By Nick Nilsson
Author of Mad Scientist Muscle
100 rep training is pretty simple: 1 set of a hundred reps.
You do just one set of one exercise per bodypart and do a total-body workout each time you train. Very simple but VERY challenging.
So what could possibly be useful about 100 rep sets for building muscle?
Isn't the resistance you'd have to use in order to get 100 reps in a set be way too light for building muscle?
And the answer to that is ABSOLUTELY. The main purpose of this training is not to build muscle directly (though it does have some potential to build your slow-twitch, Type 1 endurance-oriented fibers). The purpose of 100 rep training is to improve what I call "microcirculation" in your muscles.
In your circulatory system, you have blood vessels…arteries to carry blood to the tissues of the body and veins to bring it back to the heart. Where the real action happens is in the capillaries…the tiny blood vessels that are so small only one red blood cell can fit through at a time. THAT is where oxygen and nutrients get delivered to the muscle cells and THAT is absolutely critical for building muscle.
So think of microcirculation as those little blood vessels where food and oxygen feed your muscles.
Now think about this…the more of those little blood vessels your muscles have to feed them, the easier it will be for those muscles to GROW.
Think of the muscles that you have a hard time building…do you find it hard to get a "pump" in those muscles? THAT is poor microcirculation at work.
So the idea with 100 rep training is to increase capillary density and basically improve the food and oxygen supply to your muscles, setting the stage for better muscle growth when you go back to heavy training.
And as sore as you get from 100 rep training, that soreness isn't going to directly result in a lot of muscle growth….we're just improving the plumbing, which will in turn help you supply your growing muscles with more nutrients to build with.
It does this by literally FORCING blood cells through the cracks, meaning you're going to force so much blood into the target muscles for such a long period that the traffic jam of blood cells will cause the body to CREATE new capillaries in order to deal with the overflow.
Think of yourself in a traffic jam on the road and think of how cool it would be just go off the road and drive through that field beside the road. THAT is what your body is doing…creating a new road where there was no road before, which helps deliver more food and oxygen to the muscles (and remove waste more efficiently, too).
And the bottom line is, it WORKS.
How To Do 100 Rep Training:
This is where the rubber meets the road. 100 rep training is just what I said…one set of a hundred reps done straight through. Sounds simple but there are a few technical details I want to give you to help make it workable.
I recommend doing this training as a total body workout each time. Each workout will take about 45 to 60 minutes to get through. Take 90 seconds rest between each set/exercise. You can take a bit more time when using bigger exercises that generate more lactic acid (like leg press, for instance).
Train every other day with this style of training (you can add in an extra rest day if you need it) - it will result in a LOT of soreness the first few times you do it. When I used this program, I trained through the soreness - I find that actually helps decrease it. As long as soreness doesn't compromise training form, you'll be fine to train while sore.
Here are the exercises I used and the order I used them in. I've found certain exercises are better to use with this style of training than others, but feel free to experiment to find what works best for you.
You'll notice that these are more "bodybuilding" type exercises than "functional" type exercises. With this type of training, we want to just focus on cranking the reps out, not on having to balance and constantly adjust so it's actually BETTER to use more traditional movements…that's why I've listed leg press instead of squats here (more on that later, though - I've got a variation for you with squats that works GREAT).
(on a side note, I haven't done regular floor crunches in literally YEARS - I usually do low reps and added resistance…this was a BIG change of pace)
So to repeat…just do ONE set of each exercise and take 90 seconds rest (a minute and a half) between exercises. This will give you enough time to get to the next exercise and get it set up.
The first time you do 100 rep sets, you will basically have NO idea what weight to use. Start lighter than you think you'll need to (trust me). After you do your first set, you'll have a better idea of what it's all about.
I HIGHLY recommend keeping a log of your sets and weights so you know how to adjust for the next workout. I'll give you examples of how I adjust things and how to know when to increase or decrease the weight you're using.
100 Rep Seated Cable Rows
In my first workout the first set I did was with 80 lbs. I managed to get a full 100 reps all the way through with no stopping. So in the next workout, I increased the weight to 90 lbs. I got 100 reps again in the next workout so I increased the weight again (to 100 lbs).
In THAT workout, I was able to get only to 70 reps before lactic acid got me and I had to take a brief rest. What that happens, set the handle down, shake out your arms for a few seconds then immediately grab the handle again and keep going (maybe 3 to 5 seconds rest). You might get another 10 reps before you have to set the handle down again and give the lactic acid a chance to clear.
Repeat this pattern until you get the full 100 reps, even if you're only getting a few reps at a time towards the end. The key is to just give the lactic acid a chance to clear a little then go right back at it.
This gets you past what I call "chemical failure" and allows you to really push the muscles harder. It keeps the blood in the muscles and really builds that microcirculation without letting lactic acid totally limit you.
And yes, before you ask, this style of training IS good for fat loss. The lactic acid you get from this style of training boosts GH release and can be used very effectively for fat loss.
But here's the only problem…it also results in a LOT of muscle damage (especially the first few times you use it). If you're on a low-calorie diet, your body doesn't have ample nutrients and energy to recover from it so it can longer to recuperate from.
The other issue is that when you're on a diet, your glycogen levels (and potentially water levels) are lower. This means you may not get the same volume of blood pushing through your muscles to help build that microcirculation.
100 Rep Leg Press
In this exercise, you actually have a moment at the top of the movement where you can lock out the knees and release the tension in the muscles, which allows for some clearance of lactic acid. Take this into account when doing the exercise. The first set I did of this, when I hit 80 reps, I felt like I need a break but instead of setting the weight down, I locked out my knees and shook my quads out a bit and kept going.
Dumbbell bench press - now we get into how to know when to adjust the weight you're using. On the first set of this, I got 50 reps. Then I used the short-rest technique to continue the set all the way to 100 reps. If I would have gotten UNDER 50 reps, I would have kept going but decreased the weight in the next workout in order to go straight through as much as possible.
As it was, because I hit the 50, I decided to remain at the same weight for the next workout and see how I improved. In the next workout, I hit 70 reps with the same weight and 80 reps the following the workout, before having to take brief rests. When I would have hit 100 reps straight through THEN I would have increased the weight and taken it from there.
*** So the rule of thumb is, if you get less than 50 reps on the first attempt, reduce the weight next time. If you get more than 50 reps, stick with the same weight next time. If you get 100 reps, increase the weight by the smallest increment possible next time.***
On exercises like leg press and preacher curls, you'll find there are points in the exercise where you can release the tension in the muscles and rely on skeletal support for a moment. This is a good way to keep the exercise going and keep the reps going straight through.
That's 100 rep training!
It's not too complex but these tips should help you make it work in your training. If you've hit a plateau in your muscle building, this could be just what the doctor ordered to get yourself back on track.
This type of training should be done for at least 2 weeks (or 6 to 8 workouts) but not any more than that, if you're looking to build muscle. It'll help build microcirculation but because the weights are so light, you don't want to use it for too long. It'll take you probably at least a week to get past the soreness…once you do, then you'll really be able to see what your body is capable of for endurance.
SQUAT TECHNIQUE - Delaying Fatigue
I mentioned that technique for doing squats with this 100 rep technique. Here's what I did…
20 sets of 5 reps with 5 seconds rest between sets, using 135 lbs on the bar.
I took a weight I could get probably 30 to 40 reps straight through and did 5 reps with it. Then re-racked the weight and took a few seconds then got back under and did 5 more reps with it. Naturally, the first 50 or so reps with this technique were fairly easy. The brief rests with an easy weight allowed me to keep going strong for a lot longer than if I tried to go straight through.
With an exercise like the squat, which is so demanding on the whole body and which requires good form and balance, this meant I could KEEP that good form and balance for longer than if I tried to go straight through.
Then the NEXT 50 reps is where it got harder…and those last 20 reps were BRUTAL. This brief rest allows you to delay fatigue and keep going.
You can use this style of training on other exercises, too, especially ones that are more demanding, like deadlifts, etc.
I can promise with this technique you'll either love it or hate it (or love it THEN hate it).
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