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When we are training in order to build as much lean body mass as we can in our workouts then the objective is to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible in order to develop the whole muscle. The problem is that most movements that we do will not recruit all the muscle fibers.
Some muscle fibers differ in the way they are recruited and also the fatigability or how quickly the muscle gets fatigued will change from muscle to muscle. Before we go into detail about holistic training we should cover a few basics about muscle fibers.
Most weight trainers will know that we have got fast-twitch muscle fibers and slow-twitch muscle fibers. But it gets more complicated as there are seven different classifications of muscle fibers ranging from the slow fibers called type I or Ia and then the more oxidative fiber category called type IIa.
This leads to the other muscle fiber definitions and the faster more glycolytic type of fiber called type IIb and type Ic all acting together as a continuum where other fibers are defined as being type IIab, type IIac and IIc. The slower muscle fibers will all have a lower threshold when recruited which means they will be activated a lot easier.
As the muscle fiber gets faster it also reducers its ability to resist fatigue which means the faster a muscle fiber the quicker it will reach the point of total fatigue. However the ability to recruit the fibers is increased proportionately which means the faster the muscle the slower it can be recruited.
The fiber recruitment that is done when a weight is lifted is all done in a very specific and orderly manner. The first fibers to be recruited when a weight is lifted will be the slow fibers, which have a low recruitment threshold. As the force that is required to lift a weight increases the larger and faster muscle fibers with a higher recruitment threshold are then recruited and they are called the fast-twitch muscle fibers.
With all the slow muscle fibers are recruited first we will only get the fast muscle fibers recruited when we lift a heavy weight resulting in a shorter time to reach fatigue. This will result in less time spent lifting the weight and therefore the slow, fatigue resistant muscle fibers will not be activated.
The scientists that study this tell us that if a muscle fiber has not been exhausted then it will not be activated and not be trained. The result is that when doing higher reps the fast-twitch muscle fibers will not be activated because of the high threshold.
Conversely when we train with a heavy weight with low reps we are also missing out on activating the slow-twitch muscle fibers with a low threshold. Training like this will miss out on the potential hypertrophy that is missed by not training specifically to recruit either the slow or the fast twitch muscle fibers.
Usually this type of problem is solved by cycling workouts so that for a few weeks high reps with a low weight is done followed by low reps with a large weight is trained in order to cover all the muscle fibers in a given body-part. This is called periodization training and has been done for years by bodybuilders.
The problem is that when the two or four weeks are trained for strength with a large weight and low reps the muscle fibers for endurance which are the slow-twitch muscle fibers are resting and losing size without being trained. Some bodybuilders try to avoid this by shortening the periodization times.
Holistic training is designed to solve this problem by attacking the fast as well as the slow twitch muscle fibers in the same workout. The idea is to combine both the heavy weight with low reps to cover the fast-twitch muscle fibers and then go to the high reps with a light weight to recruit the slow-twitch muscle fibers.
Please not that in the holistic program listed below there is the change of tempo which is an important consideration when activating specific muscle fibers. The movement needs to be done slowly with deliberate action and an isometric pause at the top when recruiting fast-twitch muscle fibers.
A warm-up is vitally important to avoid injury so you should first warm-up with 50% of your 1RM and squeeze out about 12 or 20 reps with good form and a deliberate slow continuous tension. The first set as seen below will aim to recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers using 95% of your 3RM which is 95% of the maximum weight you can lift for 3 reps.
When targeting fast-twitch the weight can be moved quickly with one second on the explosive concentric movement and a deliberate isometric pause at the top when locked out followed by the eccentric movement of also only one second as the weight comes back to the starting position.
After a two minute rest you then start the second set which is a training that we are all familiar with and that is doing 8 reps with 3 seconds on the eccentric down movement with a one second pause followed by the concentric contraction for 2 seconds with the total amount of time under tension (TUT) around 50 seconds for the set.
The last set will be to activate slow-twitch muscle fibers and will be a slow and deliberate movement of 4 seconds on the concentric, 4 seconds holding the isometric contraction as well as 4 seconds the eccentric contraction. The reps should be done without locking out so that continuous tension is always maintained when doing the last set of the holistic program.
Sets Reps Rep cadence/tempo* Rest
1 3 @ 95% 3RM 1,0,X 120 seconds
2 8 @ 90% 8RM 3,2,1 60 seconds
3 20 @ 85% 20RM 4,4,4 90 seconds
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