(to read Part 2 of this series CLICK HERE)
What is considered “high rep” training anyway? The “sloth life” bodybuilders will probably give you a more biased and lower number, while the “cardio bunny” bodybuilders will likely tell you a rep scheme that hurts just to say. Just like with any other adjustment that is made over the course of a contest prep, we are always working off an athlete’s offseason baseline. Similar to factors such as cardio, calories, and total volume… it’s extremely dependent on the individual. As a prep continues, all of these variables are usually adjusted in order to continue progressing. You will almost always see cardio added and calories lowered throughout the duration of a contest prep. Once a physique athlete has gotten to the phase where they are a more “defensive lifter”, some degree of volume reduction is not out of the ordinary. Within reason, a reduction in volume can help with muscle/performance preservation. The practice of reducing volume during prep as needed to preserve performance, enhance recovery, and to overall make prep work more efficiently is becoming more common. For the most part, bodybuilders understand that it takes far less work to maintain an adaptation (your hard earned muscle) than it is to push for more advanced adaptations. What is still not as popular is adjustment in rep ranges to ones that, perhaps, might be more favorable during those last stages of a prep. When I look at all the pros and cons of the broad spectrum of rep ranges used by physique athletes, I can’t help but favor the notion of scaling reps up as a prep moves into the final stages. Some of the perks being:
- Being near contest levels of body fat can leave connective tissue a bit more exposed and susceptible to injury. Higher rep ranges necessitate a reduction in absolute load that can potentially reduce the amount of stress placed on connective tissue. Added just for kicks, there might even be some good evidence for lactic acid potentially helping and being partially therapeutic to tendons. If you are hurt, good luck trying to maintain your hard earned muscle. The fact that higher rep ranges tend to be safer and less structurally demanding is, in itself, a good enough reason to scale reps up a bit during a prep.
- Higher rep training is more forgiving to a contest prep athlete’s ever dwindling leverages. Simply put, misgrooving the second rep on a scheduled four rep set can potentially mean no third or fourth rep. On a 12-rep bench press set, you might have a few reps scattered throughout the set that weren’t textbook, but you are still likely to complete the set. Oh not to mention, a misgroove within higher rep ranges are more forgiving and less likely to hurt you.
- Finally, this rep range offers you the ability to micro-load (or deload while late in a prep) in a manner that might be more advantageous throughout the duration of the prep. It can be hard to find the appropriate load/weight in those later stages of a contest prep. Your energy levels aren’t getting any better. On top of that, you are only getting smaller and less predictable. There are literally days where a 6RM can be a 2RM, or a 3RM simply just won’t budge. This is less likely to happen with higher rep ranges. More specifically in my coaching experience, even less likely to happen with work above the eight to ten rep range. Sticking to this higher end rep range will likely allow you to get in the majority of your work with the expected load and rep range. Reflect back on your last contest prep. Perhaps even your longer term fat loss phase. How did the lower levels of energy, weight loss, and dwindling leverages affect your heavier tension work relative to your higher rep work? Sure, reflecting on my own recent prep, I will admit that the leg press in the 14-16 rep range sucked and burned pretty badly. However, it was, oddly enough, more doable than the daunting 6-10 rep range. I was able to micro-load and add reps here and there, while also losing a few reps here and there. The difference between a good day and bad day was marginal at best.
- Finally you might find yourself simply doing better in this rep range, considering the fact that you are likely in better cardiovascular health during the later phases of your prep. You can thank a smaller, more frugal body for this along with the excess cardio you are more than likely doing.
Finally, while I did mention throughout the previous part of this trilogy the potential perks of higher load training, I am sure someone reading this who agrees might be hesitant to pull their rep ranges up a bit. I can totally understand why. Outside of having to relearn how to handle heavier loads post prep, you will not see any negative changes in the quality of your muscle. The gradual increase of rep ranges should be slow and based around what you did during your offseason. Your squat might have been a lift usually done in the three to five rep range, but a few months into your diet you started to be less effective in that rep range. You scaled it up to the 6-10 and it felt much safer and effective. Common sense stuff really, but I write this for someone who might have their backs against the wall and really just needs the green light and assurance to pull the trigger on this change. I love when science makes the overly analytical life easier. It can broaden your choices rather than making you feel more confined, confused, or panicked…all of which are usually self-inflicted. With the most recent findings pointing out that hypertrophy can be induced with many rep ranges, this is a great example of science actually broadening our options. Food for thought when you are deep into a prep and your direct arm work in the 8-12 rep ranges is giving you some issues. Nothing wrong with keeping it above 15 reps if it’s more practical in that situation. This may be something to think about outside of a prep, perhaps even in the offseason. Maybe you should include more of the rep ranges you prefer and less of the ones you maybe feel you “have to do”. In the real world, most hard working athletes prefer the rep ranges they are good at and readily progress in. That is essentially our end goal here. Exploring this topic in the offseason will be saved for a future blog. But this, my friends, is my case for higher rep ranges during contest prep.