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Grow With the Flow: The Anabolic Hormone Zone

One of the most amazing bodybuilders of yesteryear was Danny Padilla. He was short in stature, about 5’3″, yet he beat most of the best bodybuilders of his era. The man had full development in every muscle group—no flaws.

Being obsessed with muscle-building methods, I asked David Young, who used to train with Danny, how he did it. And what he told me was one of the things that led me to the 4X mass method, which is fast moderate-weight, high-fatigue workouts. Here’s what David told me about Danny’s contest-prep workouts—when he was striving to get as big and ripped as possible on a deadline:

“Danny would not pyramid the weight he used on his exercises. He would use the same weight on all his sets and do five sets of 12 reps. That meant the first two sets were not-to-failure sets, but by set three he was close, and sets four and five were a fight to get the 12 reps if at all. Once he could get 12 reps on all five sets, he would increase the weight at the next workout.”

David said that Padilla rested 40 to 60 seconds between sets, so he was training fast. I altered his method to four sets, because I’m older and drug free, and I varied the rep count, sometimes going for 4×10, other times 4×12 or even 4×15. I also kept the rest between sets to 30 to 40 seconds. And it worked amazingly well. I got bigger and leaner with a lot fewer aches and pains than with ultra-heavy training.

Why does it work so well? There are a few compelling—and exciting—reasons….

In my previous blog I discussed myofibrils, the actin and myosin strands in muscle fibers that generate force, and the sarcoplasm, the “energy” fluid in the fibers that includes glycogen (from carbs), ATP (creatine), mitochondria (where fat is burned), calcium, potassium and noncontractile proteins. Danny’s training, as well as 4X, builds both of those fiber constituents quickly, whereas most heavy-training programs emphasize myofibrillar growth only. But there’s another reason moderate-weight, high-fatigue training can get you big and ripped fast: Anabolic hormone release.

Way back in the 1990s, researchers discovered that muscle burn, lactic acid pooling in the blood and muscles, is directly correlated to growth hormone release. [Can J Appl Physiol. 22:244-255; 1997] What’s so great about GH? It makes other anabolic hormones, like testosterone, more potent. It’s the mother of all anabolic hormones. It also strengthens tendons and joints, improves skin tone—oh, and it burns fat like crazy!

So with moderate-weight, high-fatigue methods like 4X, you 1) build all layers of your key muscle fibers, 2) increase your anabolic hormones and 3) melt away bodyfat. The short rests also supercharge the mitochondria in muscle cells where fat is burned. No wonder Padilla used it during his precontest training to achieve his freak physique.

One other reason 4X-style training works so well: You use moderate weights, so your joints and connective tissues aren’t hammered into the ground; that means you get less cortisol release at every workout.

Cortisol is a stress hormone that can cause bodyfat accrual and also force your body to use muscle tissue for energy in place of bodyfat. That’s right, it cannibalizes your hard-earned muscle. Minimize cortisol and you build bigger muscles much faster—and also reduce fat.

Am I saying you should abandon heavy training? No, not if your young and still interested in benching big and throwing around the 100-pound dumbbells. Even then, you should use 4X either for four-week supercompensation phases—your muscles will fill out and joints will heal—or use a 4X sequence or two to end each of your bodypart workouts to ensure sarcoplasmic expansion and extra muscle size.

If you’re older, like me (I’m 52), you can use 4X and/or other moderate-weight, high-fatigue methods, like X-centric training, exclusively—no bone-crushing poundages at all—to get an eye-popping physique without grinding your joints into dust. I feel so much better and am looking my muscular best thanks to stumbling onto Danny Padilla’s training and devising the 4X method a few years ago. (Thanks, David!)

I finally realized, after deprogramming the years of brainwashing, that bone-crushing poundages are not necessary to build extreme muscle size. It’s more about pushing through your growth threshold, which I’ll discuss in my next blog. Till then…

Stay tuned, train smart and be Built For Life.

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