which is 75-80% of 1RM, right? It’s 7-10 reps[/quote]

NOT EXCLUSIVELY. The message I just told you is that for optimal gains you need heavier work for lower reps and also other rep ranges. A single rep range cannot give you 100% of the results you want.

[quote]Christian Thibaudeau wrote:

[quote]GetBigs wrote:
So this means that if I want maximal hypertrophy, I should use what you suggested in that article, which is 75-80% of 1RM, right? It’s 7-10 reps[/quote]

NOT EXCLUSIVELY. The message I just told you is that for optimal gains you need heavier work for lower reps and also other rep ranges. A single rep range cannot give you 100% of the results you want.[/quote]

Alright, I get it, but then why did you write that in your article? Well, you did say it was in your experience the best range for hypertrophy, but I should care about your advice as an elite coach, right? And I do…

Alright thanks, I’ll change the rep ranges over the course of my training

[quote]GetBigs wrote:

[quote]Christian Thibaudeau wrote:

[quote]GetBigs wrote:
So this means that if I want maximal hypertrophy, I should use what you suggested in that article, which is 75-80% of 1RM, right? It’s 7-10 reps[/quote]

NOT EXCLUSIVELY. The message I just told you is that for optimal gains you need heavier work for lower reps and also other rep ranges. A single rep range cannot give you 100% of the results you want.[/quote]

Alright, I get it, but then why did you write that in your article? Well, you did say it was in your experience the best range for hypertrophy, but I should care about your advice as an elite coach, right? And I do…

Alright thanks, I’ll change the rep ranges over the course of my training [/quote]

Just because one thing is “the best” doesn’t mean that you should do that exclusively. Even the “best” tool cannot do 100% of a job.

Yep, I agree and understand. Would a weekly cycle do it? That is, for a week, I’ll be using low reps (1-3), then for another, medium reps (5-6), and then for a third, high reps (8-12)? Thanks Coach

GetBigs, what exactly are you seeking to accomplish here? Why not find out for yourself what rep range helps YOU grow?

[quote]kollak95 wrote:
GetBigs, what exactly are you seeking to accomplish here? Why not find out for yourself what rep range helps YOU grow?[/quote]
Honestly bro, that’s what common sense would tell one… However, I was just looking to spare some time and ask the big guys (no homo) which rep range helped them put on the most mass…

[quote]GetBigs wrote:

[quote]kollak95 wrote:
GetBigs, what exactly are you seeking to accomplish here? Why not find out for yourself what rep range helps YOU grow?[/quote]
Honestly bro, that’s what common sense would tell one… However, I was just looking to spare some time and ask the big guys (no homo) which rep range helped them put on the most mass…[/quote]

Well me it was mostly sets of 3-5 reps… because for ME that’s what high reps are… I come from an olympic lifting background and for years only did sets of 1-3. So my body is used to sets of 1-3 and for ME doing 5 reps is somewhat high. Now I sometimes include sets of 6-8 reps but when trying to add mass I personally use sets of 3-5 reps.

My loading scheme is simple:

I do 5 work sets per exercise. I use the same weight for all 5 sets.

For every set I can do no less than 3 reps and no more than 5.

If I’m able to complete all sets for 5 reps I increase the weight for the next workout and keep the same weight until I can do all sets of 5.

For example if I use 315lbs and on the first workout I get 5 reps/5 reps/4 reps/4 reps/3 reps … I keep the same weight on the next workout.

On the next if with the same 315lbs I do 5 reps/5 reps/5 reps/5 reps/5 reps … I increase the weight on the next workout.

Now that’s ME. For someone with less low reps experience I could recommend doing the same but with sets of 5-7 (upping the weight when you can get 5 sets of 7 with the same weight) and using a different rep range (higher or lower, you can vary) on one or two assistance exercises.

[quote]Christian Thibaudeau wrote:

[quote]GetBigs wrote:

[quote]kollak95 wrote:
GetBigs, what exactly are you seeking to accomplish here? Why not find out for yourself what rep range helps YOU grow?[/quote]
Honestly bro, that’s what common sense would tell one… However, I was just looking to spare some time and ask the big guys (no homo) which rep range helped them put on the most mass…[/quote]

Well me it was mostly sets of 3-5 reps… because for ME that’s what high reps are… I come from an olympic lifting background and for years only did sets of 1-3. So my body is used to sets of 1-3 and for ME doing 5 reps is somewhat high. Now I sometimes include sets of 6-8 reps but when trying to add mass I personally use sets of 3-5 reps.

My loading scheme is simple:

I do 5 work sets per exercise. I use the same weight for all 5 sets.

For every set I can do no less than 3 reps and no more than 5.

If I’m able to complete all sets for 5 reps I increase the weight for the next workout and keep the same weight until I can do all sets of 5.

For example if I use 315lbs and on the first workout I get 5 reps/5 reps/4 reps/4 reps/3 reps … I keep the same weight on the next workout.

On the next if with the same 315lbs I do 5 reps/5 reps/5 reps/5 reps/5 reps … I increase the weight on the next workout.

Now that’s ME. For someone with less low reps experience I could recommend doing the same but with sets of 5-7 (upping the weight when you can get 5 sets of 7 with the same weight) and using a different rep range (higher or lower, you can vary) on one or two assistance exercises.[/quote]

Thank you. I think I’ll stick to 7-10 reps, however, there’s one bodypart I want to stand out the most, it’s my chest; for this reason, I’ve taken heed of your advice and will be (just like I did today) using ALL of the three rep ranges in a workout, that is: 1-4 reps = heavy 5-12 = medium and 15 reps = high Is that good IF I want to utilize all of the three rep ranges?

I only do this with my chest, I know I’m a beginner, and I DO focus on overall mass, I just want my CHEST to be THE muscle group that STANDS OUT THE MOST… Sorry for caps, I just wanted to emphaisze it.

Like I said, for every other body part, I’ll be using reps of 7-10.
ALSO, I’ll be concentrating A LOT on SLOW ECCENTRICS and TIME UNDER TENSION too, because you said that both activate DIFFERENT ‘paths’ to hypertrophy.

Is this a good plan CT?

[quote]GetBigs wrote:

I only do this with my chest, I know I’m a beginner, and I DO focus on overall mass, I just want my CHEST to be THE muscle group that STANDS OUT THE MOST… Sorry for caps, I just wanted to emphaisze it.

Like I said, for every other body part, I’ll be using reps of 7-10.
ALSO, I’ll be concentrating A LOT on SLOW ECCENTRICS and TIME UNDER TENSION too, because you said that both activate DIFFERENT ‘paths’ to hypertrophy.

Is this a good plan CT?[/quote]

No it’s not. And I lost all interest in your question when you said that you only want to focus on your chest. I don’t see what is your logic in training sub-optimally for everything else. Either you try to improve, and use the best methods to improve, or you are a poser.

That having been said I wont leave you dry. If you want a cookie cutter thing to do for your chest just go to the “workouts” tab at the top, “Reactive Pump” and only do the the chest portion of the workouts.

[quote]Christian Thibaudeau wrote:

[quote]GetBigs wrote:

I only do this with my chest, I know I’m a beginner, and I DO focus on overall mass, I just want my CHEST to be THE muscle group that STANDS OUT THE MOST… Sorry for caps, I just wanted to emphaisze it.

Like I said, for every other body part, I’ll be using reps of 7-10.
ALSO, I’ll be concentrating A LOT on SLOW ECCENTRICS and TIME UNDER TENSION too, because you said that both activate DIFFERENT ‘paths’ to hypertrophy.

Is this a good plan CT?[/quote]

No it’s not. And I lost all interest in your question when you said that you only want to focus on your chest. I don’t see what is your logic in training sub-optimally for everything else. Either you try to improve, and use the best methods to improve, or you are a poser.

That having been said I wont leave you dry. If you want a cookie cutter thing to do for your chest just go to the “workouts” tab at the top, “Reactive Pump” and only do the the chest portion of the workouts.[/quote]
Okay you’re right, I’ll take heed of your advice, thanks a lot

Also, Coach, would you please elaborate on why you wrote in your article that the dips is the best chest exercise? I did read it and it says you haven’t seen anybody with a very good chest that wasn’t strong on dips, but I don’t get something:

In case of the dip, the horizontal adduction action of the pectorals is limited because you can’t really shove your hands inward, unlike in a regular flat bench press session, right? Also, the dip is supposed to mostly work the lower portion of your chest, which if true, would leave you with a funny-looking chest, no?

Please do correct me if I’m wrong

Lol.

Thanks for all the good information in here CT.

[quote]GetBigs wrote:
Also, Coach, would you please elaborate on why you wrote in your article that the dips is the best chest exercise? I did read it and it says you haven’t seen anybody with a very good chest that wasn’t strong on dips, but I don’t get something:

In case of the dip, the horizontal adduction action of the pectorals is limited because you can’t really shove your hands inward, unlike in a regular flat bench press session, right? Also, the dip is supposed to mostly work the lower portion of your chest, which if true, would leave you with a funny-looking chest, no?

Please do correct me if I’m wrong[/quote]

You have 0 understanding of basic human anatomy. You think you do but it is painfully obvious that you have no real world understanding to ground the things you have read in and all you can really do is pick and choose which sources you believe and make assumptions about what you think they are talking about.

[quote]GetBigs wrote:
Also, Coach, would you please elaborate on why you wrote in your article that the dips is the best chest exercise? I did read it and it says you haven’t seen anybody with a very good chest that wasn’t strong on dips, but I don’t get something:

In case of the dip, the horizontal adduction action of the pectorals is limited because you can’t really shove your hands inward, unlike in a regular flat bench press session, right? Also, the dip is supposed to mostly work the lower portion of your chest, which if true, would leave you with a funny-looking chest, no?

Please do correct me if I’m wrong[/quote]

How are you gonna be shoving your hands inward when doing a bench press when your hands are fixed onto the bar??? And you don’t have a “lower portion of the chest”. You have the sternal portion of the pectorals and the clavicular portion. So there is an “upper” chest, but not a lower chest. There is no out chest either unless you use the Muscle Mags from the 80s as your source of anatomical info.

And if you plan on nitpicking all of my previous articles and argue about minutiae because you are pissed that I got fed up with your questions, good luck as there are hundreds of them… and don’t forget my 4 books… there might be some mistakes in there too.

Congrats, in all my years of running this forum it’s the first time that I almost lose my temper… and I’ve had PLENTY of good occasions to lose it!