Bodybuilding circles encompass two vocal groups: one that advocates high reps and lighter weight, and another that asserts, “Go heavy or go home.”
The high-rep group seems to worship the almighty pump, while the heavy trainers seem to view the pump as temporary satisfaction for hedonistic mirror monkeys. Like most things in life, things are not black or white.
But this isn’t dating, so there is no reason you have to be exclusive. To maximally develop a muscle a holistic approach is required. This means high reps, low reps, heavy and light weight.
A recent study out of Japan showed that when a back-off set of 20 reps was added to a regimen of 5 sets of 5 reps, muscle hypertrophy gains were 8% greater than with a stand-alone 5x5 regimen. Increased strength gains were also noted. Another recent study showed that muscle hypertrophy gains from a powerlifting and bodybuilding regimen were virtually identical. In other words, you need to mix it up to make gains.
The Wisdom of Fred Hatfield
My mentor, Dr. Fred Hatfield, aka “Dr. Squat,” wrote about the need for a holistic approach to maximize muscle mass more than 30 years ago in his groundbreaking book Hardcore Bodybuilding: A Scientific Approach.
Dr. Squat was not just a writer dreaming up theoretical programs with the masses as his proverbial guinea pigs. Hatfield was also a world-record setting powerlifter, and he trained eight-time Mr. Olympia, Lee Haney, as well the legendary former Mr. Universe and Mr. USA, Mike Quinn. Crowned Mr. Universe at the age of 22, “the black sheep of bodybuilding” was a highly outspoken competitor and a veteran of more than 100 barroom brawls. He even tore his pec one time against a Russian enforcer in a knock-down drag-out street war of fisticuff fury. Many pundits believe Quinn would have achieved even more titles in the sport but a downward spiral ended his career prematurely. What’s the point of sharing Quinn’s story? To show you that this workout isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes a street-fighting mentality to get the most out of the training he thrived on.
Quinn trained with a system called “Breakdowns.” It was devised by Dr. Squat, and consisted of high reps, low reps, heavy weight and light weight. It’s three exercises for the same muscle group that allows you to work different types of muscle fibers for maximum stimulation. The one constant is all-out intensity. Every workout is a barroom brawl!
Breakdowns have three distinct rep ranges. Set 1 is performed with a heavy weight, using one that limits you to four to six reps. In set 2 you reduce the weight by 15–20% and use a weight that limits you to 10-15 reps. In the final set you use half the weight of the first set and you should be able to hit 25–30 reps.
Setup:Stand behind the bench of a lat pulldown apparatus with your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Grab the lat bar with an overhand grip and your arms shoulder-width apart. Your arms should be extended straight out in front of you, forming a 45-degree angle with the floor.
Execution: Pull your arms down to bring the bar to your upper thighs while maintaining a slight bend in your elbows. Squeeze your lats hard in this position and slowly return the bar back to the start position.
Josh’s Notes: Keep arms straight and keep tension purposefully on the lats, Absolutely no cheating. Rest two minutes between sets.
T-Bar Prison Row
Setup:Put a barbell in the corner of the gym. Place a seated row attachment under the bar and grab it with a neutral grip. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Bend at the hips and keep your back arched throughout the movement.
Execution: Pull the bar all the way to your chest and pause before lowering to a full stretch at the bottom.
Josh’s Notes: Keep the handles four to six inches apart. Wear straps so your grip doesn’t limit you. Go as heavy as possible, and mild cheating on sets two and three for the last couple reps is permissible. Rest for two to three minutes between sets.
Seated Cable Row
Setup: Sit on the cable row bench with your feet firmly planted on the foot plate. Grab a low row bar attached to the cable pulley. Keep your knees slightly bent and your back straight. Maintain a slight arch in your low back and keep your chest out.
Execution: Pull the handle toward your midsection, driving your elbows back until the handle touches your abdomen. After squeezing your shoulder blades together at the peak of contraction, slowly return to the start.
Josh’s Notes: Wear straps as needed, grip should not be the limiting factor. Use a neutral grip attachment. Form should be strict. Rest two to three minutes between sets.
Setup:Stand with your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Keeping your back flat and head up, bend your knees and hips to grasp the bar with an an overhand, shoulder-width grip.Begin with your butt low, chest out and core tight.
Execution: Keeping your back flat throughout, press through your heels to explosively extend your knees and hips to stand up. At the top of the rep your legs should be fully extended with your shoulders back, chest out and bar in contact with your upper thighs. Lower the weight back to the floor under control.
Josh’s Notes: Wear straps so your grip isn’t a limiting factor. Rest three minutes between sets.
If you are constantly looking for shortcuts or the latest gimmicks, look elsewhere. This is the blue collar working man’s workout—science and anecdotes confirm it works.
Time to hit the pig iron!