High Rep Ranges for Optimal Growth
The world’s strongest bodybuilder uses higher rep ranges to enhance hormone release, muscular shape and detail.
By Johnnie Jackson, IFBB Pro, Photography by Michael Butler; Model: IFBB Pro Johnnie Jackson
[Q] Johnnie, my joints are taking a beating from heavy lifting. Can I just train to failure in higher rep ranges to get stronger?
[A] Training with heavy weights for strength is good, but you can and should train to failure in higher rep ranges as well. Not every muscle fiber responds to low-rep, heavy weight training. Flooding a muscle with growth-building hormones is all about a muscle pump (typically achieved with high-rep training), so that needs to be a part of your bodybuilding, too. Basically, your training approach is ultimately determined by what helps you build muscle, appear tighter and more separated, hold less fat and water, etc. Training with higher reps, in the 12–20-rep range, allows you to do high-volume workouts and can also enhance your muscular endurance. For example, Branch Warren and I will lift 250-pound dumbbells for 15–20 reps per set, but it takes time to build up to that level of endurance, just like it takes time to build up to a certain level of strength.
[Q] Johnnie, what effect does high-rep training have on your physique?
[A] It conditions you by quickly tapping out your glycogen stores, which is what you want to do. Afterward, you can have an anabolic creatine cocktail (I use HALO or Cell-Tech products by MuscleTech) to replenish what you’ve just used for instant muscle growth and recovery. Because of this training method, I’m the strongest I’ve ever been, although it could be the result of muscle maturity.
[Q] How do you use high-rep days in your training?
[A] Well, it’s more than just a “high-rep” day. It’s more of a strength-endurance hybrid routine because we go as heavy as possible to near failure with every set, while we pyramid up in weight (on most exercises). Very rarely will we use the same weight for three straight sets. But we’re sensible about where we start. At the end of each exercise, I’m totally exhausted to the point where I wish we were done. The other day, for example, we did four sets of 20 on the lat pulldown. First, we did two sets at about 200 pounds for 20, then 235 for 20 and then the entire stack at about 320 for two more sets of 20. Then we did drop sets down the stack, doing 10 reps at each weight. Finally, we headed for the T-bar row. Using this kind of training, you’ll improve in looks and in strength. The bottom line: You’re gonna grow and get stronger or you’re gonna quit.
[Q] Johnnie, I thought you were all about big weight all the time?
[A] Well, as I said, I am stronger now than ever before. Branch and I have been back training together for a few months now. We used to train with higher reps when getting ready for a competition, but then I stopped that because I started doing powerlifting contests on the side. Then when I left powerlifting, I hovered around that kind of heavy training and it didn’t really do what it was supposed to do for my physique. The size and density I had previously built up from high-rep training, I began to lose because I was only worried about strength, 1RMs etc. Now in getting back to it, my body is responding, “Now you’ve got it.” I’m shocking my muscles and they’ve grown tremendously. The one thing I learned is that I can’t chase two rabbits at once. You have to be a bodybuilder or a powerlifter, not both. If you want to grow bodyparts for bodybuilding, this is the way you need to train. You can still mix it up every once in a while and go super heavy, but this is the way you should train most of the time.
JJ’s HIGH-REP APPROACH FOR DELTS
Seated Military Press 3 Sets x 15 Reps, Weight: 225, 315, 405 lbs
Dumbbell Lateral Raise 3 Sets x 15-20 Reps, Weight: 60, 70, 80 lbs
Upright Row 3 Sets x 20 Reps, Weight: 225, 225, 225 lbs
Dumbbell Front Raise 3 Sets x 15 Reps, Weight: 60, 70, 80 lbs
Reverse Pec-Deck Flye 4 Sets x 20 Reps, Weight: 350, 350, 350, 350 lbs