I’d be less than honest if I told you that all my students who progressed to stutter reps used them and reached their absolute maximum muscular potential. Quite frankly, many attempted stutter reps and gave them up after a few workouts. Why? They’re just unbelievably tough. I’m writing these articles for the bodybuilder who’s willing to make sacrifices to achieve the ultimate in bodybuilding success. Will the system enable you to become Mr. America? Probably not. Only genetically superior individuals attain that pinnacle.
As I’ve discussed in the previous installments of this series (July and August ’04 IRON MAN): Don’t start using slow reps until you’ve completely exhausted your ability to make gains with the conventional high-rep powerlifting approach. Don’t move on to stop reps until you fail to achieve any additional muscle mass with slow reps. And don’t graduate to stutter reps unless you’re willing to pay the price in terms of pain. I’ve used every known system of bodybuilding’supersets, tri-sets, forced reps, giant sets and so on. None of them even comes close to stutter reps in terms of required self-discipline and pain. The marvelous compensation is the gains in additional lean mass.
If you’ve strictly adhered to the form I outlined for slow reps and stop reps in the past two issues, you’ll have no difficulty mastering stutter reps. Your primary difficulty will be the pain. Physique magazines feature articles about breaking the pain barrier. That makes sense because, quite frankly, every successful bodybuilder I’ve known has had the ability to bear huge amounts of pain. I’m convinced pain tolerance is one of the qualities that separates the champs from the thousands who are only moderately successful in competitive bodybuilding. I don’t mean to downgrade heredity, perseverance, intelligence, ability to concentrate or any other quality that bodybuilding champions must have. The bodybuilders I’ve personally trained have heard me repeat thousands of times, ‘If it isn’t unbelievably painful, the set isn’t worth doing.’ With stutter reps not only are the last couple of reps of a set painful, but the first rep makes you want to scream as well. I’m giving you fair warning.
I’m almost 58 years old, supposedly long past the age at which muscular gains are possible. After each of my last three contest wins I was told by contestants, officials and gym owners that they didn’t think any man could have been more ripped than I was. Not long after that I added seven additional pounds of lean muscle mass while retaining a super-ripped appearance. How? By using stutter reps. If a 58-year-old man can stand the pain of stutter reps, there’s no reason you can’t.
Before we get into the actual technique, let me provide a few more words of caution. You’re going to do so much more work per minute of exercise that high reps will be something of an impossibility. For slow reps and stop reps I recommend using eight to 10 reps if that’s the range you use for conventional sets; however, stutter reps place so much constant stress on the muscle fibers and cardiovascular system that you should limit your reps to a maximum of eight on the first set, seven on the second and six on the third. I use six, five and four in my own routine. Then during my next workout for that bodypart I add weight and attempt four or five reps on the first set, knocking off a rep on each successive set. When I can get six on the first set, I add weight and drop reps again. Remember, all forms of bodybuilding training must be progressive. You’ll have to do some experimenting to find the rep range that works best for you.
Why do you drop a rep on each successive set? Once you start doing stutter reps, the answer will be obvious. Assuming you’re doing them exactly the way you’re supposed to, you just can’t recover fast enough to do the same number on each successive set. I tell students to approach each rep as though it were their last, to fight gravity and resist momentum every inch of the way. When they do that, they’re usually overjoyed that they have to lower the reps on each set.
When you’re doing stutter reps, it’s almost impossible to tell if you’re in the positive or negative portion of the rep. On slow and stop reps you fight gravity only in the negative part of the rep and minimize momentum during the positive part. On stutter reps you apply both principles, subjecting all the fibers of the target muscle to a level of stress they’ve never encountered before.
Let’s do a set of behind-the-neck presses as stutter reps. Take the barbell off the rack in the top, arms-extended position, and in a slow, exaggerated motion fight gravity for about three inches and stop the bar. Instead of simply applying slight positive pressure as in stop reps, slowly push the bar back up an inch or two. I emphasize slowly’don’t bounce it back up (that would be committing the sin of using momentum). Now slowly fight it down four or five inches, stop and slowly push it back up a couple of inches; fight it down farther and repeat the process till you get to the bottom position. That should take at least three rounds of slowly dropping the bar four to five inches and pushing it back up one or two. That’s the stutter. Not so painful, you say? There’s more.
From the bottom position you reverse the process, slowly pressing the bar up three or four inches and stopping. Then fighting gravity, slowly lower it an inch or two, stop and slowly press the bar up three or four inches again, continuing till you get back to the top. That’s one stutter rep. Continue doing reps in that manner until you complete the set.
Many trainees find it impossible to make any stops, or stutters, during the last rep of a set. If that happens, don’t worry; just complete the set using the slow-rep technique. Usually you’ll be able to get the required reps in stutter-rep fashion at the next workout for that bodypart, plus you’ll be ready to add a little bit of weight.
Strive to add a rep or a little weight at every workout or every week. You can use the stutter-rep system on every exercise. Most of the trainees who have followed through with all the stages of the system have recorded gains on all bodyparts. Some who worked their calves to death for years using conventional systems and had given up hope made excellent progress with stutter reps. ALL I recommend three sets of stutter reps for each exercise except for calves. The calves are under constant stress: walking, climbing stairs and so on. That forces them to adapt, which makes them more stubborn than other bodyparts. Most trainees have found it necessary to do five sets of stutter reps on each calf exercise to stimulate their lower legs.
You do a complete stutter-rep program, with one modification: In your leg workout do one set of one heavy leg exercise in strict conventional form for every three sets of stutter reps. I discussed this subject with a number of medical people and got a different answer from each of them. The bottom line is, whatever you’re doing’conventional workouts, supersets, giant sets, etc.’you have to include heavy leg work. My own theory goes back to the point that any exercise you do has an effect on your entire system as well as on the muscle being worked. The thighs, hips and glutes make up the body’s largest major muscle mass. If you don’t work them with extremely heavy weights, the stimulation at the cellular level is not as efficient as it should be. You rarely find bodybuilders who can win at the regional or national level without having done heavy conventional squats and leg presses for a number of years when they were developing their physiques.
By all means, use stutter reps on leg extensions and leg curls. You’ll get a thigh workout as never before, but be sure to include three sets of heavy squats or leg presses. Here’s my favorite thigh workout:
3 x 5, 5, 6
3 x 8-12
3 x 4-6
3 x 4-6
I won the trophy for best legs at my last three contests, and I attribute my success to the above workout.
I admit that I’m proposing an extremely radical approach to bodybuilding with the slow-rep/stop-rep/stutter-rep system, and I meant what I said about not even beginning slow reps until you’ve stopped making gains with conventional routines. What’s more, I’m opposed to starting stop reps until you’ve gotten every additional pound of lean muscle out of slow reps, and the same goes for not graduating to stutter reps until your system has completely adapted to stop reps and you’ve stopped growing again. And to top it all off, I’m telling you to work one heavy leg exercise with conventional training.
Let’s review the important elements of the system:
1) You try to minimize the effect of gravity and momentum, increasing stress on the muscle fibers. You also make the stress constant as opposed to sporadic, as it is in conventional lifting.
2) You make the stress progressive by adding small amounts of weight at each workout or each week.
3) You make it even more progressive as you go from slow reps to stop reps to stutter reps.
4) You develop a higher degree of maturity by no longer being unduly concerned about how much weight you can lift. Your only concern is adding lean muscle mass. You’re already extremely strong from conventional bodybuilding and don’t need to prove anything to yourself or others.
Next month I’ll give you a complete workout.
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