Okay, you are probably mumbling to yourself right now… “What the heck are high threshold motor units?” Well, they are your best friend if you’re looking to build muscle, strength and power fast. Your muscle fibers work together in groups or units to perform movements. Like an Army platoon, these groups of muscle fibers band together in tight formations to perform their duties. High threshold motor units (HTMU’s) are the strongest groups of muscle fibers in your body. They lie around waiting to be used for only the most difficult of muscular tasks.
But here’s the problem… Many weightlifters and muscle building enthusiasts don’t engage these motor units properly, if at all. They go to the gym or workout at home, rarely pushing themselves to the level of intensity needed to recruit these high threshold muscle fibers. Or, if they do engage them, they do so in a haphazard way without the consistency or planning needed to build real strength and size.
Remember this…consistency and planning. In order for muscles to grow, they must be repeatedly challenged by the same training stimulus for a specific period of time until an adaptation has been made. Consistency and following a long term plan for your training is the key… Not jumping around from workout routine to workout routine like most people do. So, make the training regimen I describe below part of your annual plan.
How to blast your HTMU’s to increase your strength and size in the shortest time possible: Lift for several weeks with maximum weights for all your multi-joint exercises like the barbell squat, deadlift, barbell bench press, barbell shoulder press, lat pulldown, bent-over barbell rows, etc. The best schedule for this training is working out Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. Be sure not to workout more than two days in a row. For this kind of training it’s best to do an upper body/lower body split.
If you split upper and lower body, try an AM/PM split on the SAME DAY. For example, on Monday morning you could do a 30 minute upper body routine. Then in the late afternoon or early evening, do your lower body exercises. If you can’t fit that split into your schedule, then just do 3 intense sessions a week, alternating upper and lower body sessions. Be sure to alternate between doing two upper body sessions (and 1 lower body) one week, and the following week, doing two lower body sessions and one upper body. This will ensure you’re hitting upper and lower body equally over each two week period. You can also do the above upper body, lower body split workouts on Monday (upper body), Tuesday (lower body), Wednesday (rest), Thursday (upper body) and Friday (lower body).
Loads, Sets, Reps and Rest Periods… Start with 80% of your one-rep maximum in week 1, then use 85% of your one-rep maximum in week 2 and finally in week 3, use 90% (or more) of your one-rep max. Do 4-5 sets of each lift, resting 3 minutes between sets. For this kind of training you need full rest between sets. With regard to repetitions, you should be doing approximately 8-10 reps for 80% of your 1 Rep Max; 5-7 reps for 85% of your 1 Rep Max; and 3-5 reps with 90%+ of your 1 Rep Max.
Each week, you will be engaging more of your high threshold motor units as the weight increases and your body responds by recruiting more fibers and thickening existing ones to handle the loads. In less than a week, you will notice a definite increase in strength. For example, by your third workout (on Friday), the weight used on Monday should “feel” lighter than when you lifted it on Monday.
This is the adaptive response of your body becoming more efficient at lifting a specific weight for a specific exercise. Over the coming weeks, you’ll see strength increases again and your muscle mass will increase as well due to your increases in strength. Keep in mind that gains in muscle mass lag behind strength gains. So once you’ve increased strength it will take a little time for muscle mass to develop.
After this 3 week cycle, do the whole thing over again — except this time, use dumbbells for all your lifts except the squat. This will really challenge your high threshold fibers because they will be forced to stabilize the heavy weights more than you do when using a barbell. Don’t be surprised if you make some personal bests in your big lifts like the squat and bench press. Of course this strategy assumes you’re eating right and getting an appropriate amount of rest and sleep. If not, your hard work will be in vane and you won’t gain anything except muscle soreness and a lot of disappointment.
The Benefits of Activating Your High Threshold Motor Units… Scientific research and lifters who perform this type of training have proven that you can increase your strength in a matter of days, and your mass in Weeks… not months! And with strength increases come increases in muscle fiber thickness and the number of muscle fibers, both of which make you bigger and stronger.
Strength and size are closely associated with one another, although the relationship is not 1 to 1 (meaning that for some strength increases, you will not have a corresponding size increase). These gains can only occur if you engage your HTMU’s in a methodical and consistent way. Don’t do this type of training without a good plan or you could end up doing more harm then good. After 6 weeks of this type of training, you can take some time off, 5-7 days, to let your body fully recover and grow, grow, grow!