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Do This, Not That, to Grow Muscle Fast

Q: I have almost all of your e-books, and I’ve learned more from them than I have from anywhere else in the 10 years I’ve been training. Thank you. I just got your newest one, The 4X Mass Workout, and had a question: You always say “change to gain,” but you tend to use the exact same few exercises in almost all of your programs. Shouldn’t I switch moves often to gain mass, like use dumbbells instead of a barbell?

A: While variation is important, you need to focus on the exercises that you feel the most. That’s especially true for weak bodyparts, which tend to lag due to inadequate neuromuscular efficiency, or nerve-to-muscle connections. A good example for me, as well as my training partner Jonathan Lawson—and most bodybuilders—is upper chest.

We’re going to use incline dumbbell presses every so often, but we’ve found that when our hands have freedom of movement, our delts and/or triceps begin to steal work from our pecs. Jonathan’s front delts are very strong, so they tend to take over on any dumbbell pressing move when the going gets tough.

For that reason we favor a barbell and a fixed hand position, which makes for an isometric inward push as we drive the bar. That inward hand force better innervates and contracts the upper pecs—for us, anyway.

Do some trainees feel incline dumbbell presses more than the barbell version? Absolutely. We all have different leverages, muscle origins and insertion points. That’s why we suggest that you stick with the version you feel hitting the muscle best most of the time. We say “most of the time” because a little variation for a couple of weeks never hurts. Always, however, return to your bread-and-butter exercises.

Another reason you see a lot of the same exercises in our programs is that we’ve been proponents of the Positions-of-Flexion mass-building protocol for more than 20 years. For the uninitiated, POF is a method of training a muscle through its full range of motion with a specific sequence of exercises. For example, for triceps it’s close-grip bench presses (midrange), overhead extensions (stretch) and pushdowns (contracted).

POF uses only a handful of exercises for each position, and for some there is only one exercise. A perfect example is the stretch position for quads. If you want optimal stretch in the quads, the torso and thighs must remain on the same plane as you squat, and that means the only stretch-position quad move is sissy squats.

We may use Smith-machine squats as a substitute for a few weeks just for variation, but Smith squats are not a true stretch-position move for the quads. That’s why we always return to sissies after a few weeks.

The point is, use the exercises you feel hitting the muscle the best most of the time. It’s okay to deviate from your individual core mass-building exercises for a few weeks, but always go back to what works for you.

Okay, then, what the heck do I mean by “change to gain”? Vary rep speed, intensity tactics and even exercise order. For example, an excellent change that can trigger incredible muscle gain is to go to an all-4X program, as we outline in our latest e-book. Yes, her comes a shameless plug: For more on the 4X method, see The X-traordinary 4X Mass Workout, available at

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 section. Also visit for information on X-Rep and 3D POF methods and e-books.  IM

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