I recently received an e-mail from a trainee who asked if going heavy on stretch-position exercises--like flyes for chest, stiff-legged deadlifts for hamstrings and overhead extensions for triceps--would be a good idea. He actually referenced a study I wrote about in X-Rep Update #1 to make a point.
In the study a progressively heavier weight was placed on a bird’s wing over one month of “workouts.” No other “training” was performed by the bird, and rest days were interspersed to ensure full recovery. Those progressively heavier stretch overload sessions led to “the greatest gains in muscle mass ever recorded in an animal or human model of tension-induced overload,” according to researcher Jose Antonio, Ph.D. It was a 300 percent muscle-mass gain!
If you’ve been reading my latest rantings, you know I’m no longer into ultra-heavy training; I prefer to build muscle with 4X, a moderate-weight, high-fatigue method that pushes the target muscle past the growth threshold; however, the reminder about that incredible study had me thinking--maybe there’s a way to combine heavier sets--I said heavier, not heavy--with 4X to provide more stretch overload similar to that study...
Stretch overload appears to have unique mass-building effects. It’s been shown to increase muscle satellite cells, which contribute to your mass gains. It’s also been linked to anabolic receptor proliferation on muscle tissue—the muscles become more receptive to growth hormones, like testosterone and GH, and hypertrophy at a faster rate (we all want that, right?).
The problem is, if you’re older and/or you just don’t want to go that ultra-heavy joint-jolting route on those somewhat dangerous exercises (I don’t!), what do you do to get the unique mass-building effects? Answer: Use lower-rep, semi-heavy options.
I’ve talked about Mr. America Doug Brignole’s 4X drop-set method here before. Doug often uses drop sets within a 4X sequence, and that has worked incredibly well for him, reigniting major mass gains in his early 50s! You can use his method, but with slightly heavier weights on your stretch-position exercises (those are designated with an S in the POF 4X Mass Workout in that e-book, if you’re interested in complete programs).
Here’s the drill for a semi-heavy version of the drop-set method:
1) Take your EIGHT-rep-max weight—obviously heavier than your 15RM for standard 4X—and do only FIVE reps.
2) Reduce the weight and immediately do FIVE more. (That’s “set” one.)
3) Rest for 35 to 40 seconds (just as you do in a standard 4X sequence).
4) Repeat—do another drop-set round, five plus five, with the SAME weights.
Do that for three or four cycles—if you’re still going strong on your third round, do a fourth. The last round should be to failure--remember overload!--and you should NOT get fives.
Now if you’re using a stretch-position exercise that takes too long to reduce the weight, like EZ-curl-bar overhead triceps extensions (remove collars, remove plates--no way), use rest/pause within the 3X sequence instead of drops.
Do your five reps, rest for 10 seconds, then do four or five more with the same weight. Rest for the full 35 to 40 seconds, then do the two-set rest/pause series again--no weight change necessary. Continue for three or four rounds. If you still get five plus five on your third, do a fourth.
Reminder: Your last round with either method should be all out; you want stretch overload so maybe you’ll get a 300 percent growth surge (okay, that’s probably not going to happen, but you should stimulate some new size gains quickly).
The 4X drop-set and rest/pause methods are heavier than standard 4X, but you don’t use extreme poundages. As I said, stretch-position exercise are more dangerous than most others, so heavier rather than superheavy is the way to go to safely grow for most trainees. Prepare for new mass!
Stay tuned, train smart and be Built for Life.