Saturday, January 16, 2016

Train Against the Grain - Kevin Kolodziejski (1991)

Train Against the Grain:
Use the Adversity Repetition Scheme 
to Break Through Progress Barriers

Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he's written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as "MuscleMag," "IronMan," "Vegetarian Times," and "Bicycle Guide." He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities. 

There is no greater feeling for a bodybuilder than to be on a roll -- a six-week, nine-week or three-month cycle where every new workout produces an increase in poundages handled, repetitions or work done in a measured time. Unfortunately, for every roll there is a plateau, a time when, regardless of what you do or how you coax your muscles, there is no improvement. Invariably, this is when the bodybuilder canvasses all the muscle magazines in an attempt to get past the plateau with a new workout. This, however, often compounds rather than solves the problem, and the plateau accelerates into regression.

Bodybuilding is arguably the most intellectual athletic endeavor, and like philosophy its essence seems imbued with contradiction. Arnold says to lift as heavy a weight as possible, yet others, like Frank Zane, stress the link between mind and muscle. Arthur Jones suggests a repetition speed of two seconds for the positive and four second negatives, whereas Franco Columbu advocates the theory of compensatory acceleration. Haney likes to pyramid, but Labrada believes in the first work set being the heaviest. Mike Mentzer espouses a low number of sets to failure, yet Cory Everson and Gary Strydom grow on volume training. John Parillo believes in stretching the fascia for added size and definition and endorses a high-calorie diet to nurture this, but Clarence Bass feels that mass can coexist with leanness.

While these antagonistic theories keep the sport fresh and vibrant, the discrepancies cloud the situation for the bodybuilder who has reached a plateau. What's a lifter to do when the experts' opinions contradict each other and the procedures he tries all fail?

I say go against procedure and ignore your instinct. Don't use a rep sequence that feels right. Go against your muscles' strengths and your body's natural tendencies. Instead, use the Adversity Repetition Scheme to break through that plateau and stimulate new gains.

Simply stated, this scheme is based on one principle of human nature: People prefer to do things that they do well or have mastered. In bodybuilding this is reinforced by the instinctive principle, which states that if it feels right, it's working. While there is a place for this concept in bodybuilding, especially in terms of exercise selection, it is often abused and overworked when it comes to comfortable rep schemes. Notice that I did not say easier, for it is quite possible to work hard and get a great feel without promoting growth. The Adversity Repetition Scheme goes against your muscles' preferences in order to recruit new muscle fibers, thereby inducing growth.

According to the principle of holistic bodybuilding, doing sets of varying reps stimulates all the different components of the muscle cell -- the sarcoplasm, the myofibrils, the mitochondria and the capillaries. This is generally a great strategy, but it's not as effective if you have reached a plateau -- which means that despite your attention to the plan, one or two of these components are probably over-trained. How do you know which ones, without going out and getting a PhD? The Adversity Repetition Scheme takes care of that as well.

It is based on three factors: your somatotype, your muscle fibers, and your preference in repetition schemes.

Somatotypes, also known as body types, were developed as part of William Sheldon's now abandoned psychological theory that personality traits are inherited and manifest themselves in physical appearance. Although psychologists disregard the body type-personality connection, the terms Sheldon developed to describe different somatotypes - endomorphy, mesomorphy, and ectomorphy -- are still used. A person who is an endomorph has a soft, round appearance, a low basal metabolic rate, and tends to gain weight and bodyfat easily. Mesomorphs are inclined toward a large body structure, a muscular torso, a propensity for gaining muscle and a high degree of strength. Ectomorphs have a narrow bone structure, a high basal metabolic rate, and a tendency toward thinness and little bodyfat.

Although everyone has some qualities of each somatotype, one type usually dominates. Sheldon originally scored bodies from 1 to 7 in terms of each body type, with 1 being the lowest and 7 the highest. Arnold, for example, could be given a 2 for endomorphy, a 7 for mesomorphy, and a 1 for ectomorphy. With that in mind, you should now evaluate your own somatotype.

As for the composition of your muscle fibers, in simplistic terms. individual muscles are composed of fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers. Fast-twitch fibers are capable of tremendous workloads but only for brief periods of time. Slow-twitch fibers handle lesser work loads but they do it for longer periods. The only absolute way to know the composition of your muscle fibers is to get a muscle biopsy, which is costly and painful. An easier method (though it is not foolproof) is to determine the sports that are paced to your liking.

Sports that rely on short, intense bursts are anaerobic in nature, and people who enjoy or excel in these sports generally have a predominance of fast-twitch muscle fibers. Some examples are football, the sprints and field events in track, powerlifting, ice hocky and cycling on the track. Sports that are rhythmic and continuous in nature are aerobic, and people who excel or are comfortable doing them probably have a majority of slow-twitch muscle fibers. Examples of these sports include distance running, basketball, cycling on roads and aerobic dance. By now you should know your body type and be able to make an educated guess as to the composition of your muscle fibers.

I have worked with hundreds of lifters -- while teaching fitness courses for teachers, writing a weekly fitness column and coaching and helping out at the high school gym. From my experience I have deduced that mesomorphs tend to have fast-twitch fibers and ectomorphs slow-twitch fibers. Endomorphs quite often have a nearly equal mix, although some endomorphs have a predominance of one or the other.

Invariably, when lifters plateau, they resort to exercises and repetition patterns that accentuate their genetic predisposition. In other words, the lifter does naturally what he or she does best. An ectomorph with slow-twitch fibers does sets of 10, 12, or 15 reps and gets a good pump, the feeling that he is working hard and accomplishing something. Even so, little growth occurs. Likewise, when he reaches a plateau, a mesomorph with more fast-twitch fibers resorts to sets 6, 5, or fewer. This too is contrary to the Adversity Repetition Scheme because the lifter is allowing the body to do what comes naturally.

Let's use pyramiding to explain the theory further. Nearly everyone has a step in their pyramid where they destroy the symmetry, or "fall off," Consider a lifter who plans a 12-10-8-6-4 pyramid rep sequence for 5 sets of low pulley rows, upping the weight in 20-lb jumps. The 12-rep set goes well and then the 10 and the 8, but instead of doing 6 reps on the fourth set he only gets 3. And when he tries the final set he can only do 2 reps without cheating.

From this scenario I would guess that this person has a predominance of slow-twitch muscle fibers and should not concern himself with pyramiding. He should lock into the area where the pyramid "collapsed" and work there. 5 sets of 6 reps at a slightly higher weight than he originally planned for in the six-repetition set of that pyramid mentioned would work better for this person.

Another example that may prove helpful involves a bodybuilder whose workout partner is generally stronger than he is. Since he's getting beat up, he suggests that the last set should be a pump set. He lightens the load and blasts out 20 reps. His partner only manages 14 and says the set was a total waste of time because even 14 reps is too many. Our lifter argues that the set was great because of the feel he got in his muscles.

Who's right? My guess would be no one. I'd be willing to bet that the high-rep freak tends toward ectomorphy and has a predominance of slow-twitch muscles, and that the guy toting the heavy iron is a mesomorph with more than his share of fast-twitch fibers. Both are working in their comfort zones, which is not conducive to growth.

Obviously this is not the only way to work out, but it might be one of the best approaches for lifters who have reached a plateau. To summarize the Adversity Repetition Scheme:

Use the repetition scheme that is contrary to what your body type and muscle fibers naturally take to. For a mesomorph who has fast-twitch muscle fibers, the reps will be somewhat higher than those prescribed by bodybuilding purists, with the exact numbers to be determined according to where you typically "collapse" in a pyramid setup. After a sufficient warmup, try three or four sets at your "fall off" reps while lifting 2.5 or 5 lbs more than you normally use. Decrease the weight slightly in subsequent sets if necessary.

Remember that bodybuilding is full of contradictions, but the good theories always make sense at some point in your training. By going against your own body's natural inclinations, you can induce growth as well as break through those plateaus. 


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