It was a few years ago when I was sitting with IM photographer Mike Neveux at his studio in Gardena, California. It was lunch and we were talking training. I piped up with pride that this was the year I squatted 500 pounds for reps—finally! Mike’s deadpan response: “Why?”
Because…um…to say I did it? After all, my goal—after my brief powerlifting stint in my early 20s—was muscle growth, not strength. But I’d always equated getting stronger with getting bigger—and I’d suffered numerous injuries because of that belief, from a bum shoulder (thanks, heavy bench presses) to a back that frequently goes out, a direct result of that heavy squat goal.
As it turns out, getting stronger can get you bigger, but primarily in the myofibrils, the force-generating actin and myosin strands in the fibers. Researchers believe the most growth occurs in the majority of trainees via the sarcoplasm.
The sarcoplasm is the energy fluid in the fibers. You expand that muscle “juice” by using higher reps, longer-tension-time sets and/or shorter rests between sets—like 30 seconds. It’s why the 4X mass method works so well—you take your 15RM, but you only do 10; rest 35 seconds, then do it again. Continue for four sets, and on the last one go all out; if you get 10, add weight at your next workout.
4X is a great way to get at both the myofibrils, which respond to moderate weights when fatigue is high, and the sarcoplasm, which gets taxed via the higher reps, 10, and the short rests between sets, 35 seconds. Plus, you don’t pound your joints into the ground, so cortisol is lower and anabolic hormones are higher.
I’m recalling all of this because I have hopes that my lesson trickles down to a lot of younger trainees. If you want muscle growth, you don’t have to pound your joints to dust and have hip replacement surgery in your 50s—or shoulder reconstruction or knee scoping.
Yes, you can build major mass with moderate-weight, high-fatigue training most of the time. Use Positions of Flexion to help you formulate your workouts so you train each muscle through its full range for optimal, more complete development (for example, for triceps it’s close-grip bench presses, overhead extensions, pushdowns—that’s midrange, stretch and contracted).
Of course, if you’re a powerlifter, you’ll have to cope with being jarred awake in the middle of the night by aching shoulders, throbbing spine, etc. But if bodybuilding is your game, you don’t have to put up with major joint pain. You want to squat 500? Why? (P.S.: Mr. Olympia winner Jay Cutler never goes over 400 for squats—and usually uses less.)
Stay tuned, train smart and be Built for Life.