The 50-Rep Workout: Build muscle with a counter-intutive workout
What if you worked out hard…without working out hard? Former Naval Special Warfare member Craig Weller introduces us to “Eustress Training” and shares a ridiculously simple (and awesome) muscle-building workout.
dis·tress : acute physical or mental suffering; affliction; trouble.
eustress : stress that is deemed healthful or giving one the feeling of fulfillment.
Let’s say you want to build a muscular, athletic body — the kind that looks strong and powerful and also happens to be strong and powerful.
And let’s say you don’t want to use every piece of equipment in the gym, do lots fancy math, or pretend that phrases like “mega ratchet super pump set” actually mean anything.
You’re a guy who wants to get in, work hard, and get the hell out to go live the rest of your life.
If that’s you, I’ve got a workout you should try. (It’s also a program I use for guys who go through Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and other elite special operations forces. Guys who need to be cool and calm when shit starts to get stressful.)
The 50-Rep Eustress Workout is ridiculously simple and ridiculously effective. It’ll make you look better. I’ll make you feel better. And the only equipment you need is a barbell and maybe a squat rack.
SCIENCE BOMB! BENEFITS OF EUSTRESS TRAINING
Rapid recovery: Training in a calm, positive eustress state (as opposed to distress, like most workouts) allows quicker recovery and trains you to maintain a calm, controlled mental state while putting out a workload that would absolutely floor most people.
Hypertrophy: High volume heavy compound lifts induce a substantial neuroendocrine response. (That means you’ll grow bigger muscles.)
Technical proficiency: Training flawless technique in the big lifts will make quality movement a habit. The better you move, the better you feel and perform.
Local muscular endurance: This type of training increases density of mitochondria (cellular powerhouses) and the oxidative capacity of fast twitch fibers. That means you’ll have more energy without needing to tap into your other energy systems.
1. Do a thorough warmup.
Try the S2B Ground Zero mobility circuit.
2. Pick a heavy full-body movement
Here’s a brief list to get you going:
- conventional deadlift
- sumo deadlift
- trap-bar deadlift
- front squat
- back squat
- maltese falcon squat
- zercher squat
(Yes, I made one of those names up for my own amusement.)
3. Do 4 warm-ups sets.
Start off light and ramp up to a semi-heavy weight.
This is where a little trial and error comes in. (Don’t worry – it’ll only take you a minute to figure out and adjust.)
If you can normally deadlift 315 pounds for one rep, start light and work your way up to about 65% of that. For instance:
Warm-up set 1: 135 pounds for 3 reps
Warm-up set 2: 165 pounds for 3 reps
Warm-up set 3: 185 pounds for 3 reps
Warm-up set 4: 205 pounds for 1 rep
(Fancy Math: 315 × .65% = 204.75 pounds.)
4. Keep the bar loaded with 65% of your one-rep-max.
If you finished with 205 pounds, you’ll stick with 205 pounds.
You’re warmed up and the bar is loaded. Now what?
Well, now you’re gonna do 50 sets of one rep each, resting as long as you need between each set.
The catch? You have to make it look and feel easy.
Your heart rate should stay low (about 150 beats per minute, if you’re measuring it), you should breathe exclusively through your nose, and every rep should feel fast.
Remember, you’re trying to stay calm throughout this entire workout. The goal is to train hard and efficiently without overloading your nervous system or freaking out.
No stimulants, no aids like belts or wraps, and no psyching yourself up like you’re about to punch a Nazi in the face.
Just lift the weight calmly.
Rapid Fire Q and A
So, wait. I just do an exercise for 50 reps?
Should I push to get 50 reps no matter what?
No. Your goal is 50 reps, but if at any point your technique begins to suck, you lose range of motion, or you feel like the reps are incredibly difficult, you should stop there and go home.
The point is to train while in a heightened state of eustress. That means staying fresh and calm throughout the workout. Grinding reps and over-the-top grunting will zap your energy. Which you don’t want.
How long should I rest between each set?
Rest as long as you need to to feel recovered. Try taking big, slow breaths through your nose and focus on bringing your heart rate down as much as possible between sets.
How do I progress from workout to workout?
There are a few ways to use progressive overload and push your body to work harder and better. The next time you do the workout, try:
- adding more weight to the bar (225 pounds instead of 205)
- doing 5-10 more sets (60 reps instead of 50)
- doing the same amount of reps in less time (35 minutes instead of 40 minutes)
- changing the exercise slightly (sumo deadlift instead of trap-bar deadlift)
How often should I do this?
It depends on what program you’re currently following. If you’re not doing anything right now, I see no harm in doing this type of training two or three days per week as long as you pick different movements that don’t compete with each other. (For example: deadlift, chin-up, military press.)
If you’re already following a good workout program, I recommend doing one of these 50-rep sessions every week or two, especially if you have one exercise you want to get stronger on or if you’re just looking for something fun to try.
Is this just for lower-body exercises?
Not at all. You can do this with chin-ups, pull-ups, rows, military presses or even bench presses. If you’re doing a bench press, use a power rack and lift off pins from the bottom so that you don’t have to worry about racking the bar. That also works well for front squats.
Don’t go nuts on the pushing movements, though. If you really, really want to do a bench press, make sure you have at least two other workouts where you’re doing exclusively pulling exercises. Your shoulders will thank you.
50 reps? Are you fking nuts?
Nope. The benefits are huge. I’ve even done some workouts with over 100 reps.
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