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Nothing’s too tall, too fast or too dangerous for today’s extreme athlete. You’ve probably even seen such amazing feats on TV – guys who surf tsunami-sized waves, snowboard the rockiest and steepest peaks in the world, or compete in an ultramarathon in the stiking heat of Death Valley, California. Truth is, there’s nothing comparable to that in the gym. Or is there?
Even if you’ve loaded three plates on each side of the bar to attempt your first 300-plus bench press, or those ass-to-the-floor heavy squats you powered through as you swallowed back the contents of your stomach — those experiences were just a warm-up for what we have in store for you here. In fact, this technique is so extreme that it’s likely way beyond the realm of anything you’ve tried in the confines of the gym.
Originally developed by someone with an obvious penchant for pain and torture, hundreds training has lurked on the fringes of the iron world, well out of the mainstream, and for good reason. One, only a select few can survive this method for long before retreating to the relative safety and comfort of their 3-5 sets, 8-12 reps per exercise routines. Two, since not many have chosen to venture into this far-flung territory, science has yet to prove or disprove the value of this system.
No, instead, you must simply trust the word of the handful of experts who believe in it, and the guys from the trenches who’ve tried hundreds and lived to tell their tales. They’ll tell you: This mad training method will leap any rut and launch you from any plateau. It may indeed be one of the best ways to kick-start growth for even the most stubborn hardgainer. There aren’t reams of research to back up doing 100-rep sets. But the unorthodox style has earned enthusiastic support from a few competitive bodybuilders who’ve experimented with it through the years and reported successful results, including 1980 Mr. California Rory Leidelmeyer, 1986 USA light-heavyweight runner-up Tom Touchstone and 1989 World Pro Championships winner Diana Dennis.
Some high-profile present-day bodybuilding pros, such as 2004 NPC Nationals super-heavyweight and overall champ Chris Cook, have dabbled with ultra-high-rep training as well. “Anytime I feel a bodypart is getting stagnant, I’ll do a set of 100, and that’ll be my whole workout for it that day” he says. “I start with a weight I can get 25-30 reps with, then I strip off weight as the set progresses. There’s no better pump in the world – you get so pumped, it’s painful”. Anecdotally, people have told Muscle & Fitness over the years that regular use of hundreds increases muscle development, separation and definition, adding that the body responds exceptionally well, growing bigger and stronger, when one returns to a standard heavier-weight, lower-rep program.
David Sandler, CSCS, an assistant professor of exercise physiology at Florida Atlantic University (Davie), agrees that using hundreds within your training cycle could certainly trigger muscle hypertrophy (growth). “The idea of doing extended sets, whether it’s a strip set, drop set or a 100-rep set, is to stimulate every possible muscle fiber, both slow- and fast-twitch” he explains. “We know from existing EMG data that as the motor units within a muscle fatigue, new units are recruited”. Thus, in the case of an extremely long set, you’re increasing overall motor-unit stimulation, which in turn should trigger growth. “Anytime you make a radical change to your program like this, you’re going to get some benefits” Sandler adds. “Shock your system and your body is forced to adapt”.
If you’ve decided to embark on this difficult yet rewarding journey beyond the typical constraints of weight training, here’s how to go about it. First, decide whether you just want to try it once as a shock routine, or if you want to delve right in for two intensive weeks. If you’ve chosen the latter, m&f Science Editor Jim Stoppani, PhD, has created the Century Program.
For his version, which is based on the protocol originally tabbed in the early ‘90s as “Combative 100s”, you’ll complete 100 reps per set, but you should achieve muscular failure before that mark is reached. “The goal is to perform at least 70 reps before stopping for a quick breather” Stoppani explains. “If you can do all 100 reps with a given weight without stopping, the weight’s too light and you’ll need to increase it the next workout”. At failure, rest for the number of seconds that corresponds with the number of reps you have remaining (a good rule of thumb established years ago by the aforementioned Leidelmeyer). For instance, if you finish 65 reps, rest 35 seconds before attempting the remaining reps. If you fail again within the set, follow that same resting protocol (one second for every remaining rep) until you finally reach the end.
For 100s, when you arrive at a point when you can do more than 70 reps with a given weight without failing, increase the resistance next time out. Slight increments are best: as little as 21/2 pounds for smaller muscle groups such as biceps and triceps; 5 pounds for chest, shoulder and back moves; and 10 pounds for leg exercises.
As a final thought, it doesn’t hurt to address the one concern that may still be nagging at you: Isn’t doing 100-rep sets insane? To that we ask, when’s the last time you enjoyed appreciable results from your traditional workout? Inventor Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. With that in mind, aren’t hundreds at least worth a try?