If you’ve been following this column for the past couple of months, you know that my focus has been on providing you with advanced training techniques for destroying plateaus by varying the stimuli to your muscles and central nervous system. You use them to change up the methods used and intensity levels of your workouts frequently. That not only improves the efficiency of your neuromuscular communication but also helps you to sidestep plateaus completely. By changing your workout, you change the stimulus before your body has a chance to adapt to it fully.
This month, I want to share one of my favorite advanced training techniques: myotatic reflex reps. Before I get into the details, though, you’ll need some information on the myotatic reflex itself.
What Is the Myotatic Reflex?
I’m not going to bore you with a lengthy scientific explanation, but you do need to know a little about what happens when you stretch and contract a muscle. Within your muscles are specialized fibers called muscle spindles that primarily determine the length of your muscle. When you stretch the muscle, the spindles stretch as well, and they release motor neurons that prompt the contraction reflex. This process is called the stretch-shortening cycle, or SSC.
At the same time, when you are in the stretched position, kinetic energy stores up in your muscle fibers to give you an explosive burst of power to fuel the subsequent contraction.
This ensures that your muscle can return to its normal length, and it’s helped along by the Golgi tendon, which is located at the point where your muscles and tendons connect. The Golgi tendon’s job is to protect your muscles and tendons from injury caused by excessive exertion and overextension. When the Golgi tendon thinks your muscle is in trouble, contraction is inhibited.
The key to taking advantage of the stretch-shorten cycle is to use that kinetic energy and burst of power to contract the muscle before your Golgi tendon starts freaking out.
What Are Myotatic Reflex Reps?
Myotatic reflex reps use the same principles as Steve Holman’s Positions-of-Flexion training and take advantage of the same central nervous system responses. In myotatic reflex reps, however, you maximize the stretch position of the movement (safely, of course), but instead of pausing before contracting the muscle again, you immediately and quickly contract. There are two reasons for that: 1) You don’t want the Golgi tendon to inhibit the contraction, and 2) that kinetic energy stored up when you stretch the muscle will disappear if you don’t use it immediately. It is there simply to make sure you can contract from such an extended position. If you wait a few seconds, it will dissipate as body heat.
Why Are Myotatic Reflex Reps So Effective?
Because I’ve been talking about kinetic energy, you may think that the goal is to access that energy for a more explosive movement. In fact, that’s just the means to the end. There are several really important benefits to this type of exercise.
First, as I mentioned above, this type of movement strengthens your neuromuscular communication, making your muscles faster and more efficient at sending and receiving messages. That means more muscle fiber recruitment while you’re working out and also that your CNS will be even more responsive at the next workout.
Second, this type of exercise recruits more type 2, or fast-twitch, muscle fibers than most traditional protocols. Once trainees are at an intermediate level, they’re using increasingly heavier loads, and that usually means slower movement and longer pauses. Those aren’t bad things, but they generally recruit only a specific group of muscle fibers. The continuous movement, constant tension and accelerated contraction involved in a myotatic reflex rep require the recruitment of more fast-twitch fibers. That means increased gains in both size and strength.
How You Perform Them
There are several ways to perform a myotatic reflex exercise; for instance, on a barbell bench press, The technique involves a 1 1/4 movement, but with a pause and then a “bounce,” or myotatic reflex, near the bottom, the full-stretch position.
On the bench press you would lower the bar all the way down to your chest, lift it four to six inches, pause for a two count, and then basically drop it down fast and reverse quickly, pressing all the way back up to lockout.
Some trainees do two sets of regular lifts, followed by a set of myotatic reflex reps. Others prefer to do only the myotatic reflex reps for one specific muscle per workout. For instance, during Monday’s arm workout they may limit the biceps to myotatic reflex reps but do their normal workout for the rest of their arms. Then on Wednesday they may subject their triceps to myotatic reflex reps.
What to Do Next
Myotatic reflex reps are very effective because they’re so demanding. They involve not only constant tension but also explosive movement from a stretched position. Because they’re so demanding, it’s easy to overdo it.
Many bodybuilders get really excited at the potential for fast growth gains and completely fry their central nervous systems. Then they’re forced to recuperate or deal with lighter loads and/or few reps for a while until they recover.
Before you run to the gym to incorporate myotatic reflex reps, you need to educate yourself about the different methods and understand how to protect yourself from overextension and overtraining. Ideally, you need to find a mentor at the gym who has significantly more experience than you do, preferably with this very technique.
If you don’t know someone who can coach you through these in the beginning, I encourage you to hire an intelligent strength coach for a short time to get some needed supervision, both of your plan and your workout.
Myotatic reflex reps are one of the most effective advanced techniques I know for generating incredible gains, but you need to do them safely and correctly. For more advanced muscle building techniques, visit VinceDelMonteFitness.com.