The 1-6 Principle

Break strength and size barriers with this tried-and-true method
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I’d like to take a break from high-rep training and do a strength cycle, but I don’t want to lose any muscle mass. Got any favorite workouts?

You should try the 1–6 Principle, a training method that’s been popular with elite Romanian and Hungarian weightlifters. I first heard about it in 1991 from Romania’s Dragomir Cioroslan, a bronze medalist in the 1984 Olympic Games who went on to become the head weightlifting coach at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Before getting into this workout, consider that by performing only higher reps, you will not develop the most powerful fast-twitch muscle fibers.

In a peer-reviewed article published in Sports Medicine in 2004, Andrew C. Fry reviewed studies comparing the muscle fiber types of bodybuilders, powerlifters, and Olympic-style weightlifters (those who perform the snatch and the clean and jerk in competition). What Fry found is that weightlifters had the highest percentage of type 2 (high-threshold) fibers when compared with the other two groups, and bodybuilders had the highest percentage of type 1 (low-threshold) fibers. The bottom line is that these muscle fibers can be developed only with heavy weights—more specifically, the heaviest weights you can lift for lower reps.

I’m not suggesting that you can’t build great size by just using higher-rep training protocols, as I’ve seen three Mr. Olympia winners who couldn’t bench-press 315 pounds for more than six reps in the off-season. Rather, I’m saying that you’ll not achieve maximal muscle size for your genetic potential if you don’t occasionally focus on strength. I should add that many elite bodybuilders agree with me. For example, at his prime, two-time Mr. Olympia Franco Columbu deadlifted more than the world record, and Ronnie Coleman deadlifted 800 pounds for a double.

Getting back to the 1-6 Principle, it’s a type of workout system based upon the neurological phenomenon called post-tetanic facilitation (PTF). One of the early researchers in PTF is Dietmar Schmidtbleicher, a German strength physiologist known for his pioneering research in power development. One of the first elite athletes to use PTF was Valeriy Borzov, a Russian sprinter who won gold medals in the 100m and 200m sprints at the 1972 Olympics.

PTF suggests that a more powerful muscular contraction can be achieved if that contraction is preceded by a strong muscular contraction. The 1–6 Principle is a practical application of this method, using maximal loads to increase the activation of the nervous system before performing sets of higher reps. This effect enables the trainee to use more weight on the higher-rep sets.

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