Power training for the Asian athlete

Most of the time, people ask me what they should be doing to get big or get strong. Every once in a blue moon, however, I get the question, "How do you train, James?"

Through a lot of trial and error, I noticed I respond best to a certain range of reps and certain number of sets. Not all the time, but about 80% of the time, I get big and strong on 4-6 sets per exercise (totaling 8-10 sets per bodypart), 4-6 reps per set.

I also noticed that I respond to explosive movements: hang cleans, kettlebell swings, etc. I'm just geared to be fast and moving. My body just hates moving slow or being still. If I eat all the time, then my body swells up like a monster on the above parameters. If I just eat like a regular joe, then I just stay trim and lean.

Why am I like this? Well some people have a lot of fast-twitch muscle fiber, and I happen to be one of them. It means I like heavy weight and speed, so 4-6 reps is the sweet spot for me. 4-6 sets per exercise, totaling at 8-10 sets per bodypart is the amount of volume I respond to.  I'm what's called an easy-hardgainer.

How much volume (number of sets and reps) you can tolerate is contigent upon how much testosterone you have. There are many other hormones that contribute to muscularity and size. But in general, people with both a high amount of testosterone and a high amount of fast-twitch muscle fiber can tolerate and grow on a high number of sets at low reps/heavy weight. These people are what you call "easy gainers."  Every time they sneeze, they gain an ounce of muscle.

Some people are "hardgainers."  They have a difficult time putting on muscle, because they have low T and their muscles are primarily slow-twitch.  Slow-twitch endurance fibers have a far lower capacity for growth and size.  Too many people call themselves hardgainers, when in reality they just don't want to put in the hard work consistently in the gym.  But there is some scientific evidence to suggest that 1 in 6 people are non-responders to exercise, so the hardgainer could actually exist.

Some people are what trainer Christian Thibaudeau calls "easy-hardgainers."  These people have a lot of fast-twitch muscle fiber, so they respond best to heavy weight, low reps at high speeds. But because of their high metabolisms, easy-hardgainers have a difficult time gaining weight.  Easy-hardgainers "have great growth potential due to their fast-twitch dominance, but this potential is often hard to actualize because of their active metabolisms."

You will find many easy-hardgainers in the lower weight classes of weightlifting.  Even though they don't train for muscular size or bodybuilding, weightlifters in the lower weight classes tend to have phenomenally ripped, muscular physiques.  Training with heavy weights at ballistic speeds not only builds a lot of muscle in the easy-hardgainer, but it also places huge metabolic demands on his body.

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From what I've seen in the gym, I think many Asian guys are easy-hardgainers. They can be quick and explosive on the athletic field or in the dojo or in the Octagon, but their hyperactive metabolisms will keep them pretty lean and trim.

Yet Asian men (like most men in commercial gyms), train as bodybuilders, since bodybuilding is the dominant training paradigm promoted in muscle mags, fitness mags and blogs.  Bodybuilders train with moderately heavy weights at higher reps: 8-12.  They also tend hit each body part with multiple exercises, not just one.

The bodybuilding method is a tried and true way to gain size for most people, but if you're an easy hardgainer, then the bodybuilding method may not be the best way for you to build muscle.  If you're an easy-hardgainer, then you should train more like an athlete as opposed to a bodybuilder.  You should train for speed, strength and power (which is a combination of strength and speed), and the muscle mass will come as a side effect.  Power athletes such as football players and weightlifters do not train specifically for size or looks.  They train specifically to become faster and stronger, and yet they get bigger and more muscular as a result.

If you're a skinny Asian guy who's been training as a bodybuilder without much success, then you may want to consider switching to performance-based power training.
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