Adding a triceps ST hypertrophy protocol to your pressing regimen is not too much of a burden. Not too complex, not too draining. Ditto for pumping up your forearms. Attempting to combine FT and ST training for all major muscle groups is an altogether different ball game. Before you jump in head first, here is what you need to consider.
Slow Twitch Hypertrophy vs. Fast Twitch Hypertrophy
One of the flaws of the “everything works” and “change is good” bodybuilding mentality is a lack of traction. Say, you have built up your squats and quads with a classic FT protocol like 5×5. Lured by Prof. Selouyanov’s promise of adding 25% to your squat in six to eight weeks, you drop heavy squats and start burning your thighs out with light weights. Now even if you realize such gains, your hard-earned fast fibers will shrink. You have robbed Peter to pay Paul. And when you go back to heavy fives, you will repeat the process, only now it is Paul who will be robbed to pay Peter. So either keep training your slow fibers for the rest of your training life — or do not do it at all.
If you do decide to take on hypertrophy of both FT and ST — good luck! — you will need to train both fiber types concurrently, which is very demanding on your endocrine system, your time, and your programming skills. Or use block periodization that allows you to build one while maintaining the other and then reverse. Easier on the schedule and the glands; just as hard on the brain when it comes to planning.
Block Periodization for Slow Twitch Hypertrophy
Here is one template to consider. Alternate blocks of:
- FT hypertrophy and ST maintenance
- ST hypertrophy and FT maintenance
“Maintenance” means doing as little work as necessary not to go backward. Maintenance loads are individual, but 2-3 sets to failure once a week is a good starting point for your slow fibers. Based on Prof. Selouyanov’s research, even for maintenance ST fibers demand hard sets. Your fast fibers’ size, on the other hand, can be easily maintained without pushing to RM. Once a week remains the standard frequency; something along the lines of 2-3 easy sets of 5 with around 10RM should do the trick.
Start with four-week blocks. After several months, experiment with two-week blocks and see which option works better for you. I must stress that block periodization is an advanced planning tool. Do not use it until you are strong at least by gym standards: say multiple tactical pull-ups for a lady or half bodyweight strict one-arm military press for a gent. Otherwise, as I wrote before introducing another block periodization plan in Return of the Kettlebell, “burn before reading.”
Do neural training every week at low volume and varying intensity. If you need to peak your strength for an event, follow up several building blocks with a four-week peaking cycle in which you focus on heavy neural training while doing a minimal amount of maintenance work for both types of fibers.
Onto the weekly schedule. Train each muscle group two to three times a week. During the FT block there will be one heavy FT day and one light FT day plus a light ST session either on the same day as the light FT session or on a separate day.
Figure out the rest on your own. A tripwire: if you need any more information than that to plan out your FT+ST training, you should not be doing it.
Simpler Slow Twitch Hypertrophy
Although ongoing FT+ST hypertrophy training can and has been done, I am convinced that training the entire body in this manner it is too much commitment for everyone but professional bodybuilders. Most athletes should select one of the following simpler strategies:
- Only FT hypertrophy
- Only ST hypertrophy
- Only FT hypertrophy for some muscle groups and only ST hypertrophy for others
- Any of the above, plus both FT and ST hypertrophy for a select muscle group or two
When choosing between the FT and the ST, in one muscle group or in all of them, ask yourself the following questions:
“Psychologically, do I thrive on heavy fives or do I dig the ‘burn’?”
Some folks live for the heavy metal and an effort narrowly focused in time. When I suggested ST hypertrophy to Master SFG Brett Jones, he politely declined. As expected. Rob Lawrence once joked that when Brett and I had gotten together to train we did triples for “cardio.”
Others’ hearts do not flutter at the thought about barbells bending under many wheels; they prefer the slow torture of reps. If you choose the mode that does not suit your personality, the odds of you sticking to it for years and decades are slim.
“How important to me is endurance?”
If you can go either way, heavy or burn, and your sport demands endurance — any kind of endurance — make the ST choice. Remember, slow fibers come pre-equipped with mitochondria, which means you get both strength and conditioning.
“Do I have injuries preventing me from lifting heavy?”
If you do, ST training is the obvious choice. If your medical condition allows you to safely do a low volume of heavy lifts, by all means do them at least once a week for a few comfortable singles, doubles, triples. Otherwise, no matter how big your muscles get, your nervous system and connective tissues will not allow you to express their strength. ST hypertrophy plus ultra-low-volume, low-rep practice of the competitive lifts is a solid training strategy for an injured powerlifter or weightlifter.
If your doc does not allow heavy lifting at all, he might okay kettlebell swings plus ST goblet squats. Swings enable one to generate and withstand high forces even with a light weight. In the goblet squat, once you hit failure, descend rock bottom, wedge your elbows between your knees, and pry. Then park the bell and sit back on the deck. A powerful method for hard living types with high mileage.
Slow Twitch Hypertrophy in Summary
To summarize the slow fiber hypertrophy articles’ series, new Russian research presents fascinating training opportunities for a variety of athletes and non-athletes. It also adds even more choices to an already overwhelming menu the XXI century offers. Keeping it Simple & Sinister is always an option.