Alright, so as I already discussed in When to Lift With Lighter Weights, lifting heavy is still your best bet for continued progress over time, but incorporating lighter sets in towards the end of the workout might not be such a bad idea.
This article is going to discuss a method that can be used when lifting lighter in order to get the most out of each rep. See, the problem when you lift with lighter weights, as opposed to heavy weights, is that the beginning of your set doesn’t really recruit all of the muscle fibers, especially the fast twitch ones that grow the most. In order to recruit the type IIb muscle fibers (the ones that grow the most), at least one of these 3 things need to happen:
- The weight needs to be heavy enough so that your slow twitch fibers can’t handle the load and need to recruit the fast twitch ones.
- You go till failure, or almost till failure, with a lighter weight so that the slow twitch fibers “fatigue” and require the support of the fast twitch ones.
- You lift light or moderate weights as fast as possible concentrically.
Since this article is concerned with lighter weights only, we will concentrate on (2). However, the problem with (2) is that the first reps of every set, especially in the beginning of the weight lifting session, will not fully recruit the muscle fibers that are capable of growing a lot, and so the first few reps will be “wasted energy” to put it simply.
So how do we solve this problem? Allow me to introduce you to Myo-Reps!
Myo-Reps is a method for lifting with lighter weights that largely avoids the problem above. Myo-Reps was created by Borge Fagerli, and the original article(s) can be read here (though you’ll have to translate it from Norwegian. Use Google translator.).
The main purpose of Myo-Reps is being able to lift with light to moderate weights and make as many reps as possible be effective. By effective I mean recruiting the muscle fibers that are most responsible for growth. Here is the basic premise:
- You pick up a weight that you know you will fail on the 9th-15th rep.
- You do your first “activation set” with that weight. An activation set is what it sounds like: it activates the muscle fibers, especially the fast twitch ones. All you do for this set is lift the weight until you are almost at failure, meaning you could probably do 1 more rep, but not 2.
- Now it is time for Myo-Reps! Depending on what weight you started with, you can wait anywhere from 10 seconds to 30 seconds before starting the next “set”. The first Myo-Rep set will be 3-5 reps, then you wait 10-30 more seconds, then do another 3-5 reps, …, until you are grinding your last rep with all your might.
Since that was probably confusing, I’ll explain it more. Myo-Reps start with an activation set, the only “traditional” type of set. Then you wait a very short time, 10-30 seconds, and then do a “mini-set” of 3-5 reps, then 10-30s, miniset, 10-30s, miniset, 10-30s, miniset, …until you almost fail on the last rep of your miniset.
The reason that this makes more reps “effective” is that some of the first reps of the activation set are ineffective, but that’s it! Every rep in each mini-set is effective because the muscles aren’t given enough time to “deactivate” the fast twitch fibers, so it’s like each mini-set is started close to failure already, making each and every rep count!
So, lets say I picked a weight that I knew I could lift 10 times and then I would fail. A Myo-Rep set might look like this:
9 reps, (20s pause), 3 reps, (20s pause), 3 reps, (20s pause), 3 reps (20s pause), 3 reps, (20s pause), 3 reps (20s pause), done. So that’s 1X9 + 5X3 = 9 + 15 = 24 total reps.
Now, there is a range on the amount of time you should rest and how many reps per miniset you should perform because Borge likes “self-regulation” when it comes to Myo-Reps. That is, he thinks that you should experiment yourself to see how much time you need as an individual and how many reps per miniset you can handle as an individual. Most of the time, he just says “rest for 10 deep breaths”. While I usually do time myself exactly 20s rest, there is no need to. The only reason I do is so that I can keep better track of my progress by keeping other variables constant.
For this reason, Borge prefers that Myo-Reps be done by somebody who has at least some experience under their belt so that they will be able to self-regulate and will be more in touch with how they feel during the sets.
An important part of Myo-Reps is that no set is done to failure except maybe the last miniset. This is because if any of the previous sets are done to absolute concentric failure, it will hamper your ability to perform the subsequent sets with as much intensity due to neural reasons. He doesn’t even recommend that you perform the last miniset to failure, especially if you are going to keep working those same muscle groups later in the workout, but that is up to you.
The way that Borge decides when to stop the minisets is using the Rate of Perceived Exertion scale (RPE). RPE is just a scale from 1-10 that shows how hard each rep was; 1 being the easiest thing ever, 10 being “I cannot believe that I didn’t fail on that rep, OMG!” Using this scale the Myo-Rep set from above might look like this:
Rep: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
RPE: 2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Rep: 1,2,3 1,2,3 1,2,3 1,2,3 1,2,3
RPE: 5,5,6 5,6,7 6,7,7 7,8,8 7,8,9
Thus, since you had a RPE on the 5th miniset’s last rep, you would stop there.
Try this method out and see how you like it! If you perform it right and with enough intensity, it should not be easy at all. Have fun!
Please leave your comments or questions below!