By: Mark Dugdale, IFBB Pro; Photography by: Jason Breeze; Model: IFBB Pro Mark Dugdale
[Q] Hey, Mark, I like to train for size. That means heavy weight and lots of compound exercises. Can I refine my look with higher reps?
[A] In the sense in which most people relate high reps to shaping, toning, firming or whatever term you like, my answer would be no. Gaining muscle and losing fat are the two primary effects that determine how you look in the mirror. Muscle maturity comes over time, not so much by how many reps you pump out. This isn’t to say higher reps don’t have their place in a well-designed plan for improving your physique.
I trained for the 202 Olympia using high reps (15–20) two days a week in a full-body circuit. The idea is to increase lactic acid to the point where your body releases a large amount of growth hormone to help get you shredded. If you usually train with heavy weight, low reps and compound exercises, you might experience positive results with this type of training. It’ll certainly be a shock to your system, causing muscular adaptation, and will additionally boost your energy-system capacity.
[Q] I’ve read a lot about techniques like 100s training and FST-7 for flushing muscles, but can that type of high-rep training also help to trigger growth?
[A] I’m not an expert on the two techniques you mentioned, but there is a benefit to filling a muscle with blood and then stretching it. The benefits include fascia enlargement, theoretically allowing the muscle to grow with less restriction, as well as the body’s natural release of growth factors when a muscle is fatigued and then immediately stretched. I think this is the general idea behind John Parrillo’s fascia stretching, FST-7 and DC Training’s widowmakers.
Nothing works indefinitely, so systematically moving through various training techniques is probably the best way to force the muscles to adapt and grow. Keep in mind that any exercise in which you use less than 50% of your 1RM is probably not going to do much for hypertrophy, regardless of the how many reps you bust out. [Editor’s note: That means if your max bench is 275 pounds, repping with half that weight, or about 140 pounds, won’t do diddly for you.]
[Q] What’s the best way to use drop sets for gaining detail?
[A] Drop sets, for most people, are best used on the last set of an exercise. Rep to failure, drop the weight 20–30%, and rep to failure again. Some people do only one drop, but experienced bodybuilders can perform several drops. A favorite technique is to run the rack with dumbbells. With that technique you pyramid up in weight, taking normal rest between sets. When you reach the heaviest weight, you just “run the rack,” repping to failure with progressively lighter weight using several drop sets.
Weight training is for stimulating muscle growth. What the heck is detail anyway? Muscles without a layer of fat covering them up! Get out the jump rope and start doing high-intensity interval cardio a few times per week. Save the drop sets for their original purpose – hypertrophy!
[Q] What’s your favorite way of adding new detail to a bodypart?
[A] If you think it’s an exercise or a technique, you’re wrong. It’s the jump rope. Other than circuit lactic acid-inducing workouts to improve body composition, I just don’t believe there is a specific training technique that improves that vague word – detail. High reps have their place, but the surest bet for getting shredded is training hard and heavy and making sure your diet is on point. And that goes for any bodypart you’re looking to improve.