The Difference Between Flutters And Zone Training?

Been trying some flutters and also Zone Training lately on various excercises/musclegroups.

This made me realize there is a common ground between the two. Flutters in different positions is similar to zones (especially comparing with Darden’s calf flutter excercise featured in an article here on Tnation). It seems flutters is more of a partial zone rep. Didn’t Brian Johnston elaborate on this in his further developments of zones within the zone in later books? I also noticed that Johnston have applied a somewhat greater speed on reps when taking it even further in “free form” - making it appear even closer to a flutter.

Maybe I’m just dissecting two different useful tools in the toolbox (read: overthinking) - but it would be interesting to hear others opinions on this? Are these techniques even able to combine? Is any of the two better? I have a hard time deciding…

@borisv @tzabcan @average_al or any other trainee familiar with Zone Training

Apologies, I am not aware what is meant by “flutters”. Is it something similar to “burns” described by BDJ as following:

  1. Perform an exercise movement toward the point of momentary muscular fatigue.
  2. Continue for several short-range (partial rep) ‘burns’ in either the strongest or weakest range of the exercise.
    Burns are aptly named because of the extreme burning sensation felt during their application. Weak range burns occur at the point of stretch and will increase the risk of injury if short, jerky, bouncing motions are implemented, which are typical when mental and physical fatigue are high toward the end of a set. Although the ROM may be limited to only a few inches, it is vital to control the movement at all times. If the trainee is able only to bounce or jerk the weight, the set should be terminated."

I don’t think it is possible to find an ideal program, stay on it and progress indefinitely. Any tool/technique is short-term in nature because the body will adapt sooner than we would like it to adapt. Therefore, if the goal is optimization and growth, then variety is critical. Personally, I now prefer to use a standardized (aka routine) approach based on HST and HIT (which have a lot in common) and use BDJ’s techniques as a powerful tool once in a while when I have enough energy/attitude to push myself to the next level (which is not common nowadays). Changing the method of training / technique on each workout (or every week) is exciting and has its place, subject to one is able to regulate the volume/frequency/intensity respectively (and I made a lot of mistakes there), but sometimes you need to have some plain vanilla workout too. It’s a variation of some sort.


I have no idea either what ‘flutter’ reps are other but I can’t imagine the are any thing other than what Johnston has already talked about in his Zone Training and calls fractals or something like that. Haven’t you looked into his Zone Training … some of the best advice you’ll ever get. But even with him, guys jumped all over him claiming Brian was just re-naming ‘Stutter Reps’ …

Seriously, how many ways can you do a repetition ? There’s different names for the same things or very similar, by different guys.

Darden has his 30-10-30 while years ago there was a 20-30 second hold on the first rep before following with 8-10 regular reps and you finish your set with a hold/slow negative. Basically the same thing s a 30-10-30 … different guys / different names for essentially the same thing.

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I believe that the original intent of zone training was to deal with exercises where the resistance curve was a poor match for the strength curve of the muscle (i.e., free weight exercises or uncammed machines). You set the weight according to what you could handle in the most difficult range of motion (zone 1), and brought the muscle group close to failure, then moved to the next easiest range of motion (zone 2). Depending on the exercise you might have 2 or 3 zones. The intent was still to fatigue, inroad, go close to failure. Early on, I think the practice was to still move slowly, or at least in control, avoid momentum, and focus on feeling the muscle contract. What tweaks were added later by Brian, I cannot say.

The flutter reps in Darden’s M3 Method (which seems to be the new name) seem to be a different thing. You are supposed to move quickly, use quick reversals of direction to invoke the stretch reflex response. You are trying to trigger fast twitch muscle by using almost explosive movement. And you don’t go to failure, just until your ability to produce fast movement starts to decline.

So I think the physiological intent is different.

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Yes, you are correct in the sense how Brian first suggested the application of zone training. It came from the use of Bowflex machine which has a very distinct feel in a contracted vs extended position. However, in the 2nd and 3rd Zone Training books that followed he and Andrew Shortt went way beyond that.

“Depending on the exercise you might have 2 or 3 zones”: why limit the exercise to 3 zones only? I would argue that for the exercise with a short range of movement (wrist curls, shrug, calf raises) that is the case; but let’s consider pullover, lat pulldown, chest press, for instance. I regularly do “Fractals + Full” application, one of my favorites. Quoting from “Z3-Revelations” (aka JReps3) book:
" Fractals + Full": Using the chest press as an example, think of the entire ROM broken down into six sections or zones. At the mid-point of the full ROM would be the ‘halfway’ line, whereby each half would contain three zones each.
Perform 4-5 small 1-2-inch squeezes (pulse fractals) in the bottom zone (with the bar touching down on the pecs); thereafter, push the bar almost all the way up (avoid the top few inches to keep tension on the pecs and to avoid elbow lockout). Such a sequence will take about 8-10 seconds, and at this point you have just worked one of the six possible zones. Next, lower the bar just above the zone previously worked. At this point you are in the second zone of the six possible zones. Perform another 4-5 pulse fractals, and then squeeze the bar almost all the way up. In effect, a trainee works a very small zone and then ends the segment with a lift throughout the REMAINDER of the full-range, of what is left, and then proceeds down to the next zone.
It is unnecessary to achieve full exhaustion in each zone, although one can if preferred. Rather, leave a small reserve of energy. Then, toward the end of the set return to the bottom position and fractal your way back to the top… push 2-3 fractals every few inches, making each section or minizone
a near-maximum or maximum effort."

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Interesting… so the Zone method evolved into something quite different over time, perhaps becoming similar to M3 Method flutter reps in some situations? I was only really familiar with the original idea, which is how most of the traditional HIT practitioners seemed to use it.

But it still seems like the intended use of the two techniques is different:

  • Advanced (Fractals + Full) are meant to work the entire range of motion for the muscle group, just with more refinement of the zones, and with some higher speeds, but still chasing fatigue and inroad.
  • The M3 flutter is a finisher, to be done in combination with other kinds of reps, and only in the middle of the contraction range, stopping short of failure.
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Yes, I think you are right… The intent of the zone training is to thoroughly train (“milk”) a muscle within the whole range of motion in the most efficient manner (irrespective of pros and cons of the exercise and its strength curve). There are myriad of possible techniques and combinations, not just original halves, thirds, reverse, extreme etc. JReps2 and JReps3 books were written in 2006-2007, so they have been around for quite some time now. BDJ followed-up and expanded the concept and described various new techniques in his later books, particularly “High-Density Training” and “Advanced Bodybuilding Methods & Strategies”. The latter one was released in 2017.

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This was what I was thinking of as a background to my question. You have a better way with words than I am capable of.

I think Brian’s methods and advice are still the most over looked out there. I don’t have his latest books you speak of ( I think I had an issue with ordering ) but the endless variations and ideas from his earliest stuff certainly opened up a whole new way to train, especially if you experimented with Zones on your own. I got a few gems from CT also.


I used to Own The Bowflex Ultimate (was not a big of it and felt like I regressed using it exclusively - eventually sold it and returned to free weights and plate loaded leverage machines).

But using short clips with Zones helped with the Bowflex as the strength curves are so wrong in the beginning or “stretched” positions - too little if any resistance.