“Fail” of the Cen­tury

Can you sur­vive a gru­el­ing 100-rep set? Push your mus­cles to the cen­tury mark with this ad­vanced train­ing tech­nique.

Muscle & Performance - - Contents - By Michael Berg, NSCA-CPT

First things first — the idea of do­ing a 100-rep set is com­pletely ar­bi­trary. There is no sci­en­tific re­search re­veal­ing 100 to be some sort of magic num­ber for mus­cle growth. So why would we even rec­om­mend stretch­ing a set to 10 times its typ­i­cal limit? What’s the point? Be­cause at­tempt­ing to rep through an ar­du­ously long set will pretty much guar­an­tee you won’t stop short — that “ar­bi­trary” num­ber is so in­flated, it be­comes a men­tal game and you can’t help but press past your strength and en­durance lim­its.

Grind­ing Out Growth

Though 100-rep sets are an ex­treme mile­stone, they ac­tu­ally do in­cite adap­ta­tion. “They can ab­so­lutely ben­e­fit mus­cle growth, which comes with ex­cess stim­u­la­tion to any given mus­cle,” says An­gelo Grin­ceri, health coach, move­ment prac­ti­tioner, New York City-based trainer and au­thor of In­trin­sic Strength Train­ing( in­trin­sic strength train ing.com). “Most 100-rep sets will cause you to train to ab­so­lute fail­ure, and if you’re used to only do­ing sets of eight to 15 reps, you’re in for a real treat.”

There are two ways to ex­e­cute these “cen­tury” sets: Do­ing all 100 reps with the same weight, then paus­ing for five to 10 sec­onds as needed mid-set as you reach fail­ure to al­low for the slight mus­cle re­cov­ery needed to con­tinue; or per­form­ing them as a long dropset, low­er­ing the weight by 10 to 20 per­cent each time you hit mo­men­tary fail­ure, which al­lows you to in­crease in­ten­sity by han­dling heav­ier loads on the front end (i.e., in­stead of be­ing lim­ited to a weight you can do for 100 reps, you start with a weight you can only lift for 10 to 20 reps). The style you use de­pends on your pref­er­ence, and both are ef­fec­tive ways to chal­lenge your­self men­tally and phys­i­cally.

Com­pound Your Re­sults

Although a 100-rep set can be done with any ex­er­cise, Grin­ceri prefers moves that call on mul­ti­ple mus­cle groups at once. “These long sets are best used for com­pound ex­er­cises — squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups — be­cause they tax your abil­ity to push through a long pe­riod of work,” he ex­plains. How­ever, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the tech­nique for iso­la­tion ex­er­cises such as bi­ceps curls and leg ex­ten­sions, and Grin­ceri ad­vo­cates the tech­nique for burn­ing out a spe­cific mus­cle group. (See the “100-Rep Shoul­der Burner” box for an ex­am­ple.) “Al­ways in­clude one or two warm-up sets of 15 to 20 reps, es­pe­cially if it’s an iso­la­tion ex­er­cise, then fo­cus on crush­ing that 100 reps to reach ab­so­lute fail­ure,” he says.

The 100-rep tech­nique can be an in­ef­fi­cient way to train be­cause it nat­u­rally lim­its the amount of weight you can lift and the va­ri­ety of move­ments you can han­dle in one work­out, so don’t use it ex­ces­sively — ev­ery fourth or fifth work­out for a body­part at most. There is one ex­cep­tion: “If you’re train­ing for an event that re­quires mus­cu­lar en­durance, such as a marathon or Ironman com­pe­ti­tion, con­sider do­ing a four- to eight-week bout of 100-rep train­ing ear­lier on in a train­ing cy­cle,” Grin­ceri sug­gests. “If the fo­cus of the pro­gram is body com­po­si­tion, use this rep scheme ev­ery four to six weeks to shock the mus­cles.” 

Train­ing to fail­ure will in­cite adap­ta­tion and elicit ma­jor growth.

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