Tempo is Determined by Fiber Type

Q: "I just read your article Hypertrophy Training for the Ectomorph. Thanks for taking your time and putting your resources out to the public. I was just confused about overtraining. According to your article, I need to concentrate on ONE exercise per body part for that day in order to avoid overtraining. I'm an ectomorph as you can probably tell, and my routine is usually 4 exercises for a body part with 4 sets per exercise for a total of 16 sets. Basically I've been overtraining ever since I joined the gym about 2 years ago based on your article.

"It's true, my muscles haven't been growing the way I wanted them to and I'm quite frustrated with that. But could it be THAT simple? One exercise a body part, three times a week? I'm thinking that my muscles will never feel sore following your sample routine of 10-8-6-15. And I was told soreness equals muscle rupture hence, muscle growth."

Thank you,
Fernando P.

My Answer: Wow, this is funny, because in yesterday's blog entry, one reader said the 10-8-6-15 program was overtraining. And now you're saying it's undertraining, Fernando. This is how confused people get over exercise and diet. Know this: totalitarian states, amoral corporations and oppressive societies seek control through the ignorance of it's population.

Anyway, back to your workout advice: Soreness is not always an indicator of progress. You can still grow and not be sore at all. If you kept doing the bench press day in and day out, then you won't be sore any more. And yet you would still make progress in size and strength in the chest.

Soreness in weight training usually occurs when the stimulus is new: a new exercise, a new training technique, etc. You also get sore after a layoff and come back to weight training. So in this sense, soreness is something you want to seek every so often, because it means you're changing things up.

Now can you grow by switching from 16 sets to 4 sets per body part? Hell yeah you will! Your body will overcompensate in size due to the lowered volume. In essence you've taken advantage of the backcycling method outlined in my book.

Q: "For the 10-8-6-15 program, are you adding weight on each set? How many warm up sets do you start with?"

-Ellena G.

My Answer: Yes, you are adding weight on each set to hit the target rep for that set. A few sets of pushups, followed by a few sets of light pulldowns and few sets of bodyweight squats prior to the workout would be fine for a warm up. Warm ups should be light and get the blood flowing into your joints, but it should not exhaust you prior to actual workout.

Q: "Hi James! Hope you're fine. I have a question: I am about to start your 6 Factors of Hypertrophy program and was wondering if you had any tempo recommendations. I was thinking of lifting explosively on compound movements and more slowly to keep constant tension on the muscle during isolation exercises. What are your thoughts about it?"

Thanks a lot!

My Answer: Good to hear from you, Mathieu. With regards to tempo, in general you should lift explosively, but control the eccentric portion somewhat. It would not matter if it was a compound or isolation movement. What does make a difference is the muscle being worked. Some muscles are fast-twitch dominant and some are closer to slow-twitch. This fiber composition determines what tempo works best.

Muscles that are primarily fast-twitch (the brachialis, the triceps and the hamstrings) respond best to an explosive lift with a slow eccentric portion. Muscles that are predominantly slow-twitch (calves and the lateral deltoid) respond to quick tempos with little tension on either the positive or eccentric portion of the lift. All other muscle groups (chest, back, biceps, quadriceps) tend to have an equal amount of fast and slow-twitch muscle fiber. Hence these muscle groups respond to varying tempos.
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