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How to Grow Like a Pro

Q: I really enjoyed the chapter on [Mr. Olympia] Ronnie Coleman’s training in your e-book Beyond X-rep Muscle Building. From all I’ve heard, I thought he used mostly powerlifting, heavy weights and low reps. Has he ever commented on what produced the best results for him, singles and doubles vs. eight-rep sets?

A: If you look closely at that chapter, you will see that he used a lot of 10-to-12-rep sets—even going as high as 20 reps, as he did on Nautilus presses. And, yes, he has commented. Here’s what Coleman said about his training recently in Muscular Development:

“I know I was doing singles and doubles in those lifts you saw me do, but that was mainly for the DVD to make it more exciting. Usually, I always did my sets in the 10-to-12-rep range because that’s what made me grow best.”

Bill Dobbins, coauthor of Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, wrote this in a recent IRON MAN feature:

“I once saw Ronnie Coleman doing dumbbell curls with massive weights, using pretty good technique and performing sets of 16 reps. I asked him how he was able to do that. His reply was that he’d started with light weight, strict technique and 16 reps and simply worked his way up to the heavier poundage.”

So Coleman was not an exclusive low-rep bodybuilder-—that’s for sure. As we said in Beyond X and have been discovering ever since we wrote it, you need both types of training—and maybe a lot less heavy training than most people think.

Consider IFBB pro Johnnie Jackson, who is also a competitive powerlifter. He says that when he trains ultraheavy with low reps exclusively, he gets smaller, not bigger. Why? Lack of tension time—he’s emphasizing only myofibrillar growth (actin and myosin strands) and getting almost zero sarcoplasmic stimulation (muscle-energy fluid) with all-heavy workouts.

Jackson says he has to switch to using more reps and/or short rests between sets to look like a bodybuilder for physique competition.

So don’t be brainwashed into believing it’s all about pushing more weight. It is if you’re after strength, but if you want extreme muscle size, you need more emphasis on extending tension time and doing more work in less time—what we call “density intensity.” That’s how to build muscle immensity.

—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson


Editor’s note: Beyond X-Rep Muscle Building includes a chapter on Ronnie Coleman’s training, and X-Rep Update #1 contains a chapter on Jay Cutler’s workouts and methods. Both of those e-books are available at the X-Shop at

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