Sunday, June 21, 2009

High-Set, Low-Rep Training: Massive Arms

     Anyone who has read many of my article for Iron Man magazine knows that I'm a big fan of heavy weight, high-set, low-rep weight training.  If you're going to follow any kind of "split" training program then high-set, low-rep training (HS,LR training from henceforth in this post) is—I think—the way to go for a great majority of lifters.
     In an article I wrote for Iron Man a few years ago entitled "Big Weights, Big Sets" (at least, I think that was the title of the article; I've lost the magazine, but I still have my original draft of it on file), here are some of the reasons—and people—that I gave for this kind of training to be so effective:

     As for high-set, low rep training it is something quite different.  This type of training, like no other, can produce phenomenal strength and size gains.
     If you doubt it, then consider some of these examples of bodybuilders, powerlifters and strength athletes who achieved awesome results with this type of training.
Charles Poliquin.  Strength-coach extraordinare Charles Poliquin has said that he never really got his arms to grow (that's right, his arms) until he began to use a regimen of low-rep and high-set training.  He says that the key is the numerous sets.  In fact, Poliquin (who has a very large pair of guns) says that he averages 3 reps per sets.
Brooks Kubik.  Author of the popular strength training book "Dinosaur Training" (see the article by the same name in Ironman's Ultimate Guide To Building Muscle Mass), Kubik, a past national champion in the bench press, says that he got the best results in terms of both size and strength when he performed numerous singles on one exercise.  For example, he would often perform 20 sets of singles in the bench press with about 85% of his one-rep max.  He also likes the same type of training for the squat.
Doug Hepburn.  Considered by many, including himself, to be the strongest man who ever lived (due to the fact that he never used any anabolic steroids), Hepburn was a collosus whose specialty was the bench press.  For training the major lifts, Hepburn would work up in singles until he reached a weight he could handle for 3 to 8 singles.  Once he could acheive 8 singles with the weight, he would add poundage at the next workout.  After the singles, he would perform 5 sets of 5 reps on the same exercise.  His reps never got higher than 5 and he had tremendous strength and mass combined.
Pat Casey.  The Babe Ruth of powerlifting, Pat Casey was the first lifter to bench press 600 pounds, the first to squat 800 pounds and the first powerlifter to total 2000 pounds.  Casey enjoyed training the bench press with lots of singles (in either flat bench presses, bottom-position benches or midrange partials), followed by heavy sets of threes.  Afterwards, Casey would perform more reps for a pump but the foundation of his training was based on high-set, very low-rep work.
Magnus Samuelson.  The World's Strongest Man winner for 1998, Magnus's approach to strength training is "old school" in that he trains much like Hepburn and Casey.  On all his major lifts (squats, deadlifts, benches, and overhead presses), Samuelson performs five sets of singles, starting with something "heavy" but not too heavy and works up over his five singles until he reaches about 95% of his max.  After this, he performs three progressively heavier sets of 5s until he reaches a near max set of five reps.
Lee Priest.  Probably more familiar to Ironman readers than the above men, Priest is one of the few modern-day bodybuilders who still adheres to this type of effective training in that he believes in both extremely heavy weights and lots of sets.  Priest averages about twenty sets per bodypart and an average of 4 to 6 reps for each set.

     With that out of the way, let's get right down to a couple of routines that produce massive muscle growth in the arms through this form of lifting.

High Set Singles
     One of my favorite ways to train with HS,LR training is via the incorporation of many sets of singles with a weight that is 85-90% of your one-rep maximum.  For this kind of training, just pick a heavy, compound movement for your biceps and a heavy, compound movement for your triceps.  After warming up with progressively heavier sets of 5s, then 3s, use approximately 85-90% of your one-rep maximum and perform as many as 15 to 20 singles with this weight.  If you're advanced enough—or if you want massive arms bad enough—you can always add another two exercises and give yourself a workout of epic proportions, a virtual biceps/triceps workout session from hell.
     Here is what one of these workouts might look like:
Barbell Curls: 20 sets of 1 rep
Close-Grip Floor Presses: 20 sets of 1 rep
E-Z Bar Curls: 15 sets of 1 rep
Skullcrushers: 15 sets of 1 rep

Ladder Training
     This is a form of training that was made popular by Pavel Tsatsouline.  It has a few different variations, but here's the way I like to do it: Pick a weight on a compound exercise (barbell curls, let's say) where you max out on approximately the 8th rep—don't worry about being too exact, however; the volume will take care of the muscle growth.  Now, start with 1 rep.  On each successive set add a rep until you get up to 5 reps.  At this point, start going back "down the ladder" until you reach 1 rep.  Since muscle growth is our goal—and that requires volume—you will then go back "up and down the ladder" one more time.  And one more thing: rest about 30 seconds between each set.
     Here is what this workout would look like using barbell curls as an example:
1 rep, rest 30 seconds
2 reps, rest 30 seconds
3 reps, rest 30 seconds
4 reps, rest 30 seconds
5 reps, rest 30 seconds
5 reps, rest 30 seconds
4 reps, rest 30 seconds
3 reps, rest 30 seconds
2 reps, rest 30 seconds
1 rep, rest 30 seconds
repeat for another cycle

     The workouts look simple—which they are—but they are also deceptively powerful at growing massive muscles.  Give 'em a try; your bis and tris might not like it—they might just scream for bloody mercy—but they will grow larger and stronger.

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