Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Myth of Non-Functional Hypertrophy

Kelly Baggett recently wrote an article about hypertrophy (increases in muscle size). Specifically, about the idea of "non-functional" hypertrophy - where you get bigger but not stronger. This is another article that feeds into something I've been coming around to for a while - rep range isn't nearly as critical as it's made out to be.

The Myth of Non-Functional Hypertrophy

The essential idea of the article, to my mind, is that all hypertrophy is functional and useful. How you train influences what you can do with it, and how it functions. But any muscle size is potentially "good" size, or size that's useful for increased strength and/or athleticism. Get a muscle big and it'll be stronger, and it'll help you lift heavier if you also train to lift heavy.

Another way to put it is this one, from Joe DeFranco's Westside for Skinny Bastards:

"Compared to a smaller muscle, a bigger muscle has a better chance of becoming a stronger muscle."

This article also sheds some light on the effectiveness of programs that mix both lower-rep, heavy lifting (singles, triples, sets of 5) with medium rep (say, sets of 6-12 reps) and high rep (sets of 13+ reps) together. Although the article makes it clear that you could just train in one rep range and gain, the higher rep ranges do more for increasing glycogen storage and endurance, the lower rep ranges involve more of the central nervous system (CNS) and get you better at lifting heavy things. So "combination" programs that use low, medium, and high reps train you to lift heavy things while giving you increased glycogen storage and spare the joints from constant strain against heavy weights. Do that while you eat and you get big and strong; do it while you keep intake in check and you'll just get stronger. In either case, you need to make progress - adding more weight to your sets as you get strong enough to do so.

In other words, mix up the reps and you'll still get plenty big and plenty strong, given appropriate nutrition and progression.

A couple of examples:

5/3/1 with Boring But Big - you do 5/5/5+, 3/3/3+, or 5/3/1+, followed by 5 x 10 of the same lift. The other 5/3/1 assistance templates are similar - you're doing 3-5 sets of 10-20 reps, or doing 75 total reps of bodyweight exercises, and so on. It's lifting a heavy weight maximally followed by higher reps for hypertrophy.

Westside for Skinny Bastards - You do heavy weights followed by lighter weights for endurance and hypertrophy (max effort upper day, max effort lower day) or you just go ahead and do higher reps to encourage hypertrophy (rep upper day). All that size you build is regularly trained with maximal exertion.

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