Workout Tips

On Trial: High Reps or Low Reps?

What works best for high-endurance muscle fibers like abs and calves?

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On Trial: High Reps or Low Reps?

six-pack abs

Counterpoint: Attacking Abs and Calves With Heavy Weight and Low Reps

By William J. Kraemer, PhD, CSCS

For most bodybuilders, abs and calves are the toughest bodyparts to develop, especially for mega gains in muscle size. I believe that you need to use heavy weight for low reps in order to achieve the optimum development of each. The reason for this has to do with recruitment of the muscle fibers involved.

Hitting All the Muscle Fibers

It's essential that you stimulate all of the muscle fibers in order to optimally train a muscle, regardless of its muscle-fiber composition. The basis for this is the Size Principle. According to this principle, the smaller, slow-twitch muscle fibers are recruited first. Progressively larger, fast-twitch muscle fibers are recruited based on the increasing demands of heavier weights. Heavier weight (that which you can lift for about 3-5 reps) requires the recruitment of more muscle fibers than lighter weight (that which you can lift for 12 or more reps). Thus, there is a greater potential to develop these stubborn bodyparts. Light weight will stimulate the slow-twitch muscle fibers in the abs and calves, but it may not sufficiently hit the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Training with heavy weight gets at the slow-twitch fibers and recruits the fast-twitch fibers as well.

The Final Blow

The Size Principle convinces me that you need to use heavier weight in your training program to optimally develop any bodypart, including your abs and calves. I suggest you cycle your ab and calf training to incorporate a rep range of 5-10. Those bodyparts will then be able to reach their full potential, and you should see gains that you never expected.

The Verdict

Of course, no one method is the best and only way to train any bodypart. In this respect, both experts are right and we must call this match a draw. Both their arguments are compelling, and currently, too little is known about muscle growth to rely solely on one premise. 

Balancing the Highs and Lows

Mix up the weight and reps used in your ab and calf routines for best results.

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