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Best Stress for Mass-Building Success

Go heavy or go home. Squat heavy to get big. At this point, I think I’d rather go home. It’s much better than heading to the hospital for hip replacement surgery—which is what has happened to numerous heavy squatters as they aged, from John Grimek to Clarence Bass to Lou Ferrigno.

I hate to start off on a negative note, but it’s something to think about. Of course, if you’re a powerlifter, you have to squat superheavy. I’ve got nothing against powerlifting. It’s a sport, and a lot of aggressively competitive sports are dangerous. I even powerlifted in my youth—with the recurring back problems to prove it. Right now I’m interested in looking my muscular best without joint stress.

Yes, joint-pounding stress is not good at my age (52). If you’re young, and you must train heavy—I understand the mind-set—just be careful and be prepared for some cumulative damage later in life. If I had to do it all over again, I would not have gone so insane for strength gain. It’s simply not worth it—and not necessary for muscle size. I’ve explained why that’s so in previous blogs. The reason is that muscle size is more about metabolic stress, not joint or even severe muscle duress.

For those who still can’t wrap their brains around that concept, take four-time Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler as an example. He has some gargantuan wheels, yet he says he hasn’t squatted over 405 since he was 19 years old. And these days it’s often less than that because he begins his quad work with high-rep leg extensions.

That’s really a modified pre-exhaustion strategy, and due to the continuous tension on leg extensions, quad blood flow is restricted during the set. That occlusion has been shown to boost muscle size because it ramps up metabolic stress.

And therein lies the best stress for mass-building success. With higher reps (longer time under tension) and/or short rests between sets you trigger a metabolic and anabolic cascade—from hormones to enhanced muscle fiber activation. And you do it without jack-hammering your joints, tendons and ligaments.

Occlusion produces a state of hypoxia in the muscle—that is, reduced oxygen. A recent study showed that a state of hypoxia produces the metabolic stress that boosts muscle growth. They had one group train in a room with reduced oxygen content, while another group trained in an identical fashion in a normally oxygenated room. Those in the reduced oxygen room had significantly greater muscle mass increases than the other group. [Respir Physiol Neurobio. Sept. 16. 2011.]

No, that doesn’t mean you should hold your breath during your sets; and you don’t have to move to Denver to get better size increases. Just strive for metabolic stress on most of your sets—that includes longer tension times and shorter rests between sets. Get both and you should grow like crazy. For example…

With the 4X mass-training method you pick a weight with which you can get 15 reps, but you only do 10; rest 30 to 40 seconds, then do it again. On set four you go all out—to muscular failure. If you get 10 on that last set, up your weight at your next workout or go for 4×11.

Now the short rests mandated by 4X are key—but so is the tension time of each set. You should make a conscious effort to do one-second positive and three-second negatives so each set lasts 40 seconds. That will make a BIG difference. Why? Strength and muscle-building expert Jim Stoppani, Ph.D., explains:

“The best TUT range for strength is about four to 20 second per set and about 40 to 60 seconds per set for muscle growth.”

Again, it’s the hypoxia/metabolic-stress thing. And another reason it works, aside from anabolic hormone release, is that hypoxia appears to activate more fast-twitch growth fibers because there is less oxygen for the slow-twitchers. In other words, you call into action more of the fibers with the highest potential for growth.

With the 4X method you get short rests AND long 40-second tension times—a double dose of muscle growth. It’s all about metabolic stress for mass-building success.

Stay tuned, train smart and be Built for Life.

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