The Fatigue/tension Threshold

Even when you figure in the .

Now, previously, we said a muscle's Fatigue/Tension level must surpass a particular threshold for muscle growth to occur. The graph below illustrates why long rests impair progress. Simply-you never cross the threshold.

Fatigue Tension Threshold
TIME
Fig. 3-3 The Fatigue/tension Threshold

As you shorten the rest time between sets, though, the muscle's fatigue level doesn't have time to drop as far, and you get a stair step Fatigue/Tension curve that looks like this:

Fatigue/Tension during 3 sets; Short rests
TIME

S = Set
R = Rest

Fig.3-4 Fatigue/Tension during 3 sets; Short rests

Now the muscle does get more tired during the second set than during the first. And during the third set you finally surpass the Fatigue/Tension Threshold. Presto!growth. This is why shorter rests between sets facilitate increases in size and strength.

The same principle applies to rests between exercises for the same body part. After doing three or four sets of an exercise, the muscle(s) affected will show some cumulative fatigue level, assuming you are working fast and hard enough. If you rest too long before beginning the next exercise for that same muscle group, the group's fatigue level will drop enough to prevent a cumulative fatigue effect across the different exercises:

Fig_3-5.gif - 13067 Bytes
TIME

S = Set
R = Rest

Fig. 3-5 Fatigue/tension level during 3 exercises; Short rest between sets; Long rest between exercises.

"So what?" you may say. "If I've crossed the F/T Threshold during the first exercise for a muscle group, does it really matter that my fatigue level drops before the next?"

Yes! Crossing the F/T Threshold is just the beginning of the growth process. Crossing the Threshold, and staying above it, is what promotes greater development in less time.

And that's why overall workout speed is important, not just the length of rests between sets or the rep rate. (Also, it's possible you may not cross the F /T Threshold until the second or third exercise for a body part, and may do so then only if you are working fast enough.)

Fatigue/tension level during 3 exercises; Short rests between sets; short rests between exercises.
TIME

S = Set
R = Rest

Fig. 3-6 Fatigue/tension level during 3 exercises;
Short rests between sets;
short rests between exercises.


Tension

Now let's turn to the question of tension within the Fatigue/Tension concept.

The tension generated within a muscle during exercise depends on four things:

  • exercise form,
  • the load (amount of weight) you are lifting,
  • the leverage associated with the exercise movement,
  • and the mental focus-the oomph!you put into your effort.

We covered form in the previous section. For simplicity's sake, let's assume you are going to put an all-out effort into every rep you do; this will keep mental focus constant. So let's take a look at load and leverage.

Load

The relationship here is simple: greater load (more weight), more tension ... up to a point. As the weight approaches the maximum you can lift, tension within the muscle levels off:

Peak tension VS load
LOAD (Weight you are attempting to lift)

Fig. 3-7 Peak tension VS load





Now, experience suggests heavy weights are required for building strength and bulk. But as we've mentioned, weight isn't the only factor involved.

Studies have been done in which a group of athletes/bodybuilders did 3 to 5 sets of various exercises with about 80% of the maximum weight they could lift. Each set consisted of one all-out rep followed by five minutes of rest, then another rep and another rest, and so on until each test subject had performed ten reps total. The athletes followed the regime three times per week for several months. Then everyone was tested for changes in strength and bulk. The results? Practically no gains! Only a small percentage showed any signs of improvement.

The reason this approach failed is clear in light of the Fatigue/Tension Principle: even with high tension, low fatigue from long rests held the combined Fatigue/Tension level below the Threshold. **

** It is possible to generate a tension level sufficient to compensate for the low fatigue from long rests. This requires using 95% to 100% of the maximum weight you can lift. Power lifters use this sort of workout. It is not recommend, for two reasons: (1) it puts potentially injurious stress on joints and ligaments; (2) it is not the most effective training program for the combined goals of strength, bulk. and definition.

THE SET, EXERCISE, AND BODY PART ROUTINE

Single Reps; 5 minute Rests
TIME

Single Rep = 1 rep
R = Rest

Fig. 3-8 10 Single Reps; 5 minute Rests


This is not to say a high load is an unimportant component in the growthinducing formula. Quite the contrary. Using near-maximal poundage´s has a pronounced effect on a muscle's Fatigue/Tension level. It´s just that you must structure your workout to maximize fatigue-fast pace, short rests as well as the tension. In general, using heavier weights raises the entire F/T curve. It also makes the curve peak at a higher level because heavier weights increase fatigue as well as tension!

Here are the curves for the same exercise done at the same pace, first with lighter weights, then with heavier:


Fig_3-9.gif - 11403 Bytes
TIME

S = Set
R = Rest

Fig. 3-9 Fatigue/Tension level; Light weight
Fig_3-10.gif - 13301 Bytes
TIME

S = Set
R = Rest

Fig. 3-9 Fatigue/Tension level; Heavy weight


Notice how much steeper the second curve is, and how much sooner it crosses the Fatigue/Tension Threshold.

Leverage


We listed four things that affect the tension generated within a muscle during exercise: form, load, leverage, and mental focus.

Leverage is the most recent of these to be incorporated into workout routines. The last few years have seen the introduction of the "Eccentric Cam" into sophisticated weight training equipment-Nautilus machines, for instance. The Eccentric Cam is an acknowledgement of a fact we discussed earlier-that the strength of a muscle varies across its range of motion.

When doing a bicep curl you have better leverage, and thus more strength, when you are just under halfway through the curl than when your arm is fully extended.

Therefore, it takes more weight to generate the same tension within the muscle when your arm is bent than when it is extended. So a weight heavy enough to provide maximal resistance when your arm is bent is going to be much too heavy when your arm is extended.



Remember, each muscle has its own unique strength curve. A good exercise pits a muscle against resistance that varies in relation to the muscle's strength. This means that for you to perceive the resistance as constant, the resistance must vary to match your strength at all points throughout the range of motion.

Through an application of biomechanical principles, it's possible to design exercises that do not involve expensive equipment, but do provide the benefits of variable resistance. This leads to a higher Fatigue/Tension levet and faster growth!

  • An effective routine must be structured to maximize the Fatigue/Tension level. It will involve heavy poundages and a pace and organization that ensure a stair–step effect. Also, it will include exercises adjusted to provide resistance closely matched to each muscle group's strength curve.

The Load: Exercise form

Fatigue/tension level during 3 exercises; Short rests between sets; short rests between exercises.
TIME

S = Set
R = Rest

Fig. 3-6 Fatigue/tension level during 3 exercises;
Short rests between sets;
short rests between exercises.


Tension

Now let's turn to the question of tension within the Fatigue/Tension concept.

The tension generated within a muscle during exercise depends on four things:

  • exercise form,
  • the load (amount of weight) you are lifting,
  • the leverage associated with the exercise movement,
  • and the mental focus-the oomph!you put into your effort.

We covered form in the previous section. For simplicity's sake, let's assume you are going to put an all-out effort into every rep you do; this will keep mental focus constant. So let's take a look at load and leverage.

Load

The relationship here is simple: greater load (more weight), more tension ... up to a point. As the weight approaches the maximum you can lift, tension within the muscle levels off:

Peak tension VS load
LOAD (Weight you are attempting to lift)

Fig. 3-7 Peak tension VS load





Now, experience suggests heavy weights are required for building strength and bulk. But as we've mentioned, weight isn't the only factor involved.

Studies have been done in which a group of athletes/bodybuilders did 3 to 5 sets of various exercises with about 80% of the maximum weight they could lift. Each set consisted of one all-out rep followed by five minutes of rest, then another rep and another rest, and so on until each test subject had performed ten reps total. The athletes followed the regime three times per week for several months. Then everyone was tested for changes in strength and bulk. The results? Practically no gains! Only a small percentage showed any signs of improvement.

The reason this approach failed is clear in light of the Fatigue/Tension Principle: even with high tension, low fatigue from long rests held the combined Fatigue/Tension level below the Threshold. **

** It is possible to generate a tension level sufficient to compensate for the low fatigue from long rests. This requires using 95% to 100% of the maximum weight you can lift. Power lifters use this sort of workout. It is not recommend, for two reasons: (1) it puts potentially injurious stress on joints and ligaments; (2) it is not the most effective training program for the combined goals of strength, bulk. and definition.

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