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Heavy Sets Plus 10X

I must warn you that even though you use lighter poundages on 10×10 sequences, it’s still a very powerful and taxing method.

Q: I have all of your e-books—blockbuster mass info. I’ve learned a lot and added about 25 pounds of muscle since your first X-Rep e-book [The Ultimate Mass Workout]. Your latest, Ultimate 10×10 Mass Workout, is killer too. Even though 10×10 is working great on calves and arms, I just can’t get myself to use lighter poundages on some exercises, like bench presses. What do you think about doing my normal warmup sets, two heavy work sets and then ending with 10×10 with a lighter poundage on bench?

A: That would send most people into overtraining shock. It’s too much work on one exercise for the majority of trainees. A better strategy would be to end with 5×10 instead of 10×10. If you stick with 30-second rests between sets, you can complete that “burn” sequence in about six minutes.

Remember to use a lighter weight for your 5×10 sequence, one you can get 10 with easily on the first set. Rest 30 seconds, and then hit it again. The sets will get progressively harder, and by set five you should barely get 10—or only eight or nine. Your pec pump will be through the roof.

I must warn you that even though you use lighter poundages on 10×10 sequences, it’s a very powerful and taxing method. Don’t abuse it. If you do other exercises in normal fashion for a bodypart plus 10×10, you may want to reduce it to 8×10, 8×8 or even 5×10, as in the above example, which assumes you’ll be doing more chest work after bench presses.

According to researcher Jerry Brainum, a rare affliction called exertional rhabdomyolysis occurs when muscle cells are damaged by unusual exercise protocols. Getting ER from 10×10 is highly unlikely for any but a beginning trainee; however, using that technique with a lot of other exercises and intensity tactics could do damage that you may not recover from by your next workout for the target bodypart.

Most bodybuilders have a more-is-better attitude, which is why overtraining and slow-to-no gaining is so prevalent. Err on the side of caution with 10×10. If you use it on a big, midrange exercise, a few sets on a couple of other movements will be the limit. Using biceps as an example:

Barbell curls (midrange) 10 x 10
Incline curls (stretch) 2 x 9
Concentration curls (contracted) 1 x 10-12

The two extra exercises let you complete the Positions-of-Flexion full-range chain for more complete development and provide you with different anabolic stimuli—stretch overload and tension/occlusion.

That will provide quite a bit of biceps trauma, so you may need seven days of recovery before you can train biceps intensely again. Of course, some trainees may not be able to cope with 10×10 on barbell curls. It might be best to reduce it to 8×10 or even 8×8. Look at it this way: Pro bodybuilders on steroids who do 15 to 20 sets per bodypart train each muscle group only once a week—and that’s with powerful pharmaceutical recovery help.

Also consider that your biceps get hammered during back work, so the above will inflict a lot of extra damage.
The 10×10 sequence produces a lot of microtrauma, and training the muscle intensely again, when it’s still sore, is like scratching the scab off of a wound—it will never heal properly; however, there is a way to ensure complete recovery and ignite even bigger gains.

I often discuss and recommend phase training for optimal mass gains. It’s a big reason Jonathan Lawson, my training partner, gained 20 pounds of muscle in 10 weeks with the Size Surge program—he moved to subfailure, low-intensity workouts during weeks 5 and 10. Subfailure, medium-intensity workouts enabled his body to fully recover from the previous four weeks of all-out training—and his muscles got bigger and fuller during the downshift weeks. I suggest a downshift week after a month or so of hard, steady workouts.

I know it’s tough to take your intensity down a few notches when your motivation is high and you’re gaining big. Trust me, though: You’ll make larger leaps in size when you pull back. Complete recovery is the key. A downshift week prevents systemic exhaustion, an overtraining rut that can stall progress or even cause muscles to shrink. You don’t want that!

One last thing: For a downshift from 10×10, simply pull back to 6×10 with the same weight for one week. That will keep your last set relatively easy but still pump up the target bodypart, flooding it with blood and nutrients to accelerate full recovery and muscle supercompensation.

Q: I want to thank you. I’m from Italy, 178 centimeters tall, and my weight now is 150 pounds. At the beginning of December my weight was only 136. My increase in muscular mass, almost 15 pounds, is due to you. Before your training methods, I tried so many others, but with no results. The program that worked is the 10-week Size Surge [that Jonathan used to gain 20 pounds of muscle, listed in the e-book 3D Muscle Building]. I’d like to improve my muscle mass to 165 pounds, with a particular emphasis on delts, back and forearms. I believe forearms are very important. Can you suggest anything to increase my mass? I have all of your e-books, so I can look up any method you suggest.

A: Thank you for the complimentary e-mail. I’m glad you’re making such striking progress with one of my most popular and effective workouts, the 10-week Size Surge program that Jonathan used for his transformation. His progress photos during that mass-building experiment are very motivational. Just seeing his 10-week results can program your mind to help you pack on more mass. I’ve run them so often that I’d rather not put them in this column again, so new readers can see them at

For those not familiar with the program, phase 1, the first five weeks, is a basic three-days-per-week routine designed to prime anabolic drive. While the workouts are fairly short, they’re tough, and you still train every body­part two to three times a week with direct or indirect work. That’s because most of the exercises are compound, or multijoint, moves with a lot of muscle overlap—they train a number of muscles at once.

Phase 2, the second five weeks, transitions to full three-way Positions of Flexion for each bodypart, using an every-other-day two-way split. That lets you build even more muscle via max force, stretch overload and tension/occlusion with the midrange-, stretch- and contracted-position exercises for every muscle group.

To up the mass effects of Phase 1, I suggest you simply expand to full POF workouts for bodyparts you want to specialize on. In other words, stick with the basic three-days-per-week program, but insert full-range POF for delts, back and forearms. There isn’t any direct forearm work in phase 1, but you can add it to the arm workout on Wednesday.

As Olympic coach and bodybuilding expert Charles Poliquin has suggested, one of the best, most efficient forearm and upper-arm size builders is reverse curls. He says it’s one of the keys to a burst of new arm mass, and we’re finding that to be true in our own workouts.

Reverse curls directly train the extensors, on top of the forearms, as you curl; the flexors underneath as you grip the bar, and the brachialis muscles that snake under your biceps, which will make your upper arm appear much larger and improve the peak of your biceps.

Perform reverse curls with an EZ-curl bar instead of a straight bar for less wrist strain. Or try it with dumbbells; we were surprised at how different those felt from the barbell or EZ-curl-bar versions. Follow up with rockers—holding dumbbells at the sides of your thighs at arm’s length; alternate curling your hands up and in for flexors and up and out for extensors. Those two exercises give you a quick, complete lower-arm blast with major upper-arm size effects.

Okay, now to phase 2, which includes full POF for all body–parts. Do two things to make it more effective.
1) Use X Reps on the last set of each midrange exercise. When you reach exhaustion on a set, move the resistance to the point at which the target muscle is semistretched, such as near the bottom of an incline press, and fire up to just below the halfway point for as many controlled, explosive 10-inch partials as possible. If it’s impossible to do X Reps, simply hold at the semistretch point for as long as you can.

2) On the finishing contracted-position exercise, use a drop set instead of straight sets. That’s two sets done back to back with a weight reduction. Eventually move to three sets done back to back with a weight reduction on the last two. That will increase mass via the growth of the endurance components—the mitochondria and capillaries—and the release of growth hormone.

Good luck, and keep me posted on your progress.

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 pages 90 and 232, respectively. Also visit for information on X-Rep and 3D POF methods and e-books. IM

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