Q: I’m working long hours these days and don’t have a lot of time to work out. Do you think doing only one exercise for each bodypart with 4X per day will give me gains? I could probably manage to train each muscle twice a week.
A: That depends on how advanced you are. For example, if you’re at the beginning stage and you’ve followed the two-phase Quick-Start Muscle Building program that my training partner, Jonathan Lawson, and I outline in the March ’10 IRON MAN [“Muscle Quick Start”], moving to 4X on one big exercise for each bodypart twice a week would be ideal for a six-week phase. Here’s how that pans out:
Phase 1 (two weeks): Do one big exercise for each -bodypart three times a week—full-body workouts—performing two subfailure sets for each exercise.
Phase 2 (two weeks): Use a two-way split, training Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Add one set of an isolation move for each target muscle.
Phase 3 (six weeks): Stay with the phase 2 split, but eliminate most of the isolation exercises. Just do 4X on one exercise for each muscle.
So in phase 3 you go back to doing four or five big exercises at each workout, using 4X on each, and the sessions should take you about 30 minutes. Quick hits, but you’re training each bodypart twice a week, which should add mass to your physique. Here’s the split:
Monday and Thursday: Quads, hamstrings, calves, chest, triceps
Tuesday and Friday: Back, delts, biceps, abs
If you’re more advanced, one 4-by sequence (our new nickname for 4X) for each muscle twice a week may not be enough. We’ve noticed that as trainees progress with 4X, additional volume is important. For example, at a minimum we use the three-exercise Positions-of-Flexion programs for each bodypart. We do either a 4X or 3X sequence on each, so that’s 10 to 12 sets for every bodypart. Of course, only the last one or two sets of each 4-by or 3-by are to failure. Still, that’s a lot of volume for each target muscle twice a week. (You can see our current workouts at our X-Rep Training Blog at X-Rep.com.)
You didn’t really say how much time you have to train or how many days a week you can hit the gym. If you can manage four like the above split, you might try two exercises per bodypart with 4X or 3X. A good template is the POF 4X split on pages 25 and 26 in The 4X Mass Workout; however, don’t use all three positions. Use the big, midrange move at each workout, but alternate the stretch-position exercise with the contracted-position move—like this for triceps:
Midrange: Lying extensions 4 x 10
Stretch: Overhead extensions 3 x 12
Midrange: Lying extensions 4 x 10
Contracted: Pushdowns 3 x 12
To recap 4X and 3X: You pick a weight with which you can get 15 reps, but you do only 10—or 12 for 3X. You rest for 30 seconds, and then do it again, and so on until you complete the designated number of sets. The last set or two should be to failure. That makes the routines very fast—four to five minutes for each exercise, less than 10 minutes per bodypart. So hitting back, delts, biceps and abs should take you about an hour.
If an hour is too long, here’s another idea that may work. I say “may” because Jonathan and I haven’t tried it, but it’s worth experimenting with. Pick four exercises for each bodypart, and do 4X—but train each bodypart only once a week. That’s 16 sets for every target muscle. For example, you could do the three Positions-of-Flexion exercises plus one more, your choice. If you can train five days a week, try this:
Thursday: Hamstrings, calves
Yes, I realize that there’s no arm or ab work; however, those bodyparts get a lot of indirect stress when you work other bodyparts. Do enough pressing, rowing and pulling exercises for chest and back, and your arms will grow. If you have time, you can add a few sets of direct arm work—for example, pushdowns after chest on Tuesday and curls after delts on Friday. A 4X sequence on one exercise will take only an additional five minutes.
Doing 4X on four exercises should take about 30 minutes. Sixteen sets with minimal rest is a lot of stress, which means seven days of recovery may be just right—just enough to get you big and buff.
Editor’s note: Steve Holman is the author of many bodybuilding best-sellers and the creator of Positions-of-Flexion muscle training. For information on the POF videos and Size Surge programs, visit www.X-Rep.com for information on X-Rep and 3D POF methods and e-books. IM