You guys are familiar with this feeling: you are three reps into a big set with a weight you are usually good for five solid reps with for multiple sets, but today’s third rep feels like it might be the last one. Another rep and from might break down (technical failure is what I consider failure), or even worse, the next rep might not even happen regardless of how offensive you let your form become. It’s arrived…the day you start to back track and lose strength is finally here. Or is it really?
Firstly, let me tell you, based on personal experience we tend to overreact to bad days in the gym once we are a few weeks into any fat loss phase. Embarrassing as it might be, I will go ahead and admit that in my younger days I would abort most fat loss phases upon reaching this point. A few contest preps into my bodybuilding career, I would of course muscle through the lapses in performance, but it would negatively impact my attitude from that point forward. My 2014 contest prep was probably the first time I slowed down my thinking and absorbed the shock of a bad day in the same manner I would in the offseason. I was actually able to say to myself “Yeah today wasn’t exactly and ideal day in the office, but there is always tomorrow, and if not tomorrow maybe the day after. Shoot things might pick up next week or the week after so long as I stay disciplined by ensuring I sleep well, manage stress outside of the gym well, and stick to the plan.” But, that last bit of self-talk was probably what I did wrong during that prep. I had a solid, well thought-out and periodized plan, but perhaps I was too stubborn and not dynamic enough. Just how different stages of a prep require you to adjust your caloric intakes and prescribed cardio, your training should be dynamic as well. It all starts with realizing that at some point, you will lose some of your top end offseason performance. Hell, if life wasn’t this way there would be no need for weight classes in powerlifting.
Most of you reading this are surely aware that it’s been well documented that mechanical tension is associated with hypertrophy, but the issue is, that almost immediately the phrase “mechanical tension” is associated with the lower rep ranges (heavy loads). On the contrary, mechanical tension that can potentially stimulate hypertrophy can take place in a wide array of rep ranges . To me, this has been one of the most awesome contributions that science has made to my sport in the last five years or so. It explains why you have jacked powerlifters that look like bodybuilders, bodybuilders that live in the lower rep ranges, but also, just as many bodybuilders that attribute their muscular progress to the more “pumpy” rep ranges. They all work, and so long as the high-repetition sets are hard enough and taken close enough to failure you will recruit and overload all fiber types . You see this routinely outside the petri dish in smaller framed bodybuilders, like say a Marshall Johnson, who tends to gravitate towards higher rep work, and larger framed guys like Kevin Frasard, who tends to spend plenty of time in the sub eight rep range. However, there are also guys like Doug Miller (who isn’t small framed by any stretch of the imagination) who hangs around the higher rep ranges, because he likes training that way and seems to excel more within these rep ranges. Okay, you get it, it can all work. But, how does this apply to you? How does this apply to a contest prep bodybuilder who is doing their best to maintain performance, and in the later stages simply trying to control the rate at which it decays? We will address this in part deux of this piece, and what implications this might or might not have on your next offseason.
- Schoenfeld, B.J., et al., Strength and hypertrophy adaptations between low- versus high-load resistance training: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res, 2017.
- Ogasawara, R., et al., Low-load bench press training to fatigue results in muscle hypertrophy similar to high-load bench press training. International Journal of Clinical Medicine, 2013. 4(02): p. 114.