FT vs. ST


Thank you for the invaluable resources you provide through CFFB and Talk To Me Johnnie. After reading the post “Legs Too Large? WTF?” I began to wonder about utilizing the 20-rep max. In the paraphrase, Mark Rippetoe uses the example of an 80% 1 RM for a set of 20 reps. My question to you is: do you recommend using a 20 rep max from time to time on the squat and if so, how often? I imagine that doing a 20-rep max using about 80% of 1 RM would put the legs out of commission for a good 2 days.

Charley Mitchell

FT VS. ST #1

First, if you can do 20 reps with 80% of your 1 RM, you are a better man than me.

Second, what are your goals? If you are goal is to put mass on your legs, 20 rep squats will do just that. The problem is the 20 rep squat does little, in my experience, with top end strength.

So decide how and when you want to use it. Maybe just a 6 week training block early in the off-season to drive some mass into the legs or as a change-up for a few weeks to change the training stimulus. But understand what you are training by doing the 20 rep squat program.

To understand how it affects strength and muscle fibers, lets apply Dr. Fred Hatfield's muscle fiber test.

- Find your one rep maximum on the back squat
- Rest 15 mins
- Perform as many reps as possible with 80% of your 1 RM


- Less than 7 repetitions – fast twitch (FT) dominant
- 7-8 repetitions – mixed fiber type
- More than 8 repetitions – slow twitch (ST) dominant

Using the Hatfield muscle fiber test to examine your 80% for 20 reps would place you pretty far on the slow twitch end of the spectrum. Being predominantly ST is not a good place to be if playing football, lifting heavy weights or sprinting for cover from gunfire is in your job description.

Here is an accounting of my personal run in with the 20 rep squat program.

A few years ago, under recommendation from Rip, I did a linear progression with 20 rep squats. I started week 1 with 315 lbs x 20. Each week I added 10 lbs and kept on for 10 weeks. At 10 weeks, I was at 405 lbs and thought; 405 lbs for 20 reps would be a solid mark. The first rep was pretty easy but every rep after that felt like an Anderson Silvia front kick. Somewhere around rep 17, the white stars I was seeing turned black, and I caved like a Chilean coal mine. While I was 3 reps shy of my goal, I was decently pleased with 17 reps. Just like any other asshole that has lifted weights, I start calculating my 1 RM based off what I could handle for the 17 reps. I figured I was good for at 600 lbs, if not 650 lbs.

FT VS. ST #2

I decided to take a full week to recover; I ate great, slept 8 plus hours a night and even managed to grab a few naps. I entered the gym on Monday and started working up to a 1 RM. Somewhere around 500 lbs I starting moving like old people having sex, slow and careful. I barely hit 525 lbs for a single and I say barely because the lift took me about 5 seconds to complete.

I was defeated.

I had expected to set a new PR and was 100 lbs off my expectation and well below my previous personal best.

What was the problem? Where did I go wrong? You don't have to be a genius to know for the last 2 1/2 months I had been training nothing but ST fibers and muscular endurance. And as it turns out, you need to have some efficient FT fibers and a ton of ATP for limit singles.

Ivan Adadjiev is the former head of the Bulgarian Olympic weightlifting team. His "Bulgarian" training system was built on the foundation of high intensity with maximum weights and folklore. He believed near limit singles put the skeletal muscle fibers at maximal efficiency. While the contrasting style of training of multiple reps caused the muscle fibers to grow in mass, it made them less efficient when the time arrives for PR attempts. With another disadvantage of repetitive training with sub-maximal loads being an increase in the number of mitochondria produced in the muscle cell which will actually deplete the muscle fiber of ATP.

FT VS. ST #3

Or to simply put, form follows function.

If you want to get good at lifting heavy weights you need to lift heavy weights. If you want to get good at lifting lots of reps, than train with lots of reps.

Posted in Lifting Weights, Talk to Me Johnnie, Training | Tagged | 39 Comments

39 Responses to FT vs. ST

  1. Ken

    Interesting post, and as always thanks for the awesome programing and insights usual. Just wanted to chime in with a similar story. I went through a similar process using the Wendler 5-3-1 progression. During the last set of the 5-3-1 scheme I was squating for 14-18 reps and deadlifting 10-15 reps, depending on the week of the progression. My “paper 1RM” calculated on what I could do for 16 reps or whatever awesome, but I couldn’t move anywhere close to that. My experience was the 531 was awesome for muscular endurance, but for me it didn’t completely translate to higher 1RMs.

  2. That is why CFFB is based on 5’s and tripes, doubles and singles. 5’s for strength/power/myofibilar hypertrophy and 1-3’s for this very reason.

    I was digging through Zatsiorsky and he states,

    high threshold motor units are activated under two conditions, a single maximal repetition and the final repetition of a (maximum) set of multiple repetitions. However, the greater time under tension in a multiple repetition set increases both non functional hypertrophy and muscular fatigue. Non functional hypertrophy is an increase in the size of the muscle cell’s sarcoplasm rather than the actual contractile unit, the sarcomere. This can push a lifter into a heavier weight class without a corresponding increase in strength.

  3. Johnny, thanks for the great personal perspective. During you 10 week progression with 20 rep squatting, how did your anthropometrics respond to the stimulus? I know that you likely do not measure your quads with tape, yet did you notice increased volume?

    I am currently following the standard starting strength linear progression, to gain back, strength. I will admit that the 20 rep squat seems like a sexy goal, yet it took reading this article to remember that it is not going to help my current goal. Thanks!

  4. I have no idea what the measurements were. I do know that my legs are more dense when I lift heavy weights opposed to high reps.

  5. John Welbourn defeated? Say it aint so!

    That Hatfield test is a great way to screen your athletes to see who “knows” how to lift heavy weight. Not a knock on their skill, just a way to understand how they’re wired.

    If you’re a ST guy or gal, you best learn how to struggle to make the change.

    John has us tinkering with an Adadjiev influenced program at the CFFB Strength Lab right now. Strength is going up, limited hypertrophy, and prowlers and Versa Climbers are primarily what we use for conditioning a couple days a week. Nothing instills a sense of accomplishment more than squatting over 400lbs every day and getting buried by prowlers.

    #LifeIsGood #OccupyStrength #SquatHeavy

  6. Sean R

    I’ve missed your posts, John. Good to have you back. Thanks for the insight.

  7. JeffM

    Great article. Hatfield’s test sounds like something interesting to try out. I’d imagine I’m an ST guy, because my higher-rep sets never translate to the “predicted” 1RM.

    Glad you’re spending time where you should these days, John. But we always appreciate the time you put into write-up like this.

  8. PD

    very interesting… this might be off-topic, but I wonder how much is nature vs. nurture. You have 100m sprinters and marathoners. Clearly, they’re built differently based on their training stimulus, but is there self-selection? How much can you change your genetics towards FT from ST? I know women (I train with my wife) are able to lift more reps closer to their 1RM… how much of that is related to ST-dominance? Anyway, thanks for the article… looking forward to seeing the CFFB lab stuff make its way into the CFFB WODs!

  9. Matt M

    @ Luke – Interesting, I’ve been trying to mess around with Joel Jameson’s programming from his awesome MMA book with a heavy slant towards strength/power/oly work. Tried to incorporate Adadjiev/Jon Broz ideas for the strength portion of training and predictably (I guess) got injured. Have any of you guys tried messing around with Joels HRV software to time rest periods into your training? What kind of conditioning are you playing with on the ‘adadjiev CFFB’, any aerobic base work/blocks or pure sprint intervals?

  10. You know this is probably why I blow ass at pressing or benching heavy singles or triples… Looking through my log right now I am always hanging around in the 8-10 rep range throughout the year.

  11. This would explain quite a few issues I have been having lately. Looking back at my log it seems most of my PRs are hit in the 8-10 range and very rarely in the 1-5 range.

  12. Jay

    Great article.

    It seems Louise Simmons decided a while ago that 5’s 10’s and 20’s don’t translate well to 1RM’s and can easily lead to over training. To use his words, progressive overload almost killed him. Hence the max effort day and the dynamic effort day with the max effort day using singles over 90% (no more than 4 according to Dave Tate)and a PR if it is there for the taking (I know you have spent time at westside and already know all this, i mean no disrespect). The 5’s 10’s and 20’s may be thrown in from time to time for a stimulus change but they are not the foundation. I know the westside guys throw in alot of accessory work but the foundation is high intensity singles which means less volume thus easier recovery. Rip is more of a linear progression/progressive overload guy who advocates lots of 5’s and more. Both of these guys are great coaches in their own right. Question: taking all the training templates out there from guys like Louie and Rip, what is it that causes you to lean toward all the 3×5’s on mondays rather than singles over 90%? Sort of the volume vs intensity argument. I understand 5’s tap into a little conditioning as well as strength but are there other reasons? Do 5’s translate better to the football field? If success is measured by 1RM, such as the occupy strength, then the westside max effort days look pretty enticing. I’m planning on spending a few months with max effort on mondays so i’ll report back my progress but i’m throwing this out to you because you have been there and done that with all the different programs and chose to go with alot of 5’s. I’ve been on Crossfit Football over a year using the amateur and collegiate programs, both of them I put in 110% effort and made some gains, but left me absolutely wrecked from, i believe, all the volume with 5’s on mondays. Working to a 5RM, followed by 3×5 at 90% of that, wrecked me over time. Thats 20 reps at and over 90% weekly (i know, this shit aint easy). On the other end you have Dave Tate saying no more than 4-5 reps over 90%. I’m not looking for an easy way out I enjoy hard work, just looking to train as optimal as possible.

  13. Jay, great question and excellent observation.

    1. A 5 RM is done at around 85% of your 1 RM. The 90% of a 5 RM (85%) puts you at 76.5% for your working sets. 15-20 reps at between 85%-76.5% of your 1 RM is very doable and no where near the 90% you claim for working sets.

    2. The reason we use a linear progression for the amateur is they can handle it. A beginner can add weight to the bar day in and day out.

    3. The reason I pick 5’s is, 5’s are the perfect blend of strength/power and myofibrillar hypertrophy that is necessary to get bigger and stronger.

    4. Singles dont work for beginners. To take advantage of singles you need a advanced and adapted nervous system. For the same reason a beginner can add 5 lbs to the bar each lift (a immature nervous system) is the same reason the singles wont work.

    5. And finally Dave Tate is talking about reps based upon Prilipen’s chart. In Prilipen’s chart you have 4-10 lifts over 90% with 4 being optimal. If you look at the rep ranges for the 75-85% my reps and total volume fall well within Prilipens chart.

    6. We use 5 RM as rep maxes or as a way to set a PR. Much like the WSB guys use singles for their PRs, we use 5 RMs.

    7. the collegiate program and professional program are based on volume and intensity days. Volume being done with around 25 reps at between 75-85% of your 1 RM. Sound familiar? WSB calls their volume days, speed days. And they get 20-24 reps at 75-85% of their 1 RM on these days. They do it with 10-12 x 2 @ 50-60% + 25% of total volume made up with accommodating resistance (chains or bands) The intensity days are usually done with 5 singles. This day allows the lifter to work up to a heavy single. Hopefully they get at least all 5 reps over 90%.

    8. The assistance work you speak of comes in a fancy deal we call metabolic conditioning for DWOD.

    9. For dynamic lifts we use the olympic movements, box jumps, broad jumps and sprinting. For heavy accessory work we do a ton of pulling, 3:1 pull:push.

    Not to be an ass as I am sure you have followed the program for a while, but you are all fucked up and not understanding my program. It is my fault for slacking and not finish my own book. Or I wish you would have come to a CFFB seminar or be attending one soon as I could have straightened this out in 20 mins.

    I want you to get some physiology books and do some reading on the Russian and Bulgarian training systems. Get the book of Westside Methods and Rip’s Practical Programming.

  14. Matt, I hope you realize it takes a very rare individual to survive a bulgarian/broz style of training. To work up to a 1 RM and do drop sets multiple times a week can be taxing and most people dont have the training base to survive it. Basically, if you have not built the base for this training you will come apart at the seams both mentally and physically.

    If you do some checking on Adadjiev, he looked for one thing in his lifters…will.

    Not to say you don’t have it, but for every champion omelet they had 1000’s of broken eggs.

    The CFFB template we have been playing with is not for the amateur, collegiate or professional. But for a different athlete that can handle intensity. Very few people can train with high intensity day in and day out.

    Hopefully, the program comes out and there are interesting results to report.

  15. I believe the reason women can lift a higher percentage of their 1 rms is because their 1 rms are skewed. From all the research I have done it turns out women and some men are not as efficient at utilizing all the motor units needed to lift a true limit single. The ability to use all the motor units comes from an efficient nervous system. What helps to create a more efficient nervous system is testosterone.

    I was at a seminar given by dave tate a number of years ago and he relayed an interesting observation; the drug free lifter has to train with more volume as the drugged lifter. The drugged lifter has a heightened nervous system and can utilize their motor units more efficiently thus needed less reps to get the job done.

    After years of reading and research in everything for supertraining to the russian training manuals, it seems this is true. They talk about the efficiency of the nervous system and a lifter being able to recruit more motor units after puberty and the maturation process due to the a increased androgen profile.

    This would translate to a female lifter as most women will not have as much testosterone as a man, thus not having the same ability to recruit motor units. We have seem this time and time again where we have done the Hatfield Fiber test and seen women get 20+ reps at 80% of their 1 RM. We had one girl, Casey, get 26 reps.

  16. jay

    Thank you for the great reply. I was wrong regarding the %’s, thanks for straightening me out. However, one observation regarding your reply:
    in point #1 you say the intensity day is 15-20 reps at 76-85% and in point #7 you say the volume, or dynamic effort, day is 25 reps at 75-85%. On paper that’s almost identical. I understand the Rep scheme, rest periods, etc are different but the volume and intensity look about the same on both days. Why is that? I understand bar speed to be critical on the dynamic or volume days but like you said the wsb guys are using 75-85% at the top with only 50-60% at the bottom, that’s a substantial difference from us doing 75-85% at the bottom and trying to generate the speed necessary to get the desired result

    • You are all messed up. #1 is referring to volume day not intensity.

      And you have to remember the 50-60% the WSB guys are using is 50-60% of their competition 1 rep max while wearing full gear. That includes briefs, suits and wraps while doing a free squat. In training they are using a box squat and briefs. No wraps or suits. And ask anyone who box squats, it is must easier on the body than free squatting. So it is next to impossible to use these percentages for the raw ungeared lifter.

      I think where you messed up is by following the amateur and collegiate. You should have followed the pro and not done the sat metcon. The problem isn’t with the training, reps or scheme is is your ability to recover. You need more rest so ditch a few DWOD, those are the true soul crushers.

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  18. jay

    Ok. I am seriously messed up. In #6 you said we use the 5rm for pr’s like the wsb guys use singles. If the Monday 5rm squat followed by 3×5 @90% of 5rm is volume not intensity, then which days are the intensity days? And yes i will take your advice on the Prof program thank you

    • I think I messed up, the 5 RMs are used as a daily matrix to help you find your training volume. You have to understand that when writing a program for 25,000 people you have never met you need to make some changes. One is percentages dont work for the masses due to training history, gender or percentage of ST/FT fiber and it goes on and on. So I choose to find an accurate volume for a lift by testing the lift using a rep max then basing the volume off of what you can do that day. This allows for some natural periodization due to the fact that a Rep Max is the most you can do on that day, not a PR. A PR is the lifetime best, while rep max is the best on that day. Some days you are stronger, some…not so much. Lets say you base your training off percentages from a 1 RM one day, does it still make sense to follow those percentages for 12 weeks? Not in my opinion.

  19. Jay

    Got it..i have been trying to PR every time it calls for a 5rm believing you want us to attempt to reach a PR every time..that coupled with not deloading often enough led me to over train..my fault……..i agree, it does not make sense to follow the same percentages for 12 weeks without some wave periodization and deloads built in….thank you for the program and taking the time to explain, that speaks volumes. I look forward to seeing you at a cert soon

  20. Big Josh

    Good discussion.

    “And you have to remember the 50-60% the WSB guys are using is 50-60% of their competition 1 rep max while wearing full gear.”

    Given that – what %s do you now recommend for ungeared lifters doing DE box squat work?

    I came to the conclusion a while ago that I wasn’t getting much out of box squats at 50% no matter how much band tension I used, but doing the unbanded cycle at 75-85% (thanks JayBird) was something that I got a lot out of. Not fun though, not fun at all.

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  22. josh macdonald

    The concept of testosterone aiding in motor unit utilization has huge implications on rep schemes and training plans for kids. Using sub maximum loads and working on coordinating the neurologic system and training for neuromotor recruitment pre-puberty should be the focus. Trying to get pre-puberty kids, or mid puberty kids to PR on 1RM or even up to a 5RM seems dangerous and not the best use of their reps.

  23. Big Josh,

    We have tested the percentages for the raw lifter w/ no accommodating resistance for DE work and have to one conclusion…it depends on the lifter.

    The focus is rate of force development and bar speed. I would say for most lifters 85% would be right on the edge. I would say 70-80 would be ideal, but that depends on the lifter. I have one guy who moves 85% like it mollasses and another that moves 85% like nothing. But they both squat the same. Go figure.

    Here is my take on the ME/DE/Rep Method first discussed by the Russians (taken via my russian reading)

    Olympic lifts (snatch/C&J) are the dynamic pull (1st & 2nd pull). The DE squat is the concentric squat out of the hole of the Snatch/Clean. ME is done with the strength movements (squat, DL, press, bench, ect) and the rep method being any time you do them for reps.

    In essence, WSB is training the 3 lifts like the olympic lifts. By focusing on rate of force (DE) and ME lifts. Using a conjugated system of rotating lifts to avoid accommodation.

    Hope that helps Big Josh. You need to come down and train with us, so we can make some tweaks and have some fun. Bring that big savage Jaybird. I want a crack at his big head.

  24. I will be the first to tell you I am not a huge fan of heavy weight training for young kids. I think they need to learn the movements, do body weight training, swing KBs, climb ropes and do hard work. They have a lifetime to bang iron.

    But what do know is when kids are exposed to physical training at a young age there is a priming the pump effect that allows them to gain strength/muscle at a great rate once they hit puberty and start training with weights.

    Take a look at any kid that has done gymnastics for a long period of time in pre-puberty. Once they start weight training they make great gains.

  25. Jaybird

    That was the best discussion ive heard in a while. Im in Big Josh.

  26. Justin

    Many people forget that the OLD OLD 20 rep squat routine was 2 x 5 heavy back squats, followed by a 20 rep set as a back-off set, not just a single set of 20. Otherwise you become a master of 20 reppers while losing top end strength (as you found). The two sets of 5 lets you maintain the top end stuff while also building strength, hypertrophy and mental toughness from the extra volume in the form of high rep stuff. Pure 20 rep work would only help a novice or early intermediate who can gain strength at a low % of 1rm, so I have no idea why rip would have suggested it for an advanced trainee such as yourself.

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  32. We do a lot of 1×10 and 1×20 rep schemes at my current gym and it has confused me for a long time… I am noticing now that it confused me because my goal has always been top-end strength, as you note, versus the strength/endurance (more CF biased I supposed).

    It’s not my favorite way to train as I’d much rather do singles, triples or even x5s, but at least now I understand why we are doing it.

    Thanks for this one.

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