Okay, you’re probably muttering to yourself right now… “What the hell are high threshold motor units?” Well, they are your best friends if you are looking to build muscle, strength, and power fast. Your muscle fibers work together in groups or units to perform movements. Like an army platoon, these groups of muscle fibers are grouped together in compact formations to perform their functions. High Threshold Motor Units (HTMUs) are the strongest muscle fiber groups in your body. They lie waiting to be used for only the most difficult muscular tasks.

But here’s the rub… Many powerlifters and muscle building enthusiasts don’t engage these motor units correctly, if at all. They go to the gym or work out at home, rarely pushing themselves to the level of intensity needed to recruit these high-threshold muscle fibers. Or, if they do, they do so haphazardly without the consistency or planning required to build real strength and size.

Remember that… consistency and planning. In order for muscles to grow, they must be repeatedly challenged by the same training stimulus for a specified period of time until an adaptation is achieved. Consistency and following a long-term plan for your training is the key… Not jumping from one exercise routine to another like most people do. So make the training regimen outlined below a part of your yearly plan.

How to exploit your HTMUs to increase your strength and size in the shortest amount of time… Lift for several weeks with max weights for all your multi-joint exercises like barbell squats, deadlifts, barbell bench press, barbell shoulder press, lat pulldown, bent over barbell rows, etc. The best schedule for this workout is to work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Make sure you don’t train more than two days in a row. For this type of training, it is best to do a split between the upper and lower body.

If you split your upper and lower body, try splitting AM/PM on the SAME DAY. For example, on Monday morning you could do a 30 minute upper body workout. Then, in the late afternoon or early evening, do your lower body exercises. If you can’t fit that split into your schedule, simply do 3 intense sessions a week, alternating upper and lower body sessions. Be sure to alternate between doing two upper body sessions (and 1 lower body session) one week, and the following week, doing two lower body sessions and one upper body session. This will ensure that you are exercising your upper and lower body equally during each two-week period. You can also do the upper body and lower body split workouts above on Monday (upper body), Tuesday (lower body), Wednesday (rest), Thursday (upper body), and Friday (lower body).

Loads, sets, reps and rest periods… Start with 80% of your 1-rep max in week 1, then use 85% of your 1-rep max in week 2, and finally in week 3, use 90% (or more) of your 1-rep max. Do 4-5 sets of each lift, resting 3 minutes between sets. For this type of training you need complete rest between sets. Regarding reps, you should be doing about 8-10 reps for 80% of your 1 Rep Max; 5-7 reps for 85% of your 1 Rep Max; and 3-5 reps with 90%+ of your 1 Rep Max.

Each week you will be engaging more of your high threshold motor units as the weight increases and your body responds by recruiting more fibers and thickening existing ones to handle the loads. In less than a week, you will notice a definite increase in strength. For example, for her third workout (Friday), the weight used on Monday should “feel” lighter than when she lifted it on Monday.

This is your body’s adaptive response made more efficient by lifting a specific weight for a specific exercise. Over the next few weeks, you will see strength increase again and your muscle mass will also increase due to your increases in strength. Keep in mind that gains in muscle mass lag behind gains in strength. So once you’ve built up strength, muscle mass will take a while to build.

After this 3-week cycle, do everything again, except this time, use dumbbells for all your lifts except the squat. This will really test your high threshold fibers because they will be forced to stabilize heavy weights more than they are when using a barbell. Don’t be surprised if you hit some personal bests on your big lifts like the squat and bench press. Of course, this strategy assumes that you are eating well and getting enough rest and sleep. If not, your hard work will be in vain and you will gain nothing except sore muscles and a lot of disappointment.

The Benefits of Activating Your High Threshold Motor Units… Scientific research and lifters who do this type of training have shown that you can increase your strength in a matter of days and your mass in weeks… not months! And with increases in strength come increases in muscle fiber thickness and the number of muscle fibers, both of which make you bigger and stronger.

Strength and size are closely related to each other, although the relationship is not 1 to 1 (meaning that for some strength increases, you won’t have a corresponding size increase). These gains can only happen if you engage your HTMUs in a methodical and consistent way. Don’t do this type of training without a good plan or you could end up doing more harm than good. After 6 weeks of this type of training, you can take a break, 5-7 days, to let your body fully recover and grow, grow, grow!

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