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Loosen Up to Unleash Growth


Q: Have you heard of FST-7 training, and if so, what’s your opinion of it? It has to do with stretching the muscle fascia from the inside with seven sets of a big-pump exercise at the end of a bodypart workout. 

A: The idea of stretching the muscle fascia, the fibrous encasements that surround muscle fibers, has been around for a while. The original method had you use a rigorous, painful stretching regimen after you trained a bodypart. For example, after working hamstrings, you’d sit on the floor, legs straight and together, and your trainer would force your torso forward to fully elongate the hamstrings—it brought tears to the eyes.

Fascia stretching makes sense because the encasements are made of tight tissue that can constrict the muscle and restrict growth. Stretching those sheaths gives the fibers more room to grow. It’s comparable to stretching a balloon before you blow it up; the prestretching enables you to fill the balloon with air much more easily, without collapsing a lung or forcing your eyes to pop out of their sockets.

FST-7 was created by trainer Hany Rambod. In it, you end your bodypart workouts with seven additional sets of eight to 10 reps of a continuous-tension isolation exercise, like pec deck flyes or cable crossovers, taking 30 seconds of rest between sets. Those seven finishing sets engorge the target muscle and, theoretically, stretch the fascia from the inside.

It’s a great idea if you have the time and recovery ability to handle that many more sets in a workout. If not, you’ll get better results by simply going back to a stretch-position exercise, such as dumbbell flyes for chest, after a full Positions-of-Flexion workout. 

The additional stretch set or sets, if you do more than one, is an incredible anabolic accelerator after a full Positions-of-Flexion bodypart workout. The target muscle should be pumped to the max from any standard POF routine. That’s because you train it through a full range of motion—two sets each in the midrange, stretch and contracted positions—maximizing fiber activation. Full-range stimulation is a key method of achieving maximum muscle engorgement with minimal sets. 

For example, for lats you’d do chins or pulldowns (midrange), dumbbell pullovers (stretch) and stiff-arm pulldowns (contracted) and then go back to pullovers and hold the stretch position for 45 to 60 seconds. In other words, after you “POF” a bodypart, you simply return to the stretch exercise, in this case pullovers, and hold the full-stretch position.

There’s another way that’s even more efficient. In fact, Jonathan Lawson, my training partner, and I found it so effective that we included it in the latest X-Rep program in our latest e-book, X-Rep Update #1. Basically, you superset the contracted-position exercise, like stiff-arm pulldowns, with the stretch-position move, like dumbbell pullovers, in a standard POF program.

You can do higher reps—15 to 20—on the first exercise if you’re training a hard-to-pump bodypart, then you immediately do the stretch exercise. You can do standard reps on the second exercise, which will loosen the fascia effectively each time you elongate the engorged target muscle. Or you can use the StatS technique, a 50-second static-hold stretch, and short pulses can help amplify the effect. (Bonus: Remember the animal study that got a 300 percent muscle mass increase in one month using progressive stretch overload? The researchers used a technique similar to StatS, as explained in Chapter 4 of the e-book X-Rep Update #1.)

So, while FST-7—getting a big pump with a lot of sets at the end of a bodypart workout—is good for stretching the fascia, we prefer one of the two more efficient recovery-oriented methods:

1) Simply use a full POF bodypart workout for a big pump, then add one or two static stretch-hold sets (StatS) to elongate the fully engorged target muscle for about 50 seconds. 

2) Superset the contracted-position exercise with the stretch-position move within the POF bodypart workout, which is even more efficient than the first method. You can use StatS on one set of the stretch exercise.

If you train in a crowded gym and supersetting is impossible, you’ll have to use option 1 most of the time. You’ll feel either method working. Stretch overload is a mass accelerator on a number of levels, including fascia expansion.

The key is to combine a full pump with a complete stretch. That will eventually create an anticonstricting effect and unleash new muscle growth. Yes, it hurts, but it works—and it may be just what you need to achieve your next level of extreme muscle size.

Q: I’m interested in building up my body. I’ve been visiting some workout forums and boards on the Internet, and lots of people are recommending your quick-start workout. Can you explain why it’s so good? Is it for me? I want a new body, but I don’t want to look like the Incredible Hulk or anything.

A: The Quick-Start program has you beginning with a two-week break-in routine, using the basic exercises, like squats and bench presses, for one to two sets each. It’s a full-body workout that takes about an hour on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and it’s geared to upregulate your nervous system and coordination quickly so you can start building muscle immediately after your two-week “learning” phase. Then you move to something more intense to accelerate your gains.

In week 3 you graduate to the Fast-Mass Workout and follow it for six weeks. It’s based on two important muscle-building concepts: max force and extended muscular tension, each of which builds muscle along a different pathway to accelerate muscle growth. 

You take the break-in workouts, add an isolation exercise for each muscle group, and move to a split routine—dividing your body over two workouts—with each session lasting about an hour or less. Rotate the workouts over three days per week if you can’t train four times:

Monday and Thursday: Thighs, calves, chest, triceps

Tuesday and Friday: Shoulders, back, biceps, abdominals

The exercise you add for each muscle is a continuous-tension isolation movement, like leg extensions. Even so, you don’t do it with a normal two-seconds-up/two-seconds-down cadence. You go much more slowly: three seconds up/one second hold/three seconds down. That builds muscle and strength along another pathway, as recent research has demonstrated.

A study found that trainees could build significant muscle with lighter weights—if they used a slow cadence with continuous muscle tension for longer sets. The subjects performed no other exercise. Nevertheless, with only a few sets of continuous tension, about one minute per set, they got impressive muscular growth—much faster hypertrophy than the researchers expected. 

In the Fast-Mass Workout you combine the longer tension style with the max force of the basic compound moves, which gives you a quick recipe for a major physical transformation. It’s a double dose of anabolic ammunition.

Will you look like the Hulk? Only if you’re genetically gifted. Very few individuals have the potential to build “incredible” muscle size; however, you will rocket toward your individual genetic potential with the Quick-Start Workout. That means you’ll have a muscular, attention-grabbing physique sooner rather than later. [Note: The Quick-Start Workout is included in the e-book Quick-Start Muscle-Building Guide, available at www.MuscleQuickStart.com. It also contains an all-dumbbell Fast-Mass Workout for those who want to train at home.]

Q: You’ve said that training each muscle once a week has never worked for you, but I see at your training blog that you’re doing just that. Why?

A: Inflicting more muscle trauma requires more recovery time, especially when you’re 49 years old like me. If you do enough fiber damage, you may only need once-a-week training for each muscle. One efficient way to inflict more growth-promoting trauma is to slow down the negative stroke on every rep of a set. On squats, for example, take a full six seconds to lower, then fire up at normal semi-explosive speed. The first time I used the slow-down method on squats, I screamed every time I had to bend my knees to sit down the following day—and that was after only one set!

Interesting that Arthur Jones, the creator of Nautilus machines and the father of high-intensity training, always said to use a four-to-six-second negative on every rep of every set. That was one reason he prescribed shorter and less frequent workouts—because the slow lowering induces lots of muscle trauma that requires extra recovery.

The negative-accentuated style is excellent, but don’t get carried away with it. I think one or two sets per bodypart is enough for most trainees. You also need faster, two-seconds-up/two-seconds-down rep speeds. That enables you to use more weight and achieve more overload at the semistretch position—the key fiber-activation point, where the muscle is elongated.

Jones suggested getting that X-Spot overload at the end of a negative-accentuated set. He said that at the point of failure the trainee should hold the weight at the sticking point for as long as possible. That produces even more tension time, muscle damage and growth-fiber activation in a single set. While static holds are excellent, I recommend doing X Reps, or partials, in the semistretch position when possible, as that calls even more fibers into action due to better muscle innervation.

Rep-speed variations—like negative-accentuated sets—plus X Reps and X hybrid techniques produce unique growth-triggering muscle trauma. Doing a few more sets, which I’m also experimenting with over the winter, is also more traumatic and may require extended recovery time—like working each muscle only once a week. 

As Jones often said, the key to getting size bursts is intense workouts followed by enough rest to permit muscle growth and strength to occur. But there’s no blanket recommendation: It takes experimentation to find out what volume and intensity bring results for you at your level of training, recovery ability and genetics—and your requirements can change depending on lifestyle, eating habits, stress and so on. That’s one reason there are a variety of workout programs available at X-Rep.com and why my own program is constantly evolving. IM

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