How to Explode to Fast Muscleby Lee Boyce, CPT on September 4, 2012
September 2012: How to Explode to Fast Muscle
Commercial propaganda strikes again.
Along with the blanket cues that I hear just enough times to get me pissed off – “don’t let your knees pass your toes in a squat or lunge”…. “try to tuck your elbows into your back pockets during a pulldown”… “keep your back flat on the bench when you press”… “don’t go below 90 degrees in a squat or in a bench press, it’s bad for your knees and shoulders”… ( I should stop there, or else my frustration will result in this article being incomplete) – come more fake guidelines that don’t make any sense when put under the microscope.
Today’s scrutiny comes in the form of rep speed. This “slow and controlled” business has gotten out of hand.
Granted, if you’re a complete beginner – and I mean COMPLETE BEGINNER – then there’s no other way I’d train you. You have to learn recruitment patterns and get your motor systems in the groove, and that’s the way to do it. But when it comes to us intermediate and advanced lifters, the microscope comes in handy yet again. Applying some logic by way of a little science can tell us all we need to know about how to lift. Many people say lifting fast is the devil – but is it really?
A Look at Muscle Fibers
A muscle is composed of bundles of fibers. Depending on the person, and the muscle, there’s a varying distribution of fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers in each muscle. Fast twitch fibers have different characteristics than their slow twitch counterparts. Fast twitch fibers are much stronger, and fatigue more quickly. Anything we do that is explosive and of short duration (a few seconds) is largely dominated by our fast twitch muscle fibers. Slow twitch fibers, on the other hand, are suited for endurance. They have a lower strength threshold and therefore are geared to sustain a lower-level output for a prolonged period of time.
What This Means
As I mentioned above, anything we do that’s of short duration and explosive will be dominated by the fast twitch fibers…. Like…a work set of weight lifting. Knowing this, we want to exploit the fast twitch fibers for everything they’ve got. In the case of most pressing muscles, we use them often to create explosive movements, so the relationship between our concentric (lifting) and eccentric (lowering) phases should be noticeably skewed. When it comes to pressing exercises, we all know that negative reps and slow eccentrics can do a lot to improve our overall strength. This is because within the designation of “fast twitch” comes two types, which, for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call “fast twitch”, and “superfast twitch”. The superfast twitch fibers are the highest threshold units of the group. They fatigue even faster, and respond even more explosively than the typical fast twitch training. Our muscles are strongest on negative reps – to illustrate, during a bench press, a lifter can train to failure. On his final rep, he can no longer press the bar off his chest, and without a spotter to help him, he’d be pinned. If that spotter helped the bar off his chest, however, that lifter would have no problem holding it up in the finish position, and slowly lowering that bar to his chest, even at the end of his set. That’s because he only reached positive failure. He still had plenty of strength in his energy strores by way of negative reps. Therefore, proper care must be taken to make sure that we’re lifting the right way to make both our fast twitch AND our superfast twitch fibers do all they can.
That’s the magic tempo that’ll jump start you into some fast size. Your muscles won’t know what hit them. In big pushing exercises like squats, bench press, press, dips, and skulls, apply the 40X0 tempo. If you don’t know how to read tempos, here’s the breakdown. The first number represents the negative rep. In this case, 4 seconds down. The 2nd number represents the amount of time spent at the bottom, No pause here. The 3rd character represents the lifting speed – X for Xplosive!! The 4th number represents the time spent at the top of the rep. Again, no pause. Follow this strictly and you’ll be humbled fast. This goes as a warning – you won’t be able to lift as much as you normally do using typical rep tempos, so don’t even try. I’d recommend lowering to 80 percent of the old working weight. Do sets of under 10 reps. When isolating the hamstrings, use the same approach, as they’re jam packed with fast twitch fibres too.
Another Look at your Muscles
Let’s give the slow twitch muscles the onceover now. We’ve already gone over the simple definition of the muscle fibres, but applying that to muscles on the body can create some confusion. We have to think of what muscles are meant to stay contracted and sustain efforts for the greater portion of the day. Logically the answer would fall under stabilizers, postural muscles, and support systems. The muscles of the upper back, lower back, and abdomen would fall under such that would be dominantly slow twitch. Soleus, quadriceps and lower traps also. This being said, this is what I believe to be an effective lifting tempo:
You should have the hang of this by now – that’s 1 second down, no pause at the bottom, 1 second up, and squeeze at the top for another second. The amount of slow twitch fibers involved in exercises like row variations, pulldowns, pull ups, curls, or leg extensions means not much will be reaped out of slow eccentrics and explosive concentrics. On that note, It’s important that rep ranges increase to get the muscles out of the “zone” for any anaerobic training and fast twitch involvement. I like to use rep ranges between 12 and 20 for most movements that involve the muscles I’ve listed. Here’s my list of my favourite high – rep, heavy weight exercises.
[li]Bentover rows/T Bar Row[/li]
[li]1 arm dumbbell row[/li]
Now that we’ve got that covered, we should go over the benefits of lifting fast for the muscles that are predisposed to it. First off, obviously, we’ll better train the fast twitch fibres of those muscles to recruit more efficiently – that’ll make you more powerful and could even translate into better athletic performances on the field (or track!). Secondly, we have to remember that fast twitch fibers are all controlled by the High Threshold Motor Units – brought to life by none other than the CNS. So in order to ramp up our nervous systems to the point that they’re ready to rock – lifting fast is the way to go. A snappy nervous system will be more prone to producing more force, releasing more hormones, and ultimately, adding more muscle. Third, your training effect will improve. Because you’re utilizing more muscle fibres for every lift, you can expect to be more fatigued much sooner in your workout. The muscles will undergo more microtrauma which will probably result in more DOMS the following days. Enjoy!
It’s Really That Simple (And I Don’t Mean Preparation H)
Generally, we don’t have to go too far to figure out the truth about how muscles work. The information is right in front of us. Because you’re so diligent with your study, you came to the right place to get the lowdown on how to lift. Apply these points of counsel to your next workout and you’ll be able to feel the difference in minutes – and in weeks you’ll be able to see it too. If you want to learn more about where I got my info regarding fast twitch and slow twitch fibers, check out the legendary Dr. Vladamir Janda’s theory of Tonic vs. Phasic muscle.
Lee Boyce is based in Toronto, Canada, and works with strength training and preventive care clients. He is the owner of leeboycetraining.com and is a contributing author to many major publications including Musclemag, TNATION, Men’s Health, and Men’s Fitness. Check out his website www.leeboycetraining.com and be sure to follow him on twitter @coachleeboyce.