The fact that training and nutrition give us the illusion of control is what causes so much controversy in the muscle industry. There is a lot of room for speculations. Genetics + nutrition + training are the back door of the muscle gurus. Whenever their bullshit ideas fail, they explain it with one of the three, while presenting drug loaded lifters as success examples.
Obviously, different professional bodybuilders train differently. Some prefer high volume while others say low volume is best. Some say high carb diets are best while others use low carb diets to get ripped. Whatever the case, there is one thing bodybuilders always agree on – drugs make you grow. However, when we are talking about drug free bodybuilding ( I mean real drug free bodybuilding) there is little that can be done as far as muscle mass is concerned.
As a natural you can get strong, you can get ripped, you can develop some serious physical skills, but growth will always be pathetic compared to the 200 lbs shredded guys pushed in your face. You can try many different diets and routines, but in the end you will always hit the wall. I learned that by doing exactly that – wondering like a moron in Wonderland and following the ideas of some muscle prophets, who never tell the truth.
You can build muscle with high reps (at least 60% of 1 RM – anything less does not provide sufficient intensity).
You can build muscle with low reps (85% of 1 RM).
You can use both methods – a few heavy sets followed by light sets.
In all three cases, you will end up at the same place.
There are many ways to fill a bottle, but once it’s full – it’s full.
Partial reps confer a substantial mechanical advantage as you are able to handle considerably heavier weights. Training with heavier weights through your strongest range of motion means that there will be a far greater degree of overload experienced by the muscles being exercised. Overload is an important variable in terms of increasing muscle strength and size. Without significant overload, there is no reason for our bodies to trigger the adaptation response that makes our muscles bigger and stronger. (Read my article on How Muscles Get Bigger & Stronger for more information on the importance of overload and the adaptation response.) That being said, the ability over time to move heavier weight will trigger the adaptation response and muscles will get larger and stronger as a result. Ligaments and tendons will also become stronger, further increasing the potential for increased strength. Another important argument for the use of partial reps is its relevance in what is known as the carryover effect. Execution of full range of motion on almost all conventional weight lifting exercises does not resemble everyday activities or those relevant to athletic and sporting activities. Consider the punch of the boxer or the swing of a baseball bat- all movements that are far closer to a partial movement than a full a range of motion exercise that you would ordinarily see in the gym. In everyday activities we usually act with our arms almost fully extended and since partial reps are more specific to these real world activities there should be more of a carryover effect in terms of enhancing performance of these movements.
low reps (1 – 5), the adaptations that make you stronger are mostly neurological: You develop an increased ability to recruit more muscle fibers, you stimulate the higher threshold fibers that are not activated with high rep, low weight sets, you decrease neuromuscular inhibition, and there is increased coordination between the muscle groups. However, with low reps, the hypertrophy (size increase) of the muscle fibers is minimal.
In other words, reps under 6 make you stronger, but they don’t necessarily make you bigger because the strength gains come from adaptations in the nervous system – the muscle fibers and other muscle cell structures do not hypertrophy (enlarge). This explains why certain athletes, powerlifters and Olympic lifters can be wicked strong but they don’t look as strong as they are.
When you train with medium reps (6-12) the adaptations are more metabolic and cellular and only moderately neurological. This is why 6-12 reps is the range most often recommended for bodybuilding and hypertrophy. You get bigger and stronger in this rep range, but your strength gains are not maximal. This explains why some bodybuilders look stronger than they are (and why they are often the brunt of jokes made by powerlifters and weight lifters; i.e. “big, weak, slow, useless muscles”, ha ha).