Myo-reps in English
Welcome to my new blog. I thought I would start off with an article I wrote a while ago, first published at www.mountaindogdiet.com, the site of an awesome coach and my good friend John Meadows. For those of you who followed my previous blog at www.myrevolution.no/blade – I will do my best to update more often with some new insights or just plain craziness.
Myo-reps – a time-efficient method for maximum muscle growth
In 2006 I developed the first version of Myo-reps, and I later refined it to the current version in 2008. It has proven to one of the most effective tools I have ever used in both myself and my clients, and I will present the basics of it in this article. Myo-reps is, simplistically speaking, a rest-pause method, and the most famous permutation of it is DC/Doggcrapp training. Most of you probably know how to perform a rest-pause set, and I didn’t just reinvent the wheel here, I refined it building on research on hypertrophy in recent years.
First of all I must give credit where credit is due, to Mathias Wernbom, who presented the most comprehensive meta-review to date on strength and hypertrophy training in 2007 (1), and has been deep into the field of occlusion training the last few years. Matt has provided vast amounts of data to me, hooking both himself and subjects from various populations – a lot of them elite athletes (Toppidrettssenteret, Olympiatoppen) – to EMG machines and sticking huge biopsy needles into muscles (if you ever had a biopsy performed you will know how excruciatingly painful that experience is). Do a search on Wernbom at PubMed and you will see a list of published papers by him. I’m fortunate enough to have access to some unpublished research as well, obviously.
Much credit also goes to Dan Moore (originator of the Max Stimulation method), a brilliant man having what must be a photographic recall of various studies and their results.
And last, but not least, all of my clients over the years who have provided me with valuable feedback and allowed me to fine-tune and evolve Myo-reps principles and templates.
Let’s first look at the primary identified mechanisms of hypertrophy:
A great summary of the above principles can be found in Keith Baar’s meta-review (3).
Two things to note here: 1. Kaatsu (blood flow occlusion by pressure cuffs) increases the EMG signal, and hence fiber recruitment earlier. 2. After the first set and a short rest period, you achieve higher fiber recruitment earlier in the subsequent set. This forms the basis for Myo-reps. (illustration from (4)).
The Myo-reps set from start to finish
Simplistically speaking we basically need to lift a sufficiently heavy load, for a sufficient number of sets and reps, sufficiently often to build muscle at the optimal rate. There are many ways of achieving this, and Myo-reps is simply a very time-efficient and productive tool to have in your repertoire. Don’t get married to one rep range or one method of training if you want maximum results, a planned and strategic variation with both heavy and lighter loads, high and low volume, high and low frequency is needed if you want to maximize results, but that is an extensive topic to cover and I will save it for later articles.
Let’s see how you perform a Myo-rep set from beginning to end. I recommend 2-3 warm-up sets of progressively increasing loads of 8-12 reps prior to the work set both to increase neural drive, to provide additional volume and to let you determine your daily strength level and hence, work set load.
Let’s illustrate the difference between a “traditional” 3 sets of 10 vs. a Myo-rep set, the asterisk ‘*’ denoting “effective” reps:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8* 9* 10*
1-2min of rest
1 2 3 4 5 6 7* 8* 9* (a typical drop off in reps if using a 10RM load)
1-2min of rest
1 2 3 4 5 6 7* 8* 9*
So you did 28 total reps in about 6 minutes, where 9 reps were “effective” reps (at sufficiently high fiber recruitment).
Now a Myo-rep set:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8* 9* 10* – 15sec rest – 1* 2* 3* – 15sec rest – 1* 2* 3* – 15sec rest – 1* 2* 3* – 15sec rest – 1* 2* 3* – 15sec rest – 1* 2* 3*
Here you did 25 total reps in about 2 minutes, where 18 reps were “effective”. The premise here is to *manage* fatigue to get in more work in less time, and you have to balance the reps and rest periods in the Myo-rep set appropriately.
Auto-regulating your way to better results
There are two ways of managing volume here.
First, you can prescribe a total number of reps for an exercise, and I would recommend that you get at least 10 reps after the activation set. An example would be (the ‘+’ denotes 10-20sec of reracking the weight and resting): 12 +3+3+2+2 (or 12 +10). Lighter weights generally need more volume, so: 20 +5+5+5+5+5 (or 20 +25) which would also be a productive Myo-rep set. You generally just keep doing mini-sets of 2-5 reps until you hit the prescribed total rep count.
The second way, and my favorite, is auto-regulation where you use a set of “rules” to let the total volume (number of reps) take care of itself based on how you feel that day – your individual recovery level. You will also see this prescription in most of my programs where I implement Myo-reps. Example protocols:
The first part (e.g. 9-12) denotes reps in the activation set, the number after the + is how many reps you will do in the Myo-reps mini-series. So 9-12 +3x will play out like this:
200lbs x 10 +3+3+3+3+2 – you weren’t able to do the third rep of the last set so you stop there
Here’s how auto-regulation works:
Let’s say you had a good night’s sleep, ate well, had a day off from work, and generally feel great and well recovered. The 9-12 +3x protocol would most likely turn out like this:
200lbs x 12 +3+3+3+3+3+3+3+2
Now, let’s say you had a couple of drinks too many at your brother’s bachelor party last night, your girlfriend broke up with you because you fondled the stripper, the neighbour’s cat kept you awake, and you’ve been dieting for 3 months. The same protocol would most likely deteriorate to this:
200lbs x 8 +3+2
Doing less work when your recovery and adaptive reserves are compromised makes logical and practical sense, and you will most likely come back stronger the next time (provided you stay sober, stop dieting, kiss and make up with your girlfriend – or the stripper if she was really hot) vs. struggling to do the same amount of work you had planned to, or even more by adding sets and dropsets to punish yourself for being such a failure as a human being. Stimulate, don’t annihilate.
You will also note that various muscle groups and exercises have different recovery rates and volume tolerances, so if you consistently get something like 8 +3+2 I recommend the following adjustments:
If your recovery rate and volume tolerance is exceptional and you seem to be able to just keep going forever with +3x, you would obviously use the opposite strategy to compensate (4x, shorter rest, work closer to failure).
Note that you can also do more reps in the Myo-rep series by doing short ROM partial reps.
I won’t go much into detail on exercise selection and template structure, there are many ways of programming your training strategy and I would rather save that for a later article. I will just briefly mention that I usually do at least 2 exercises for major muscle groups, and more if it is a priority muscle group (or another Myo-rep set of the same exercise). Dumbbell presses are less suitable for Myo-reps, as it requires a lot of energy to get them into position and stabilize them. Having only a few seconds of rest makes you run out of breath before you get the load to do sufficient work on the muscles. I’m also careful with Myo-reps on squats, deadlifts, and even bent rows as the accumulating fatigue, in the lower back in particular, may compromise technique and increase injury potential.
As you can see, a Myo-rep set takes advantage of the primary mechanisms of muscle growth – mechanical load, increasing fiber recruitment and maintaining it at a high level to get more “effective” reps, increasing the muscle sensitivity to the growth stimulus via metabolic stress, modulated by the volume effect (total sets and reps) and doing more work in less time.
With Myo-reps you can get in and out of the gym in 30 minutes if you are short on time, you can provide a different stimulus to a muscle group from the “traditional” way of structuring sets and reps, and it can even serve as a deload following a high-volume phase. Myo-reps is a great tool to have in your toolbox in the quest for a massive and strong physique, feel free to play around with it and let me know if you have any questions or comments. Hate mail due to severe soreness is also more than welcome…
Borge A. Fagerli