Hi, this is dr mark p. i am submitting chapter 9 of my book for your enjoyment. thank you.
Negative feedback principles; dissecting the set
In bodybuilding, a “set” is defined as a grouping of repetitions performed for any given exercise. But as discussed in the previous chapter, when a regular single set is performed on its own merit, it is limited in terms of its ability to generate the intensity necessary to optimally stimulate growth.
An extreme example of a less than effective single set that comes to mind is a past personal experience of mine with front pull downs. Using the straight pyramid system, I would increase the resistance with each succeeding set eventually working up to close to 300 lbs in this exercise. My form however, degenerated to the point where it became so sloppy it looked like a cross between a clean and jerk and rowing a canoe.
This downhill slide did not happen all at once mind you, it was a gradual process; the trap of loose exercise performance is insidious. Such regression quite frequently occurs with conventional training methods when the emphasis becomes on using more and more weight at all costs.
There is no question that I was training “hard”, but heaving around heavy weights has nothing to do with intensity. By training “hard and heavy”, I experienced only minimal results. After years of making very little progress, I would eventually be forced to back off and re-evaluate my training strategy.
Such indiscriminately heavy training methods render it literally impossible to achieve high levels of intensity. While these methods strive to achieve ever-increasing poundage’s with each succeeding set, these overt increases are usually made at the expense of true intensity. Even if done to momentary muscular failure, the efforts associated with overly heavy training simply do not enable the build up of intensity to the threshold necessary to optimally stimulate growth. The long rest periods that are generally utilized between regular straight sets, as well as the numerous auxiliary structures that come into play to “pick up the slack”, do not help matters any either. These factors and others de-emphasize the direct effects to the target muscles.
Due to the high levels of momentum and intensity generated by the new system, poundage’s that would normally be utilized with conventional systems should and must be compromised. The term “heavy” as it applies to the new system is relative to, and predicated on the synergistic nature of its components. Remember that the terms “heavy” and “hard” are only components of intensity.
Multiple sets done in a giant set fashion are much more effective than just purely straights for a number of reasons that have been previously discussed already. Further, the intensity generated by giant sets stimulates the cardiovascular system in a way to affect oxygenation to the muscle acting as a metabolic catalyst that induces powerful growth patterns. To prevent over-oxygenation, a rest interval of about thirty seconds is all that is required between individual sets. This is just enough time to regain somewhat normal breathing composure and partial muscle recovery before proceeding on to the next one. Conventional methods do not even come close to achieving this semi-oxygenated state, partly because they do not allow for the greatest possible levels of intensity to begin with.
Let us consider the proper performance of an actual giant set. For the sake of example we will use a four exercise triceps cycle; breaking down all of the components of each set, every step of the way. Keep in mind that the exercises listed here are only an example of many other possible combinations. Remember, there is no such thing as a bad exercise. Provided that the basic protocol as prescribed by the new system is adhered to, almost any combinations of exercises for any muscle group are optional at the discretion of the individual. Note: in the case of a four-exercise giant set, no more than two giant sets should ever be performed.
The first triceps movement performed in this particular example is standing cable triceps pushdowns. This is a great “pre-conditioning” movement because it thoroughly prepares the elbows for subsequent barbell work and engages an even greater pre-conditioning momentum for the remaining sets yet to come. Pre-conditioning precludes the structure of new system creating a momentum that in addition to proper warm-ups, further prepares the muscles and their surrounding structures for the imposition of heavy resistance by negating the auxiliary joint and tissue structures, which themselves can become limiting factors towards achieving direct and complete muscle stimulation.
The importance of warming up cannot be emphasized enough. I believe that a proper warm up sequence is equally as important as are the working sets themselves. For most muscle groups, I actually perform more warm-up sets than I do actual working sets. It is best to shoot for a higher guide figure of repetitions for the first exercise of the giant set. After a thorough warm up, select a weight that will enable you to perform between fifteen to twenty five repetitions in strict form for the first working set. Repetitions should be done in a controlled fashion, accentuating the negative aspect of the movement all the way down and then driving the bar explosively on the positive aspect of the exercise.
All muscles should be “pre-stretched” throughout the entire range of motion. Pre-stretching involves taking the joints from their fully extended position all the way to the point of full contraction. I liken this to an archer setting their bow in preparation for a shoot. The bowstring becomes “spring loaded” as it is gradually pulled back. The greater the pull, the greater the distance the arrow will travel. Likewise, a full stretch serves to spring load the target muscle, engaging myotatic reflexes that send to it strong impulses. This mechanism then “launches” the muscle the extra distance for potentiating growth. Training in this fashion not only assures maximum stimulation of the muscle fibers, but also diminishes the possibility of injury.
After a set is taken to the point of momentary muscular failure, a “rest pause” feature can be added by resting about ten to fifteen seconds before resuming the set and attempting to squeeze out two or three more repetitions. Intensity can then be further increased with forced reps, partial overloads, drop sets and negatives. These intensity-enhancing techniques should be applied to every exercise in the giant set.
Forced reps are superior to drop sets because with drop sets the resistance is gradually reduced, diminishing the emphasis of the negative aspect of an exercise. I suggest reserving forced reps, partials or “burns”, drop sets and negatives for heavy days, but to “save a little for later” by performing just drop sets on light days only. “Cheating” type repetitions at the end of a set are also valuable with exercises where it is possible to do so, such as is the case with exercises like barbell curls, pushdowns, side laterals etc.
The above techniques are actually extensions of a set or “secondary sets”. Starting with heavier poundage’s and then subsequently reducing, alleviating or enhancing the force or resistance, allows you to achieve multiple points of failure. Although the poundage’s may be gradually reduced, each subsequent effort is productive in of itself as it accumulatively spirals towards achieving the greatest possible threshold of intensity. This in essence reflects performing the heaviest set first, or a “reverse pyramid” if you will-within the set.
It is during the initial part of the set however, that a muscle’s capabilities are at its highest and therefore able to sustain its strongest contractions. Target muscles will be challenged most when they are pitted against their momentarily greatest possible levels of resistance; that is as long as this resistance is provided under controlled conditions enabling their fibers to maximally contract. Performing the heaviest set first however, can also be a potentially dangerous. Even after a thorough warm up, the connective tissues and muscular structures themselves are still not necessarily prepared to bear the workload of heavy poundage’s. This is particularly true of very strong individuals whose strength levels are literally beyond that which their physical structures can comfortably allow, with older individuals and those with injuries.
For these reasons it is best to incorporate the “pyramid system” into the giant set sequence beginning the first group of exercises with poundage’s that will allow fifteen to twenty five repetitions. Increasing the resistance for the second round, the muscles are now fully prepared for heavier poundage’s and able to experience the full benefits of the pyramid system. Using higher repetitions before gradually working up to heavier weights is also more amenable to any number of joint problems.
Now that the elbows are thoroughly warmed up, we continue with the second triceps exercise in the giant set, lying e-z bar triceps extensions; this time selecting a poundage that will permit a guide figure of about ten to fifteen repetitions in good form. Doing this movement to forehead is called “suicides” or “skull crushers”. This version is my personal preference simply because they do not permit the use of as much weight as do the behind the head version. Although the preceding exercise may not enable a complete stretch, this can be made up for with other exercises that provide for fuller extension and contraction range of motion.
The third exercise in the giant set is cable overhead triceps extensions. By this time the triceps should really be on fire, however when the trainee is properly conditioned for this style of training, there are still surprisingly high levels of strength available. As the trainee’s cardio and neuromuscular efficiency levels acclimate to the new system, their ability to withstand the associated fatigue will improve considerably. Simply put, there is improved stamina which enables even greater degrees of intensity. By now the triceps are “primed” as you move onto the fourth and final movement in the giant set.
The final exercise is negative only seated triceps extensions. Taking the ends of a towel, rope or an empty bar, your partner assists by manually pulling down, providing resistance in negative only fashion. Starting from the extended position, the assistant begins to apply resistance, adjusting it according to the subject’s natural strength curves and momentary ability. This is done as the subject resists from the extended to the contracted position. The recommended number of negative only repetitions are six, the actual time elapsed during the negative aspect of an actual repetition should be between six to eight seconds, and no resistance should be applied as the subject returns back to the extended position.
The intensity level of a set of six properly performed negative only repetitions is almost indescribable. By the third repetition your body begins to shake with every fiber of your being calling out for you to quit. By the fourth rep, you’re going ballistic; there is nothing left but you continue anyway, and by the fifth and sixth reps your body is heaving like it’s about to explode. With properly performed negative only resistance training, all of the intensity that is necessary or that is even possible, can be achieved with a guide figure of six repetitions. These will be the longest and hardest six repetitions that you will ever do.
In contrast to the twenty to thirty-second rest period normally recommended between sets, negative only sets are the exception to the rule. Performed last in the giant set, the negative only resistance movement should be started immediately after its preceding exercise. The reason for this is because with more recovery time comes a restoration of strength that will require greater resistance. This also renders it more difficult and impractical for a training partner to assist.
With the new system the problem with negative only resistance has been solved, and for the most part requiring nothing more than manually applied resistance provided by a training partner. When performed in the manner previously described, the maximum possible benefits that can be attained from negative only resistance training will be achieved.
Some authorities have pointed out that a major flaw with barbells and conventional equipment is that they fail to provide adequate resistance in the contracted position. To this conclusion, I say that it was in part a ploy designed to market expensive equipment. Variable resistance can be applied to virtually any exercise, and the numbers of possibilities to do so with barbells or conventional equipment are endless.
The real question is whether or not variable resistance is really so much a viable factor in the first place. I tend to believe that its value in the overall scheme of things is questionable and that its importance entirely over rated. At any rate, the importance of variable resistance is at best secondary in value to the synergistic merits of high intensity. This is inclusive to the subtlety of adding the variable resistance factor to the equation, which occurs anyway by proxy. The extreme levels of intensity made possible by the new system, inadvertently provide most of the requirements for growth stimulation while variable resistance being implemented by manually applied negative only resistance training more than provides for the rest. Negative only and variable resistance training will be discussed in greater detail in the next chapter.
With the temptation to increase poundage’s comes the tendency to increase rest time between sets. The straight set system is usually associated with rest periods between sets lasting up to several minutes. While this certainly enables the ability to utilize progressively heavier poundage’s with each succeeding set, it also corresponds with lesser degrees of intensity. This is a form of regression, for which the next compensatory step is the desire to increase the volume of exercise. An excess of either one of the above factors (weight, time or volume) will defeat the purpose of obtaining optimal results. On the other hand, the intensity created by properly performed giant sets increases considerably, as does in fact the effectiveness of the pyramid system and even straight sets themselves.
The preceding discussion does not in any way impugn the value of straight set training. In fact I suggest that straight sets be occasionally incorporated into ones training regiment, but utilized discriminately and only after completing the giant set portion of the workout. For example, on heavy leg days, I perform two sets of full squats on the smith machine only after having completed two giant sets of leg presses and hack squats. Only then will the muscles and auxiliary structures be circumvented or thus “primed” as to more adequately affect the target muscle fibers with heavy compound exercises. This not only applies to straight sets, but to any other system of training as well. Today I prefer doing heavy compound exercises on machines rather than with barbells using higher repetitions.
I also concentrate on better exercise form and spend a lot more time warming up.
I remember how Arthur Jones would blast trainees for performing numbers of sub-failure sets, ranting about how they were an exercise in futility that would lead to the terminal condition called gross over training. Well it just so happens Art; that that I do advocate a certain number of ritual sets performed below failure; they’re called warm-up sets!
Regarding the “pump” mentioned earlier. I believe that the acquisition of a good pump after exercise is just as important as muscular soreness itself. Both of these are primary requisites for growth and evidence that a high percentage of muscle fibers have been affected. The nature of the pump produced with the new system is unbelievable. During a workout, you will actually be able to “feel” the muscles rise to their peak threshold as they finally plateau before “flat lining” when they start to come down. At this point they are simply no longer able to respond to further stimuli. This is an indicator of having achieved an ideal balance of volume and intensity by which you will unquestionably know that you have had enough.
The next day you can also look forward to a nice “semi pump”, which is a happy temporary side effect that occurs as a result of the post-traumatic swelling involved. As I recall incidentally, this too is a condition that Arthur Jones labeled as being complete hogwash; further testimony that many of his teachings were more theoretical than practical. I personally experience this semi pump for most muscle groups the following day after every workout. Conventional training usually fails to produce this effect, leaving a trainee feeling and as though they had left something out or as if they should have done something more.
I want to reiterate something that I touched on previously in regards to individual expectations with conventional training methods. It is not my intention to argue the fact that many bodybuilders been successful using these methods for decades and have yielded great results from them; as I mentioned in the forward, I believe that every system does have some value.
The point that I will argue however is that not all of those systems will yield the same results for everyone. While just about any system may work for some, hard gainers (who are in the majority) require more specialized methods.
For a long time I believed the logical nonsense according to some experts that because human beings are essentially the same physiologically, they will all therefore respond to identical stimuli accordingly. Essentially this is true, but at the same time there exists in nature fluctuations and normal variants; the key variants as they apply to growth processes being genetics and individual responsiveness to training. Rest and nutrition are controlled variants that are also factors in affecting growth.
The new system produces the most conducive “climate” possible for achieving muscle growth, but only if the trainee is willing to bring themselves under the discipline to endure its requirements. Only then will the trainee eventually acquire the kind of conditioning necessary to thrive with this rigorous training system.
Still, any system is only as effective as the one applying it. Those who lack the attributes necessary to push towards the levels of intensity necessary to respond to the new system are best advised to remain with a more comfortable style of training.
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