If you want to know what a feeder workout is, and how to use them to speed up muscle growth, this page will show you what to do.
- What Is a Feeder Workout?
- How They’re Done
- How They’re Supposed to Work
- When Should You Do Feeder Workouts? How Often?
My preferred approach to targeting a slow-to-grow muscle group is to ramp up your training volume. And by training volume, I’m talking about the number of sets you do for a particular muscle over the course of a week.
There are two main ways to go about doing so:
The approach you use to stimulate growth in a stubborn muscle depends a lot on what your current training program looks like.
If your volume per workout is relatively low, and you’re already hitting a muscle 2-3 times a week, then you can just add a few more sets to each workout.
But if you’re already doing a lot of volume in each workout, then doing more isn’t necessarily going to help increase muscle size.
That’s because there’s an upper limit on the amount of stimulation your muscles can respond to in any given workout.
In this case, you’re better off increasing your training frequency, and working that muscle more often.
And one of the simplest ways to go about doing so without overhauling your entire training program is with the use of feeder workouts.
What Is a Feeder Workout?
The term was coined by a bodybuilder called Rich Piana, who described feeder workouts as a short, high-rep workout that’s done for a particular muscle the day after you train that muscle.
Piana’s theory is that the more often you pump up the muscle, the quicker it’s going to grow. He did feeder workouts every night for two years – three sets of biceps and three sets of triceps – and saw some serious growth in his arms.
The idea is that feeder exercises increase blood flow to a particular muscle. This increase in blood supply increases the supply of nutrients to that muscle, as well as helping to clear away some of the debris from the previous days workout.
Here’s a video of Piana describing feeder workouts if you’d like to watch:
Rich Piana was on the sauce, and advice that’s geared towards lifters training with pharmaceutical assistance isn’t necessarily going to work as well for naturals.
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However, in the case of feeder workouts, I do think they have a role to play, especially if you’re trying to bring up a lagging muscle group.
How They’re Done
There’s no strict template that lays out exactly how a feeder workout should be done. The general idea is to use relatively light weights, do a high number of reps, and make sure to leave plenty of reps in the tank at the end of each set.
Your reps should look smooth and controlled, and each set should be terminated well short of failure.
The exercises you do are typically going to be single-joint isolation exercises, or even a compound exercise done on a machine.
How They’re Supposed to Work
One of the main theories about feeder workouts is that they enhance the anabolic response to the training session that came earlier, mainly by extending muscle protein synthesis, a term that refers to the creation of new muscle protein.
Muscle protein synthesis is a key driving force behind muscle growth, and it’s the gradual accumulation of these new proteins that leads to thicker, larger muscle fibers .
After a workout, the rate of protein synthesis tends to rise. However, this doesn’t last forever, and the rate of production drops back to normal a couple of days later .
What’s more, the post-training rise in protein synthesis tends to be higher in untrained compared to trained individuals . It peaks earlier and dips back to normal levels more quickly.
Feeder workouts are supposed to keep protein synthesis ticking along at a higher rate than normal, but without interfering with recovery from your regular workout.
While this is mostly just theory, as there isn’t any research out there to even attempt to put feeder workouts to the test, the general concept sits well with much of what we know about resistance training and muscle growth.
We know that training to failure isn’t necessary to make your muscles grow, that a high frequency of training (i.e. hitting a muscle group 5-6 times a week) doesn’t put the brakes on muscle as was once believed, and that higher reps and lighter weights can work well for stimulating growth.
There’s also some research to show that differences in capillary density go some way towards explaining why why some people build muscle faster than others.
In one review, researchers report that men with a higher capillary density gained more muscle than individuals with lower capillary densities after six months of resistance training .
Capillaries are tiny blood vessels, which deliver oxygen, nutrients and hormones to muscle cells, clear the metabolites that build up during a workout, as well as helping muscle cells to recover from one workout to the next.
Feeder sets may well mimic some of the benefits of a higher capillary density in the sense that they increase the supply of blood to a particular muscle, as well as stimulating an increase in capillary density themselves.
We also know there’s an upper limit, or ceiling, on the amount of stimulation your muscles can respond to in any given workout.
As an example, let’s say that doing 8 sets rather than 4 sets per muscle group speeds up growth by 20%. But going from 8 sets to 12 sets might increase growth by 10%.
Increasing the set count even further may well have no benefits at all, and could end up impairing rather than improving your results.
The additional sets still need to be recovered from, taxing your body’s limited resources while making no contribution to muscle growth.
In some cases, particularly if you’re an advanced lifter looking to spur new growth, you’re better off spreading your training across multiple sessions, rather than trying to cram all your volume into a small number of weekly workouts.
And that’s exactly what feeder workouts allow you to do. A couple of heavy sessions, followed by a couple of lighter sessions means you’re getting more volume in for that particular muscle, but without interfering too much with recovery.
When Should You Do Feeder Workouts? How Often?
There’s no rigid protocol that says exactly when or how often a feeder workout should be done, and there are many different ways to incorporate them into your training program.
One approach is to choose an area of the body that you want to focus on for the next 6-12 weeks, be it your arms, chest, shoulders or whatever.
Then, every time you train one of these muscle groups, you do a second feeder workout for that same area the next day.
Feeder Workouts for Arms
Let’s say you want to beef up your biceps and triceps. You’re following a 4-day upper/lower split, which involves training your upper body and lower body twice a week.
In this case, the feeder workouts for your arms would come on the days after training your upper body.
That is, on both lower body days, you’d also do some high-rep pump-style isolation work for your biceps and triceps.
- Monday: Upper Body
- Tuesday: Lower Body + Arm Feeder Exercises
- Wednesday: Off
- Thursday: Upper Body
- Friday: Lower Body + Arm Feeder Exercises
- Saturday: Off
- Sunday: Off
For example, during your lower body workout, you might do a set of heavy squats, then rest for a minute or so.
Then, you pick up a light dumbbell and crank out a set of 20-30 cross body hammer curls.
Some recommendations involve sets of 50, 75 or even 100 reps. Personally, I don’t think you need to go that high. Sets of 20-30 reps will do the job just fine.
You’re not pushing yourself particularly hard during that set of curls, just enough to get a pump in your arms.
Then you rest briefly before moving on to your next set of squats. Do the same thing again, training your biceps between sets of squats, until you’ve done 3-6 pump sets for your biceps.
Feeder Workouts for Chest
Maybe you want to focus on adding some muscle mass to your chest. You’re following a 4-day push/pull routine, hitting the quads, chest, shoulders and triceps and push day, and the hamstrings, back and biceps on pull day.
On the pull day, between sets of pull-ups, pulldowns or rows, you’d also do some high-rep sets for your chest. Cable crossovers, the pec deck, a machine chest press or even push-ups would do the job just fine.
- Monday: Push Workout
- Tuesday: Pull Workout + Chest Feeder Exercises
- Wednesday: Off
- Thursday: Push Workout
- Friday: Pull Workout + Chest Feeder Exercises
- Saturday: Off
- Sunday: Off
While those light dumbbells and resistance bands might not be enough for a “proper” workout, they’re ideal for some light upper body feeder exercises.
- Monday: Full Body (Gym)
- Tuesday: Upper Body Feeder Exercises (Home)
- Wednesday: Off
- Thursday: Full Body (Gym)
- Friday: Upper Body Feeder Exercises (Home)
- Saturday: Off
- Sunday: Off
The heavier work is done when you’re in the gym a couple of times a week, when you’ve got access to a much larger range of equipment, while the lighter training is done at home.
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