Q:When you give an athlete a program to increase muscle growth do you customize the rep ranges to the athletes fiber type based on the number of reps you can get with 80%? I have heard that those with more slow twitch muscle need higher reps and those with more
fast twitch muscle need lower reps.
That's a good question. For those who aren't familiar with this test you do as many reps with 80% of your 1rm as possible on a given exercise. If you can knock out 10 or more the thought is you're slow twitch and should use higher reps in your training. If you can knock out 5 or less you are fast twitch and should train with lower reps. If you're between 5 and 10 you're average.
I do prescribe varying rep ranges depending on the individual but for a different reason. Even if an athlete is slow twitch dominant, which fibers should they be aiming to hypertrophy (grow), the fast twitch or slow twitch? In my opinion, if someone has less FT fiber and they're participating in a FT dominant sport, they should try to do everything possible to maximize the size and strength of the FT fibers they do have. In this case, telling someone to train with higher reps and pump training would be analogous to telling someone who's naturally better at endurance to train like a marathon runner in order to improve their sprinting speed.
You see, what the above test really measures is the efficiency of the nervous system and how many FT fibers one can recruit. Beginner and novice athletes aren't able to recruit or call upon FT fibers with the proficiency of a more advanced athletes, so many novices will test to be slow twitch dominant using the above test.
Advanced athletes with lots of strength and power training experience will usually test out to be fast twitch dominant. You can take an individual and have him complete the above test and 6 months later the results may be entirely different depending on what type of training he does during that time. Neural efficiency improves with training and athletes with proficient nervous systems (what most would call fast twitch dominant) can induce muscle growth by performing fewer reps per set because with each rep they're able to call upon and use more muscle.
Now here's where it gets a bit tricky and actually provides some crecedence for using a slightly higher rep range for some. If you aren't able to recruit as many FT fibers per rep then it takes a little more volume, and thus a few more reps per set, to recruit and stimulate those fibers. However, doing lots of super high rep pump training isn't going to do anything more for a neural inefficient athlete (slow twitch dominant) then it would for a neurally efficient athlete (fast twitch dominant). However, for those who are neurally inefficient, performing just a few more reps per set and decreasing the rep range over time while progressively increasing the load can be a good thing. In this case I may use reps in the 8 range for beginners/novices and the 3-5 rep range for advanced athletes.
It should also be noted that all muscle growth isn't the same. There are different signals that stimulate muscle growth. These are:
1. Mechanical tension and membrane stretching- stimulated by lifting progressively heavier weights and eccentrics along with plyometric training.
2. Hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and oxidative stress- stimulated by high reps with very short rest intervals or lactic acid dominant activities (think running a 400 meter sprint followed by a set of pushups to failure).
3. Cellular calcium influx- stimulated by traditional "pump" training, strips sets, drop sets etc.
Each of these stimuli can increase the protein content of the muscle cell but through different means. As an athlete, the only kind that will improve neural efficiency and increase the size of the fast twitch fibers is the first type,- mechanical tension and membrane stretching. This comes from lifting progressively heavier loads over time. Even though one could bulk up and put on size a lot faster using the other 2 types of stimuli, the gains won't be nearly as functional.
Over time someone who is supposedly slow twitch fiber dominant can increase the size of his FT fibers and the ability to recruit them to the point that he will eventually become FT dominant.
Q: Do you prefer to use box squats or regular squats with your athletes? If you like box squats, do you do them with a superwide stance or a close stance?
A: I like to use both regular squats and box squats. In fact I really consider them 2 separate movements altogether. Most beginning athletes can benefit from learning to engage their hamstrings and glutes more in the squat. Actually, they benefit from increased hamstring and hip strength period. Think about it. It's not uncommon to see a beginning trainer come in the gym and be able to leg press and leg extension a whole stack of plates. The majority of the time, it's the hamstrings and hips that are deficient in strength - not the quadriceps. Once you've been around athletes long enough some deficiencies are easy to eyeball. Probably 90% of young athletes will have a posture and gait evident of deficient posterior chain functionality (weak hamstrings, hips, and lower back).
The box squat is not only good at rectifying this but it is also a tremendous way to teach correct squatting technique. For this reason, I like to start people off with box squats. I use a box set just below parallel and have them use a semi-wide stance. The stance won't be superwide like a lot of powerlifters, but wide enough to get down. I have them focus on sitting back on the box and pushing out to stand up so that the knees stay over the toes and the torso stays nearly completely vertical. I will also use a low bar position so instead of the bar being directly on the traps (which is natural), it will be placed down a bit lower (which takes some getting used to). I will typically use the standard westside barbell club protocol for sets and reps. Something like 6-8 sets of 2-3 reps one day per week. Another day will have them performing a deadlift based movement.
Once the hip and hamstring strength have been built up sufficiently I switch to forms of regular squatting and will usually throw in a block of box squats a couple of times per year.
Q: What is a "feeder" workout and how do you incorporate them?
I would consider a feeder workout a low volume workout designed to provide some stimulation between main workouts while stimulating, but not annhilating, either the muscular or nervous system. Let me give you a couple of examples.
Say you have a heavy and fairly high volume lower body workout on Monday and you know in order to optimally progress in strength you'll have to wait until Saturday to train your legs maximally again. You could come in and try to train them heavy again on wednesday or thursday but your nervous system won't be fully recovered from Mondays workout so not only will your workout likely be suboptimal but you'll also induce a lot of unnecessary and untimed fatigue, thus effectively screwing up Saturday's workout.
However, by Thursday your muscular system has recovered. Recall that the muscles recover much quicker then the nervous system. So, if you do absolutely nothing with your legs until Saturday they will start to become become deconditioned. What you need is a low volume stimulus that will enable you to bridge the gap between the workout you did on Monday and the workout you're going to do on Saturday. You need something to stimulate both the muscular and nervous system a bit but not something thats intense enough to make a huge inroad into your state of recovery. So a feeder workout is perfect. You could come in the gym on Thursday and hit your lower body with a light "feeder" workout consisting of a few sets of squats, glute-ham raises, bodyweight movements, sled-dragging etc. You might go 3 x 3 squats at 80% and 4 x 10 bodyweight glute ham raises and some sled dragging. You will have provided the right amount of stimulation to enhance Saturday's heavy workout.
Here's another example. Say you're a sprinter and you want to run your best on a Saturday. You know you need to back off on the volume during the final week so you can be fully recovered. However, you don't want to become stale. Your last high volume speed workout could be on a Monday. On Wednesday you could go out and run 3-4 sprints out to 60 meters at 90% top speed. On Friday you could run 5-6 starts x 30 meters at 90%. This would enable you to be fresh for Saturday.
Q: when going for a dunk if I palm the ball and keep it in my right palm, then go up and use my left arm's deltoid in an explosive manner I go up for 36 inches. But if I keep the ball in both arms and try to take off I hardly get 24-26 inches at the most. Is it a matter of lack of power in the legs, substituted by the explosiveness of the upper body (left arm's deltoid in this case) or what is lacking is just the jumping tehnique?
Yes, you're exactly right. The shoulders can contribute up to 15% to vertical jump performance. That's why you can get so much higher swinging your off hand out. Not only that but that offhand is also providing a trigger for increased lower body muscle firing. Try running full speed with your hands in your pockets and you'll know what I mean. Without your hands your legs don't function so well. It just takes practice. Swinging the hands helps provide a boost to your center of gravity so that your body floats up under your arms. Holding the ball with both hands doesn't allow you much swing with either hand. One thing I've found that helps is learning to shrug as you jump to replace the arm swing. Try to do 3 sets of 5 two handed dunks twice per week from a standstill. Lower the rim if you have to but it has to be challenging. With practice you'll get the technique right. You also probably need to get stronger overall.