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Benefits of high reps
Do high reps build muscle mass?
Lately we have noticed "anti-pump" articles popping up on the various bodybuilding blogs. These articles talk about the question of whether or not a "pump" is necessary to achieve muscle growth.
The pump is simply a transitory increase in circulation brought about be intense, high repetition exercise. This circulation is necessary in order to assist in dissipating waste products that accumulate during the performance of the exercise. Since circulation cannot flow well through a muscle when it is under tension, when the tension is released at the end of the set blood comes rushing in just as if you opened up the floodgates on a dam.
But can this produce growth? To suggest that it can't, would be to suggest that the pump does nothing to increase the size or quantity of any of the structures present in the muscle that can contribute to muscle growth. The anti-pump authors that state that the pump is not necessary for growth and, in fact, should be avoided like the plague, base their statements on the presumption that it is myofibril damage and resulting protein synthesis that is THE factor behind muscle growth. They are only partially right. There are other factors that are VERY significant in the achievement of muscular growth. The pump deals with one of these factors.
Performance of higher repetition (30+) sets causes mitochondrial failure to occur Lactic acid accumulates and eventually inhibits the muscle fibers' contraction ability. The set must then be terminated for metabolic reasons. The fact that the set does not end because of myofibril or structural failure leads the anti-pump advocates to say that no growth is stimulated. However, more demand is placed on the muscle for the formation of additional mitochondria and capillaries within the muscle cells (so that if this type of exercise happens again, the muscle will be better prepared to deal with it in terms of energy production and lactic acid elimination). Guess what? Mitochondria and capillaries are not "massless" structures. They do take up space. They do have size. They DO contribute, therefore, to the size of each individual muscle cell. How much size can the addition of more capillaries and mitochondria give you? Probably as much as 10%. Not too shabby. Most definitely too significant to ignore. But it definitely IS ignored all too often.
Including high repetitions in your training offers more benefits than simply the growth afforded by the increase in mitochondria number and capillary density. The increase in blood supply that accrues from a more dense capillary network assists in recovery between sets as well as between training sessions. It also promotes faster healing from injuries that may crop up from time to time.
So when should you perform high repetition sets in your training? Well, you can either perform them following the completion of all your heavier sets, or you can perform them between heavier sets. There is a difference in the muscle fiber types used during sets of vastly different loads and repetitions schemes as well as in the pathways of muscular energetics employed during sets of vastly different rep ranges. These differences are the reason you can finish a set of 60 reps to failure and immediately pick up a heavy weight and be able to power out a heavy set of five reps. In the end, the articles that state that the pump is not essential for muscle growth are correct. You can obtain a substantial amount of growth without performing high repetition training. In fact, the inclusion of heavy, low repetition training is an absolute must in any effective muscle building training program. If you want to achieve your full growth potential, however, and attain the size that the low rep training methods alone cannot give you, then training for the pump is an absolute must and should be included in your routines.
We can only hope that the authors of the "anti-pump" articles will choose to dig deeper into the true science of the human body. The body and its systems are more complex then many would like us to believe.
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