The Beauty of Multiple 1-Rep Sets
by Chad Waterbury
Traditional fitness writers and coaches have tried to convince you that weight-training for either maximal strength or hypertrophy are two separate entities. This couldnt be further from the real truth. If I ever try to get a straight answer for their reasoning, I usually hear something along the lines of, "Powerlifters dont get big muscles like bodybuilders. Therefore, training heavy with low reps doesnt build as much muscle."
Folks, let me tell you, thats stupidity spelled with a capital "S."
One of the keys to my success in this industry relates to the fact that my clients possess outstanding levels of maximal strength. Regardless if my clients goal is hypertrophy, fat loss, or endurance, Im always thinking about maximal strength levels first.
In other words, the three aforementioned goals usually cause dramatic decreases in maximal strength levels due to the type of "traditional" parameters that most trainers and coaches follow. Therefore, when I design a program for hypertrophy, fat loss, or endurance, I first consider how Im going to avoid decreasing maximal strength in pursuit of the other goals. This has been a very valuable tool in my arsenal and now youre going to reap the benefits of this thought process for maximum hypertrophy!
I frequently ask readers and fellow lifters what their favorite set/rep parameters are for hypertrophy. Usually, I get a deluge of responses within the narrow range of 3-6 sets and 8-15 reps per muscle grouping. (Keep in mind, these are usually the same fellas who can still buy their T-shirts off the childrens rack). I dont think Ive ever asked a trainee that question and received this response, "Best rep range for hypertrophy? Well, singles of course!"
Well, Im here to exploit the virtues of singles. Theyre the most underrated parameter in all aspects of hypertrophy training. The recent push of ill-conceived time-under-tension guidelines for hypertrophy has probably added to the close-minded thought process in todays hypertrophy parameters. After all, performing a single repetition usually takes only 2-4 seconds per set, so how beneficial can they be for hypertrophy? Immensely beneficial is what I say. In fact, more beneficial than you ever imagined!
Much of what Ive learned about strength-training stemmed from my observations while growing up on farms and ranches. When I became a professional strength-trainer, I realized many of the exercises I created paralleled actions Id performed or seen out on those wide open pastures. But I took things a step further.
I also paid close attention to the ranch-hands who had the greatest levels of muscle and maximal strength. I realized they frequently performed short-duration activities that involved the recruitment of many large muscle groups. I also noticed they didnt perform more than one or two repetitions of anything before taking a short break. Chores such as tossing hay bales, lifting big ol truck tires, and turning a huge tire iron to replace a tractor tire are all good examples. I figured if these parameters worked for them, then they could probably work for my clients and me, too.
Damn, was I right!
Trainees have been lifting large loads for a single repetition since the beginning of time, but rarely was it ever considered a technique for hypertrophy. In fact, many strength coaches dont think singles will cause any hypertrophy. But I can tell you theyre wrong dead wrong. Singles work extremely well for a variety of reasons, but Ill touch on a few of the most important:
Its true that some super-strong powerlifters dont have appreciable amounts of muscle tissue compared to their strength levels. But when these same powerlifters quit competing and switch over to "bodybuilding" methods, they pack on some serious muscle. Is that proof that powerlifting methods dont build muscle? Hell no! Heres my thought process on the issue:
Hopefully, thats enough evidence to convince you. Lets take a look at a program thats going to escalate hypertrophy and maximal strength!
Day 1 utilizes a 3RM load. This is very important since a true 1RM load would not allow you to finish all 14 sets. You shouldnt feel fatigued until the last few sets, and this is the reason why the CNS stays fresh on this program. You must avoid training to failure. If your neuromuscular efficiency is low and you cant perform all 14 sets with a 3RM, decrease the load by 2.5% for the next session and all should be well.
Day 3 parameters might have you scratching your head. With all this talk of maximal strength levels, youre probably wondering why this day utilizes such high repetitions. Even though I did my best to minimize CNS fatigue on the singles day, fatigue is still inevitable. This day must be as different from Day 1 as possible in order to minimize overtraining. If I chose something along the lines of 5 x 5 on Day 3, youd burn out in no time.
For weeks 2-4, add one set to each singles workout for all movements. In other words, Day 1 on week 2 will utilize 15 sets of 1 repetition; Day 1 on week 3 will utilizes 16 x1; Day 1 on week 4 utilizes 17 x 1. The same holds true for Day 6.
Increase the load of Days 3 and 4 by 2.5% each week for all sets.
I hope yall are sick and tired of losing maximal strength in pursuit of hypertrophy. Give this program a shot because it works incredibly well for hypertrophy. At the same time, youll get the added benefit of increased maximal strength so you can back up your newfound size with improved maximal strength. Afterwards, if you want a job baling hay, let me know.
Chad Waterbury is a strength and conditioning coach with Bachelor of Science degrees in Human Biology and Physical Science. Currently, he's studying graduate work in Physiology at the University of Arizona. He operates his company, Chad Waterbury Strength & Conditioning, in Tucson, AZ, where his clientele consists of members of military special forces units, athletes, professionals and non-athletes seeking exceptional physical performance and development. Rumor has it the big guy is even writing a book. You can contact him through his website, ChadWaterbury.com.
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