Stop reps are the second phase of Schauer’s three-phase intensity method. He covered the first phase, slow reps, in the July ’04 IRON MAN.
Most authorities agree that when bodybuilders reach a sticking point, they should change their exercises in order to keep growing. Generally speaking, that’s a productive practice, but when you’re working through my system’slow reps, stop reps and stutter reps’you should do essentially the same exercises throughout the three phases. Remember that sticking points occur due to your body’s wonderful ability to adapt to stress. If you change exercises, you only change the angle at which you apply the stress to the muscle fibers. When you graduate from slow reps to stop reps, you change the type of stress being applied. That, in most cases, will create the needed stimulation to restart the growth process.
Most likely you’ll find the transition from slow reps to stop reps quite natural. You may have to reduce the poundages slightly on some exercises, but the eventual gains are guaranteed to soften any blow to your ego. By then you should have disproved the theory that muscle production depends solely on the use of huge poundages. I’ve known hundreds of bodybuilders who used phenomenal poundages and looked exactly the same after years of making strength gains. I was able to convince a small percentage of them to intensify their workouts by using slow, stop and stutter reps. Nearly everyone who gave that intensity progression a fair chance experienced excellent results and acquired additional mass’but I had to constantly reinforce their sagging egos, as they were no longer using giant poundages. Many tried the system for a month or two, and even though their muscles grew, they went back to high-rep powerlifting, which is what bodybuilding training really is, and never made mass gains again.
Okay, let’s get you doing stop reps. In phase 2 of the system you take the concepts of antimomentum and antigravity one step further. During the negative portion of each rep you reverse the gravitational force and apply a different type of stress to the muscle fibers. How about doing a set of stop-rep bench presses? You watch while I do my set. Then I’ll help you with yours so you master the technique.
I use a weight that forces me to exert every bit of my physical and mental strength to get eight to 10 reps in perfect form. I take the weight off the rack using a grip that’s slightly wider than shoulder width. I fight the weight down about three inches, as I did when using slow reps. Now, however, I stop it there and apply enough positive pressure to feel a strain on my pecs. I again fight the bar down a couple of inches, stop it and apply positive pressure. I wage another inch or two of fierce battle with gravity, apply more positive pressure, then finally fight the weight to the superstretch position, where my pec muscles are completely extended. I hold that position for two seconds and apply slow, steady positive pressure to the bar to push it back to the starting position. I continue until the eighth or ninth rep, which requires a superhuman effort to complete.
Notice that I don’t use the standard deep-inhalation-and-hold-type breathing while lowering the weight and the one explosive exhalation while pushing the weight back up. For one thing the conventional method of taking one deep breath and holding it until you quickly exhale at the moment of utmost stress applies mainly to powerlifting. In the slow-rep/stop-rep/stutter-rep system you want a constant supply of oxygen. Keep in mind that you are accomplishing more work per minute by placing constant stress on the fibers. In conventional bodybuilding you actually rest about 50 percent of the time during a set’allowing gravity to assist in the lowering of the weight during the negative and momentum to assist during the positive.
Holding your breath for extended periods also raises your blood pressure and can cause dizziness. Some trainees found they had to change to the repeated short-breath style when they started slow reps. Most went to it during the stop-rep phase. All changed to it when they graduated to stutter reps.
Now it’s your turn. Lie on the bench and take the bar off the rack. Start fighting it down’don’t let gravity carry it even a quarter inch. Stop the weight about three inches down and apply positive pressure. Now fight it down another couple inches; stop it again. Tense your pecs at every stop. Mentally push the bar back up, but don’t actually do it. Fight it another inch or two down. Stop and apply positive pressure and tense your pecs. Now fight it down to the superstretch position and hold the stretch for two seconds. Slowly but steadily push the bar back to the starting position.
Notice how you automatically took six to eight quick breaths during the rep? Your system was screaming for air. Repeat the procedure until there’s no way for you to do one more rep. It will probably be the toughest set you’ve ever done in your life. Take a 30-second rest and do another set. Rest and do the third and final set. Apply the same system to every exercise you do. Most trainees show results after only a few weeks. It’s terribly demanding but extremely rewarding.
After a couple of months on stop reps you may need to have your training partner help put even more stress on your muscle fibers. On the last’and only the last’set of an exercise, have him help you with two forced reps.
Everyone’s metabolism, digestive efficiency and ability to adapt to stress are unique. You’re not a beginner, so you should know when you’ve gotten every ounce of lean muscle mass you can out of a training system. I’m a firm believer in never changing when you’re gaining. If you’ll remember, I suggested that you don’t use the slow-rep phase if you’re still gaining muscle on high-rep powerlifting. While using slow reps and stop reps, do three sets of whatever number of reps you’ve found to be the most productive for conventional bodybuilding systems.
After 40 years in the iron game I’m also convinced that three exercises per bodypart is the best. Doing fewer doesn’t seem to stimulate the muscle fibers enough and doing more usually triggers overtraining. If there are any real secrets to bodybuilding, taking enough time for recovery has to be one of them. Recovery time is as precious as training time. You can’t expect to achieve results with any bodybuilding system unless you give the fibers time to repair and rebuild. Doing countless additional sets makes cellular regeneration an impossibility’and after all, bodybuilding takes place at the cellular level.
Your workouts should last no more than 75 minutes, with rest between sets limited to 30 seconds or less. Do not work any bodypart more than twice a week.
You and you alone will know when your system has adapted to stop reps. Then it’s time for stutter reps, which I’ll outline in the next installment of this series.
Editor’s note: Egan C. Schauer won many bodybuilding titles throughout his competitive career, including Mr. Milwaukee, Mr. Wisconsin, Masters Mr. Midwest and Over-40 Mr. USA. IM