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Arms: Train More to Gain More?

Getting 10 reps on your first four or five sets is fairly easy—more like warmup sets. At around set six or so, things start heating up, and by sets nine and 10, reaching 10 reps is pretty brutal, but the burn and pump are incredible.

Q: I’m a hardgainer, so I’ve been using your [version of Eric Broser’s] Power/Rep Range/Shock program [listed in the e-book 3D Muscle Building]. I’m making great gains in size and strength everywhere except for my arms. Do you think I need to specialize on my biceps and triceps? I really want big arms as soon as possible.

A: You say you’re a hardgainer, so you may be overtraining your arms on that program. While you use a different training protocol each week—low reps on Power week, a variety of rep ranges on Rep Range week, and drop sets and other intensity tactics on Shock week—the training split is the same every week. You train each bodypart once every seven days:

Monday: Chest, calves, abs

Tuesday: Back, forearms

Thursday: Quads, hamstrings, lower back

Friday: Delts, triceps, biceps

While it appears that everything gets hit only once, your arms are getting more work. Your triceps get extra stress on Monday during your pressing work for chest, and your biceps get hit on Tuesday with the pulling and rowing work for lats and midback. Your tri’s even get hit during some back exercises as well, like pullovers, the stretch-position move for lats, which activate the triceps’ long heads.

There are a few good solutions you can try, like reducing your set totals to about four for biceps and four for triceps. Or, as you work triceps and biceps with compound exercises on chest and back days, on arm day, Friday, only use stretch- and contracted-position exercises, as they are more isolated. 

For example, for triceps you’d do the last two exercises of the three-exercise Positions-of-Flexion sequence, overhead extensions (stretch) and pushdowns (contracted). For biceps you’d do incline curls (stretch) and concentration curls (contracted). 

Whichever solution you choose, you must give it a fair trial of about four weeks before you move to something new—you must be patient in order for visible growth to take place. Now, for one more off-the-wall solution…

Jonathan, my training partner, and I are using a program similar to the Ultimate Fat-to-Muscle Workout, which follows the same split as above, and we noticed arm soreness lingering till Thursday and sometimes Friday. The workout included some negative-accentuated sets, which cause extra muscle damage not just in the primary bodypart but also in the secondary ones, like biceps on pulldowns. 

While the microtrauma can boost fat burning during the recovery process, we started thinking that perhaps our arms weren’t recovering, much less growing. We decided that on Friday we would perform only the big, midrange move for triceps and biceps, but we’d use the 10-sets-of-10 technique, which Ron Harris reminded us about in an item that appeared in a recent IRON MAN.

“Whoa,” you may be thinking, “10 sets? That’s more than you normally do, plus it’s midrange work, which is the most taxing of the three Position-of-Flexion exercises.” True, it’s the most taxing exercise, but with the 10×10 tactic, you use the same weight on all sets—one that you could get about 20 reps with—and you rest only about 30 seconds between sets.

In other words, it feels light—at first. Getting 10 reps on your first four or five sets is fairly easy—more like warmup sets. At around set six or so, things start heating up, and by sets nine and 10, reaching 10 reps is pretty brutal, but the burn and pump are incredible.

The 10×10 tactic is a great way to speed into the growth zone without having to use extreme poundages. For example, we use only bodyweight on dips for triceps and do cable curls for biceps. While Jonathan outran the stack on cable curls doing them the standard way, with the 10×10 method he’s using about 50 pounds off the stack. Even with lighter weights 10×10 appears to be an incredible mass technique.

Q: From all I’ve read and experienced, losing bodyfat is all about reducing calories. If you take in fewer calories than you burn every day, you lose weight. If you take in more calories than you burn, you gain weight. To me that means The Ultimate Fat-to-Muscle Workout has to require reduced calories or it can’t work. But then there’s nothing left to build muscle. Comments?

A: Your energy equation is exactly why that program works. It can create a fat-burning calorie deficit but not by forcing you to run extra miles every day; it stokes your metabolism so you use more energy, or fat, even at rest.

One way The Ultimate Fat-to-Muscle Workout does that is through muscle damage. At each workout you create microtears in a number of muscle structures. The repair process takes days—and it also requires a lot of energy that comes from bodyfat. So you’re burning fat even when you’re not doing anything. Nice!

Think of the way a car burns gasoline. If you drive 60 miles per hour on the freeway, your car burns a certain amount of gas. Around 60 miles per hour is considered an efficient highway speed for optimal fuel use. If you push the engine by driving 75 or 80, your gas mileage goes down—your car burns more fuel per mile than at the slower speed. By revving the engine, you’ve essentially accelerated the car’s “metabolism,” or fuel use.

That’s what happens when you create the right amount of muscle trauma in the gym with your weight workouts—your metabolism revs up so your body burns more fuel. Your metabolic engine runs faster as it repairs the damage. Scientists have found that the negative, or lowering, stroke of each repetition during a weight workout produces the most damage, so slowing down that part of the rep can create more trauma for a fat-to-muscle effect.

Research shows that the muscle-repair process uses a lot of bodyfat, so if you’re getting enough complete protein regularly so that amino acids are present to build muscle tissue, you burn fat and build muscle simultaneously, the ideal body-transformation scenario.

Of course, metabolism can also work in the opposite direction. Say you get the notion that since taking in fewer calories will make you burn more fat, you’re going to go for broke and only eat one meal a day. Bad idea. Now your body senses famine, or starvation. Your metabolism slows to a crawl, burning fewer calories, but that’s not the worst part. During all those consecutive hours that your body doesn’t have food, it hoards bodyfat and jettisons a more expendable tissue—muscle. Yikes! That’s right, you burn muscle for energy—and with less muscle your metabolism slows even further. Double yikes!

That’s the reason you should eat a small meal every two to three hours, and those meals should be protein dominant. Bonus: Protein actually takes more energy to digest and assimilate than carbs or fat; that’s another key fat-to-muscle principle.

So if your bodyweight is constant and you do nothing but start using some negative-accentuated sets, taking six seconds to lower on each rep, you should automatically lose bodyfat—that is, as long as your calories and activity stay the same. And if you get enough protein at regular intervals, you will build a lot of muscle at the same time.  

Q: I’ve been doing one negative-accentuated set for each bodypart for a few months, ever since you introduced them, and I’ve gotten spectacular progress. My muscle size has increased along with strength and muscle cuts, but my results have started to slow down. Should I add another negative-accentuated set so I’m doing two for each body­part?

A: Adding a second negative-accentuated set is a big jump because you increase volume and intensity at the same time. A better solution is to use heavier weights on your negative-accentuated sets, so you get about five reps on your own, raising for 1.5 seconds and lowering for six seconds on each. At failure have your partner lift the weight for you, and continue to lower slowly for another two to three pure-negative reps.

For example, on incline presses drive the weight up on your own, taking about 1.5 seconds, then lower slowly for six seconds. The weight should be heavy enough that you get five reps but can’t drive up the sixth. At that point your partner should lift the weight for you—not a forced rep; he should do most of the work to get the weight up—then you lower for six seconds. You should get two or three of those partner-assisted negative-accentuated reps.

The end-of-set pure negatives should give you a good intensity uptick, enough to create a bit more muscle microtrauma and kick-start new fat-to-muscle gains, but not so much that you nosedive into no-gaining overtraining. 


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, see the ad sections beginning on page 186 and 280, respectively. Also visit for information on X-Rep and 3D POF methods and e-books.  IM

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