"Sub-maximal" workouts

Discussion in 'HST FAQ' started by Blade, Jan 21, 2003.

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  1. Blade

    Blade Super Moderator Staff Member

    Submaximal training or not

    Submaximal is a term relating strictly to strength. I use the term to describe the act of doing a set with fewer number of reps x<nRM. E.g. doing 14 reps with your 15RM.

    Many have the understanding that linear increments in weight load would always be submaximal as long as you don’t go to failure. This is true, assuming failure always occurs precisely at that number of reps which represents your previously established RM with that specific weight load. But like we said earlier, your 10RM on one day might be your 8RM on another, or even a 12RM yet a different day. It would also be really impractical to try to find your RMs for every conceivable number of reps (and weight increment).

    Let’s go back to the idea that there is no “on/off” switch for growth assigned to a given number of reps. 1 long rep (essentially just holding onto a weight for a long time) will make whatever muscles being stretched grow larger (initially). At the same time, making a muscle do 50 consecutive high-force eccentric reps will also make it grow. So it isn’t critical to do a specific number of reps “per set”, although a minimum number of reps per “bout” will be required to achieve the minimum amount of time under tension required to stimulate growth. This "minimum time" changes up (or down as in SD) as your muscle becomes more (or less as in SD) conditioned to the load.

    I follow the 15>10>5>eccentric rep progress. I always make sure I hit the target reps on the first set, but I don’t worry about falling short on the second set when I close to my RM. With sufficient rest betweens sets it usually isn’t a problem though.

    - Bryan Haycock
  2. Blade

    Blade Super Moderator Staff Member

    Simple technique to avoid failure

    Since rep speed deteriorates before technical breakdown, end a set when a rep is noticeably slower than the first. So - if you slow down, you STOP. This ensures that you stay at a safe rep number short of failure. The reps decrease as the load increases and fatigue accumulates - you never lower the weight to reach a rep target or to get more sets.
  3. Blade

    Blade Super Moderator Staff Member

    I think it is important to get rid of the notion of the “number” of reps as a principle of muscle growth. Repetitions are not a "principle" of hypertrophy, any more than counting the number of cranks it takes to reel in a fish is necessary to catch fish. You simply crank as many times as is necessary to get the job done. I'm not saying you are doing this, but in order to understand what it is you need to accomplish in the gym, it will help to avoid thinking of the specified number of reps as a restriction or limitation.

    Yes, the # of reps a person uses is related to the amount of a weight they’re using as well as their level of strength. However, the # of reps in no way should be used to dictate how much weight they should use. In other words, the only reason we designate a specific number of reps to use is to maintain order in our training. They are used as a guide whereby we can measure our progress. An incorrect usage of reps is to only increase the weight when more reps can be performed at a given weight load. This might be sufficient for an average strength-training program, but it is not a good way to increase hypertrophy.

    So if I haven’t completely confused people as to what I am trying to say, let me summarize things this way:

    1) There is a certain amount or threshold of weight or tension that must be applied to your muscle tissue in order to get it to grow. That threshold changes up or down depending on your level of conditioning.

    2) Active Muscle Contraction (both concentric and eccentric) is facilitative to muscle hypertrophy when tension is applied. Although Passive Stretch is a potent inducer of muscle growth, in most instances we cannot apply the necessary level of passive stretch to each muscle of our body to accomplish real whole body muscle growth. Thus we use muscle contractions to shorten the tissue before stretching it. This way we don’t have to take each muscle to its absolute limit of range of motion before it experiences high levels of stretch.

    3) Eccentric contractions are more effective at inducing hypertrophy than concentric contractions using the same relative amount of weight.

    4) There is no physiological threshold of repetitions that is necessary for the growth stimulus to be created. It is dependant on the duration and amplitude of stretch relative to the tissues level of conditioning, not the actual number of contractions.

    5) Fatigue is not the muscle’s way of indicating that a stimulus for growth has occurred. A growth stimulus can be created without taking a set to failure, and at other times, even taking a set to failure fails to produce an adequate growth stimulus. We have no direct way of knowing how successful we have been at creating a growth stimulus from workout to workout. Direct measurements require a laboratory setting and painful biopsies. The only way to really gauge is to look at what has previously been done to the tissue (i.e. how much weight, how much volume, what level of conditioning are we working with). By continuing to increase the duration and/or amplitude of tension/stretch/load, we can be reasonably sure we are creating an adequate growth stimulus (assuming diet is in order). “Within reason”, it is the total number of reps performed of a given movement during a single exercise bout that is important, not how many are performed each set. You can blame two prominent exercise researchers and their infatuation with minuscule fluctuations in hormone levels for any confusion on this point.

    I’m not sure if that clears anything up or not. But it should help to see why the number of reps per set is less important than the overall progression of critical training variables (i.e. load, volume, frequency, diet) over time.

    - Bryan Haycock
  4. Blade

    Blade Super Moderator Staff Member

    15-12-10-8-5 instead of 15-10-5

    What the “15-10-5-Eccentric” rep scheme does is ensure that we are doing consistent amounts of work each workout. Those who have changed their rep scheme to 15-12-10-8-5 have not experienced any better gains than those using the traditional 15-10-5-etc, in fact, many have reported symptoms of overtraining.
  5. Blade

    Blade Super Moderator Staff Member

    HST's method of using submaximal weights at the beginning of the cycle is based on the fact that the effectiveness of a given load to stimulate growth is dependant on the condition of the tissue at the time the load is applied. This is a very important concept for natural lifters. It is also based on the need to maintain the health (injury free) of the tissues.

    You can't really apply the external load based simply on the capacity to do so, and expect to the muscle to respond the way you want it to (growth). Too much weight too soon, even though you can lift it, will not always result in an optimal hypertrophic response. Not only that, but the greater the load, the greater the response to build resistance to it, and/or get injured.

    Why not just do as many reps as possible (A.K.A. train at “100% intensity”, or “train to failure”) for every increment/workout instead of changing it only every 2 weeks? Because when using sufficient frequency to stimulate rapid hypertrophy, you tend to get CNS burn out. Fortunately, it isn’t necessary to train at “100% intensity” to grow quickly. This is a very unpopular statement to experienced lifters who have prided themselves on torturous workouts. They take pride in their toughness and in their willingness to self inflict nauseating exhaustion workout after workout. I HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH THIS. As long as it is not taught as the correct way to train for “growth”.

    HST incorporates ever increasing loads in order to stay ahead of the adaptive curve. This curve is set by the tissues level of conditioning at the time the load is applied. This is as much an art as a science. Because we can't do a biopsy of the muscles every time we train, we have to guess how much, how hard, and how often, based on the available research an the "feeling" of the tissue at the time. Why use submax weights? Because using max weights eventually stops working, and simply increases the risk of injury.

    Why not just do as many reps as possible (A.K.A. train at “100% intensity”, or “train to failure”) for every increment/workout instead of changing it only every 2 weeks? Because when using sufficient frequency to stimulate rapid hypertrophy, you tend to get CNS burn out. Fortunately, it isn’t necessary to train at “100% intensity” to grow quickly. This is a very unpopular statement to experienced lifters who have prided themselves on torturous workouts. They take pride in their toughness and in their willingness to self inflict nauseating exhaustion workout after workout. I HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH THIS. As long as it is not taught as the correct way to train for “growth”.

    So why not train one maximal day only, then utilize "complete rest" thus preserving adaptive energies?

    There is no need to preserve "adaptive energies". This is a false notion. These adaptive energies are, in reality, the ability of the CNS to recover voluntary strength. Early "thinkers" noticed the effect of stress on health and compared that to the effects of heavy resistance exercise on strength and came to the conclusion that there was some pool of "adaptive energies" that was limited. Use it all up and you can't recover. What they had not realized was that there are fundamental differences between mechanical loading and Selye's stress model. This caused them to confuse the limitations of the CNS with the resilience of muscle tissue.

    Muscle tissue, as indicated earlier, has been shown to recover amidst continued loading. Take for example "synergistic ablation" studies. In these studies the gastrocnemius of an animal is cut so that the standing load is placed almost entirely on the soleus. In these studies the animal’s soleus is subject to a dramatic increase in load during every waking hour. There is no "rest between sets or workouts" or any kind of sets or workouts for that matter. There is no time off to allow "adaptive energies" to do their magic. Nevertheless, the soleus will double in size and weight within days. The muscle literally grows and adapts to the new "environment" while being continually loaded. Now I'm not suggesting that people have this done to get their stubborn calves to grow, but it does illustrate an important point. Which is - the muscle can adapt while it is being loaded, or trained. The tissue does not necessarily need time off. The central nervous system, on the other hand, does need time off. The amount of time off it needs depends on how much "fatigue" was induced.

    Please try to avoid "forced reps". During the concentric phase push on the weight but make sure it goes up "quickly". If you are doing an exercise that requires a partner, and he can no longer lift the weight up quickly, you're done.

    Fatigue actually "decreases" the damage caused by eccentric reps. The fibers have to be actively contracting while lengthening in order to cause the "right" kind of microtrauma.
  6. Blade

    Blade Super Moderator Staff Member

    Further discussion on fatigue and its relation to a proper hypertrophic stimulus

    The 1st set, as with the 2nd set, merely places a given amount of strain on the tissue. As long as you are supporting the weight, the stimulus is present.

    You may have heard some discussion about fatiguing fibers becoming disassociated from the rest of the contracting fibers, and thus avoiding the strain. This is true in one sense, and false in another. As a fiber fatigues, it is true that it will stop contracting. When enough fibers fatigue, the tissue as a whole will no longer be able to move against the resistance and you have reached what we call “momentary muscle failure”. Some studies done using eccentric exercise have demonstrated that high resistance eccentric reps produce more microtrauma when done by a fresh muscle, when compared to eccentric reps done after pre-fatiguing the muscle. This would not be wholly unexpected given the above explanation about fatiguing fibers.

    However, there is another issue involved that must be taken into account. No fiber is completely isolated from the rest of the tissue, even when it becomes fatigued. So even when one fiber becomes fatigued (sarcomeres by sarcomeres) that fiber will still experience passive stretch by virtue of being attached to adjacent and in-series fibers. So even if a fiber fatigues right away, if the set continues, that fiber will be stretched and strained with the rest of the tissue, the only difference being that the forces will be shifted from the contractile elements of the fiber to the outer structural elements of the fiber. As we know, both passive and active strain/stretch produce hypertrophy.

    In short, fatigue is not a critical factor, although it obviously holds importance given the nature of “lifting” weights.

    I think where more confusion comes in, is when people begin talking about "intensity". Intensity is generally associated with effort; the greater the effort required, the greater the intensity. This naturally leads to the idea that the last few reps, which require the most effort, are the most effective. If we are strength training, this is often true. However, when training for muscle growth, the fatigue generated by training to failure and beyond (e.g. forced reps) quickly interferes with our ability to train with sufficient frequency.

    - Bryan
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