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Build slabs of dense, defined mass by mixing normal, fast and slow reps.

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by CSCS

Lifters are creatures of habit. We do so many things in the gym without thinking about them, particularly those of us who have been practicing them for so long. Set-and-rep schemes have become automatic, exercise selection is practically instinctual and you've long since learned proper form on most exercises. But how often do you lend any thought whatsoever to rep speed? (Insert the chirp of crickets here.)

That's what we thought. Rep speed is a crucial factor in how your muscle fibers are recruited during exercise, yet it's still one of the most universally ignored factors in training. Regardless of weight load, most lifters practice a steady cadence with each rep of each exercise, usually taking 1–2 seconds on the positive and 1–2 seconds on the negative.

But you might be surprised to learn that faster, more explosive reps and slower, more deliberate reps have their place in the bodybuilder's muscle-making arsenal—just as more common variables such as intensity, volume, rest and exercise order do.

This program has you train at varying rep speeds for four weeks, resulting in greater muscle-fiber recruitment as well as an improved and more complete body aesthetic. You might not have known it but, like Maverick, you too have a need for speed.

Changing Speeds

This progressive four-week program will build endurance, strength, power and size by maximizing the amount of muscle fibers you use. (Abs are not included here; over the course of this four-week program, stay with your existing abs routine.)

Directions

 

Week 1

The pace: 7—10 seconds on both the positive and negative portions of each rep

The weight load: 50%—70% of your 1RM (or a weight you can lift for 15–25 reps at a normal pace)

The payoff: Performing all of your reps slowly with lighter weight loads will tap into your slow-twitch fibers and build muscle stamina. As your slow-twitch fibers begin to fail during each set, more fast-twitch fibers are called into play.

Week 2

The pace: 1–2 seconds on both the positive and negative portion of each rep

The weight load: 100% of your 7RM (a weight with which you'll fail at seven reps)

The payoff: This more familiar pace, intensity and volume slightly levels off the pattern in which your fast- and slow-twitch fibers are recruited during each rep. This week's rep range builds strength.

Week 3

The pace: Less than one second on both the positive and negative portion of each rep 

The weight load: 50%–70% of your 1RM (or a weight you can lift for 15–25 reps at a normal pace) 

The payoff: This pace increases the workload on your growth-prone fast-twitch muscle fibers, helping you add size, strength and power.

Week 4

The pace: Fast/slow/normal

The weight load: 50% of your 7RM (half of what you used in Week 2)

The payoff: This version of 21s allows you to elicit the gamut of responses from your muscles within each workout by managing the speed of your reps within each set. You'll complete the first seven reps fast, the next seven reps slow and the last seven at your normal pace.

Week 1: Slow Reps

  • Day 1 Chest & Triceps Start
  • Day 2 Quads, Hamstrings & Calves Start
  • Day 3 Rest Start
  • Day 4 Shoulders & Traps Start
  • Day 5 Back & Biceps Start
  • Day 6 Rest Start
  • Day 7 Rest Start

Week 2: Normal Reps

Week 3: Fast Reps

  • Day 15 Chest, Shoulders, Back & Traps Start
  • Day 16 Quads, Hams, Calves, Biceps, Triceps Start
  • Day 17 Rest Start
  • Day 18 Chest, Shoulders, Back & Traps Start
  • Day 19 Quads, Hams, Calves, Biceps & Triceps Start
  • Day 20 Rest Start
  • Day 21 Rest Start

Week 4: Speed 21s

  • Day 22 Chest & Back Start
  • Day 23 Quads, Hamstrings & Calves Start
  • Day 24 Shoulders & Calves Start
  • Day 25 Rest Start
  • Day 26 Biceps, Triceps & Traps Start
  • Day 27 Rest Start
  • Day 28 Rest Start
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