Help! I cannot do high reps!

Ok, here is my problem: I max out on bench at about 275 right now (I know thats not much, but I only weigh 160 and am only 17 years old) , but I can only do 135 like 12 times before my muscles give out. It is very pathetic and at first me and my friends found it quite humorous, but now it is starting to piss me off. Could it be because I dont have many slow twitch fibers or what? I remember a couple of years ago I could do 135 about 20 times and I was a whole lot weaker then. Should I start working out with higher reps again (12-15) or is it pointless? I do powerlifting so my main concern is max bench, but will doing higher reps for a couple of months lead to more strenth or is it a waste of time. Also, what do you guys think about taking Power Drive? Shouldn’t that help me with this problem a little bit since it is supposed to recruit more muscle fibers? Any help or advice is appreciated. Thanks a lot - Nic

Dude, that is a very, very, good sign. This means that you have alot of IIb and well trained neural firing. I have the same “problem” and have made good progress with the poliquin routines that use many sets of low reps. The Westside style of training is also great for those with poor muscular endurance.

You need to look at things in a whole different light. first ask yourself why you are so concerened with a big chest. It’s your shoulders you should be concentrating on. A big chest doesn’t do anything for you but big wide strong shoulders add to the size of your arms and are functionaly more useful. You still need to train your chest but forget the bench press - welcome to the year 2000 - where if you want a strong and cosmeticaly good looking chest you use DUMBELLS. Every big steroid freak will tell you to do heavy bench - what for? that whole big gorilla look died years ago. It’s the lean muscular look that’s in. Good luck!

Let me ask you this, are you happy with your development since you started working out? Are you growing? If so, don’t concern yourself with how much weight you can lift. Doing reps with 135 is not going to build muscle. Stick with 8-10 reps sets and maybe do some cycles of 4-6.

badass… Your saying that dumbell benching will give you a better looking chest? Is there really any proof in shaping exersizes? Some guy (actually a powerlifter) told me that a EMS study had been done to compare dumbell benching and barbell, and the dumbell were slightly higher than with barbell. So perhaps you’ll get a bigger chest, but not better shape (some respond better to barbell too by the way). I know i ain’t answering the main question here, but had to reply to that one

It is true that you probably have a fiber-makeup inclined more towards IIb than type I’s. The “specificity of training” principle applies here… I suggest adding in a high-rep back-off set after all your low-rep work as per the Ian King routines.

Regarding “shaping”: Muscle shape and insertions are determined genetically - maybe you could get a slight shaping effect doing more incline work vs. flat benches, but the dumbbell vs barbell issue is related to activating the stabilizers more with dumbbells. You use more energy positioning the weight in the 3-dimensional space, thereby reducing the load you are able to lift. Variation is always the key, but many lifters I’ve worked with who needed more hypertrophy in their pectorals - implemented dumbbell work after their barbell benches with great success - doing supersets of dumbbell flyes and presses, 21’s and/or 1 and 1/2’s. This way you activate and fatigue a greater number of the motor unit pool and target a wider selection of muscle fiber types…hence more hypertrophy. Whether this is functional or not is a different issue, so you need to clarify your goals a little - are you a powerlifter or a bodybuilder?

Borge, BSc

Well, like i said originally, i do powerlifting and my main concern is 1 rep max on bench (not military press). also, i don’t do just flat bench or just dumbbells on a chest day, i do different things everytime that always include some type of fly exercise and at least one type of press exercise. i have seen good results doing both dumbbells and barbell exercises and seeing that bench press with a barbell is the main event i compete in, it would not be very wise of me to do ALL DUMBBELL exercises. now, to get back on the topic of REPS, i have been at a plateau for a while now and my whole goal of doing high reps was to maybe get past that plateau. a few months ago when i drew out my workout schedule i intended on doing cycles between high and low reps. i started out doing 6-8 reps for a while and successfully gained a little bit of size, then i did lots of sets of lower reps (2-4) for a while and gained a little strength. now it was my intention to jump back up to higher reps (12-15) for a little bit in order to keep up the variation, but the fact that i can only do high reps with very light weight is making me think twice. first of all let me say, that i could care less what everyone else in the gym thinks of me as far as doing a light weight is concerned. as long as i am getting an optimal workout i am happy. i don’t even think about the weight in the since of “how much it is” when i am working out. i think of it as “the quality of the workout i am getting”. so, back to my original question, should i go ahead as i had planned and do high reps for a while or not? i have done 2 workouts with high reps so far and i have been more sore after those workouts than i have been in months. i originally thought that because of this high reps would be very effective in breaking my plateau and maybe give me a little more strenght in the long run, but somebody with knowledge on this matter, please enlighten me if i am wrong. also, do you think it would be better to do high reps AND low reps during the next month or so like maybe one heavy chest workout and one light chest workout a week instead of only high reps for the next month or so? Lastly, what do you guys think about power drive and its effects on this whole thing. i know this post seems repetitive but last time not a lot of people answered my actual questions. once again for all of you who have taken time to read this and help, thanks.

For the most part, the lightest productive range for training (which I would start training cycles with) is 60% 1RM. So in your case, you would start a training cycle at 165 lb (60% of 275, assuming the 275 is achieved strictly.)

If this is only something like 7 reps or 9 reps, so be it! :slight_smile:

There are even exercises, when taking 2 seconds for a held contraction and 4 real seconds for the negative, that I get only 5 reps at 60% 1RM. Again, so be it.

Like I said - stick to the lower rep range, and finish off with some high rep back-off sets. You will be able to do more reps at that given intensity range due to increased neural drive from the lower reps. The more advanced you are, the less I recommend training phases similar to Ian King’s Phase 1. I’ve found that an advanced powerlifter’s high level of neural conditioning is reduced if spending too much time doing high reps only. Powerlifters (and other non-bodybuilding athletes) should IMO spend at the most 2x3weeks/year on this type of work, otherwise you will simply run around in circles…
Why not consider looking into Louie Simmons’ Westside Barbell training system? If tailored to your needs (and reduced volume if you’re a natural lifter) it is extremely productive - I’m currently using a hybrid of this with a former powerlifting WR-holder who is now progressing at an increasing rate after a long plateau…


First of all, quit yer bitchin’. DUDE, you bench almost twice your bodyweight at 17 years old. Rejoice! Oh yeah and good for you…

Second, if you’re a powerlifter, you would be better off not caring about two things: reps and how you look. Louie Simmons says “the better you are at reps, the worse you are at max singles–the whole point of the sport”. I agree whole-heartedly. And as a powerlifter, if you just keep your bodyfat down, you won’t have to train for a “big chest” and what-not. Heavy lifting causes down-right shocking definition, especially when your bodyfat percentage is low. Don’t sweat it.

As far as training is concerned, it sounds like your friends pissed you off and now you feel weak with reps. Some advice: tie 'em together with duct tape and bench press them until they get sick from all the up-and-down motion. Even if you get tired after only a few reps, just rack them, rest a bit, and then punch out a few more reps (Weider would call this “Rest-Pause” training). Fuck reps. If you want to train with reps, sure, do it. But do it after heavier fives, triples and doubles. This would be holistic-style training (basically doing everything in one workout) which is more common in bodybuilding, but hey…

Another thing you might good at because of all the white fibers is ballistic benching. This is Westside-style benching in order to improve power. You do 8-10 sets of triples at about 55% of a competition max or 60% of a no-shirt max. Do this once a week in place of benching at the beginning of your workout. Follow with assists if you do them.

275 at 160…Jesus!..

Charles Polquin does testing to determine your different fiber makeup. You have found that you can do considerably less reps. This is a good path to self discovery. You have found that your body responds to lower reps. Now with this knowledge you can train at low reps for chest/sh/tri. Do between 2-6 reps only for your training. You have the propensity to respond to low reps, and yes, gain muscle and strength. Some guys repsond to higher reps to grow, some lower. I would train with this in mind. Shake things up one workout or one series of three workouts every now and then with a higher rep scheme, like 10-12 or 12-15. But, your normal training should be low reps. Do a search on the t-mag website. I believe this issue was discussed in either reader mail or BTS or Charles’ old column. It was about two-three months ago.