Everyone knows the basic rule for size; go heavy or go home! It is a mantra touted by everyone because for the most part it is true. Fast-twitch muscle fibers are worked during explosive movements. Using heavy weight in exercises for slow reps is a key to building up these fibers. Plus they have a much greater capacity for growth than their slow-twitch counterparts that are used primarily in endurance activities.
But that doesn't mean they don't grow at all.
Any Growth is Useful
If your overall goal is to gain muscle size along with strength should you be overly picky exactly where that size comes from? We aren't talking about bulking up your entire body with excess fat to look bigger, but actually increasing the size of your muscles. Imagine the potential for growth in your muscle is like a long balloon. Blow it up to about 70 percent capacity. That is about as big as it is going to get from working just your fast-twitch fibers. Now blow it up the rest of the way. That extra bit is size gained from working the slow-twitch fibers as well.
Why settle for less than optimum size gains? Just because slow-twitch fibers don't grow as much as fast-twitch fibers, they still grow. After you have been working out for a while and run into more walls with gaining size easily from heavy lifting it is time to look at other ways to get to the next level and that can involve getting a program together to incorporate the slow-twitch fibers.
This isn't a new concept. Bodybuilders back in the 60's like Reg Park were big proponents of using regular endurance training because it worked. (Photo: Reg Park in "hercules in the haunted world", 1961)
Currently with the popularity of CrossFit and other programs you are seeing more endurance training included in workouts. They are great ways to get a workout in and train your body in a different way. Here are some of the more common endurance styles:
- Tempo Training – You use a slower than normal cadence for reps and keep constant tension on a muscle. You might do anywhere from 2 to 4 seconds to lower the weight and then 2 to 4 seconds to raise the weight. You do not pause at the bottom or the top so the muscle has tension on it for the entire set without a break.
- High Rep – You do sets with anywhere from 20 to 30 reps. But instead of doing just one set in this manner and pyramiding up to heavier weights and lower reps, you do multiple sets of 20 reps.
- 10 x 10 Training – Simply put you do 10 sets of 10 reps with the same weight resting anywhere from 30 seconds to 60 seconds between sets. Typically the rest period increases from 30 to 60 as the sets progress.
- 5 x 5 Training – You warm up and then pick a weight you can do 8 reps with (usually a fairly heavy weight). The first set is 5 reps, take a short rest, and then do another 5 rep set. Keep going until you have done 5 total sets of 5 reps each.
In bodybuilding, endurance training is best done with compound exercises. It is recommended to do only endurance training for a whole workout and not mix it in with heavy, low-rep work. More than likely you can get a great workout using only two exercises because your body will be fairly spent after doing so many reps; it will need a break.
For example you might use 10 x 10 training for squats followed by 10 x 10 for stiff-legged deadlifts and then call it a day for legs. Or you could do High Rep incline bench presses followed by Tempo Training on dips for a very complete chest workout. In any case everyone will find the result from endurance training beneficial. It helps with muscle size, strength, and endurance which translate well to a variety of activities in and out of the gym.
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