The Primal Blueprint is all about maximizing the efficiency of training to reduce the time spent working and increase the time spent playing. If I can figure out the minimum effective dose and get 80% of the benefits in 20% of the time, I’m all for that. It leaves me extra time to spend with my loved ones, play outdoors, go for hikes, or buckle down and get some work done. Especially if I don’t cut any corners or shortchange myself. This is why I love microworkouts, where instead of spending hours in the gym I just do movements and exercises throughout the day—have “exercise snacks”—and accrue a large training load without feeling like I spent all day in the gym.
But microworkouts aren’t the only path to make exercise more efficient, or at least feel that way. There’s also something called rest pause training, or myo rep training.
What is Myo Rep or Rest Pause Training?
The way most people lift weights, they’ll lift a moderately heavy weight for 5-12 reps, rest for a couple minutes, and do another set. They repeat this a few more times. But when you lift this way, the only truly hard reps are the last few of each set. Those last 4-5 reps where you start feeling the burn, where the weight begins to move slowly. Those reps are where the most muscle tension is occurring and where all the muscle fibers are truly engaged. It’s where the adaptations occur. These are the “effective reps.”
What if you could extend that tension and that engagement and pack more “effective reps” into your workouts?
One way is to just do high volume sets—to just lift a lot of weight over and over and over again. This isn’t a viable way for most people. It takes too long, it’s too hard, and it requires too much discipline and drive. You have to really love training to do high-volume, high-intensity lifting. And if that describes you, you’re probably already doing something similar.
Another way is to do myo reps.
Myo reps focus on extending full muscle fiber engagement by starting with an “overload set” and following up with mini-sets, taking very little rest in between so your muscles stay fully engaged and you can squeeze more effective reps into your workout. Here’s how it looks:
Choose a moderate-light weight.
A moderate to light weight is ideal because you want to accrue enough volume to really start activating and engaging the muscle fibers. High weight, low reps are great too, but they don’t tend to trigger the “burn” like higher reps do and as such aren’t as suitable for myo rep training.
Do 10-20 reps, stopping at failure or 1-2 reps short of failure.
The last 4-5 reps should feel hard. They should burn. This is your overload set or “activation set,” where you hit the point of full muscle fiber activation and engagement.
Rest for 5-7 breaths.
Take normal breaths. This should be a 10-15 second rest or so.
Do 3-5 reps.
All these reps will feel hard, or you’ll “feel them.” Again, almost to failure.
Rest for 5-7 breaths.
Do the same number of reps you just did in the previous mini-set.
If you did 5 reps, do 5 reps again. If you did 4, do 4. 3, do 3.
Complete three more “mini-sets” with the same number of reps and rest periods if you can.
If you do one less rep during a set, stop. That’s it. End the set.
You’ll be sore. You’ll be burning. Your muscles will be pumped. You might be shaking. These are good things. These indicate that you have really hit your muscles hard.
Some examples of how it might look:
15/4/4/4/3 — Once the rep count drops by 1 and you can only do 3, you stop.
16/3/3/3/3/3 — Once you hit 5 mini-sets, stop.
20/5/5/4 — Once the mini-set rep count drops, stop.
But those are just examples. You can use any rep scheme as long as you stick to the basics:
10-20 reps (to near failure) for the overload set
5-7 breath rest
Repeat 4 times, or stop when your reps drop by 1
It’s simple and quick but not easy. These are hard — but they’re over fast.
Progress by adding reps. If you’ve been hitting 3-rep mini-sets, progress toward 4 and 5-rep mini-sets.
Progress by adding weight. If you’ve been hitting 20 rep opening sets, increase the weight and go from there.
The real beauty of this is that you don’t get systemic fatigue. This is not high intensity interval training or sprinting or Crossfit-style metabolic conditioning training where your entire body is exhausted. Your heart rate will go up, but the main part of you that fatigues is the muscle itself. That’s where the adaptations come from and it’s why you can keep pushing through the pain: the pain is localized.
If you want to incorporate these types of sets, I would really recommend using them as microworkouts throughout the day. Each myo rep set is an individual microworkout. How I’ve been using them as microworkouts:
10:00 am, push-up myo rep set (20/5/5/5/5/5)
12:00 noon, trap-bar deadlift myo rep set (12/3/3/3/3/3)
2:00 pm, pull-up myo rep set (10/3/3/3/3/3)
3:00 pm, dumbell reverse lunge myo rep set (20/5/5/5/5/5)
Each microworkout takes about 5 minutes, if that. And I’m really feeling each one, and then I’m done. I don’t get injured, I get a nice strong stimulus package sent to my muscles, and I have plenty of time to do the things I love doing throughout the day. Win win.
Of course, you can also just do a normal workout using myo rep sets.
Anyway, if you have any experience with this type of rest-pause or myo-rep set training, I’d love to hear about it.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.