Those who have been at this lifting thing for a couple of decades or more all probably tell very similar tales. In the beginning you didn’t have a lot of knowledge about proper training, but you more than made up for it in enthusiasm. With youth on your side you pushed and pulled iron with zeal, and you steadily grew bigger and stronger. In love with working out, you gradually learned about things like proper exercise choices and form, split routines, the value of good nutrition and adequate rest and so much more.
The gains slowed, but they still kept coming. Eventually, you looked in the mirror and hardly recognized the person you had become, transformed by years of dedication in the gym into a true specimen of muscle and might. But there was also a price to pay for that transformation for many of us—acute and chronic injuries. Most trainees with 20-plus years of hard and heavy training under our belts have either torn a muscle, dealt with ongoing issues in areas like the lower back, shoulders or knees or suffered from arthritis. Some of us have experienced all three.
To compound the situation, even if we do manage to remain injury free, there’s still a sobering fact we all have to face: At some point we will not be getting any stronger. Maybe we started out using 10-pound dumbbells for curls, and years later we can knock out a good set with 60s or even 70s. Why isn’t anybody doing curls with 200-pound dumbbells?
The fact is, the longer you’ve been training and the greater the improvement in size and strength you’ve made since you started, the closer you get to your ultimate potential. If you’re an advanced trainee slammed with the double whammy of injuries and having reached your full strength potential, things can look pretty grim. When you can’t handle the weights on many exercises that you used to, training ceases to be the enjoyable respite that it was for so long. Even if you are still as strong, it’s very likely that an injury is around the corner.
Everyone thought that eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman was some indestructible juggernaut. Nobody was as big and strong as Ronnie in his prime. In his training videos we saw him squat and deadlift 800 pounds, press 200-pound dumbbells, do barbell rows with 500 pounds, etc. Ronnie recently underwent his third spinal surgery and is scheduled for a fourth. Even he couldn’t keep throwing around those crazy weights forever. The spirit was willing, but the flesh eventually gave out.
I found myself in a similar situation at the end of 2011, having just undergone two surgeries myself, a triceps tendon repair and a shoulder “decompression” to make room for the joint to move. Though far from Ronnie’s feats of inhuman power, I had moved some decent weights in my time. Those days were over whether I liked it or not, but at age 42 I wasn’t ready to give up and move on to Zumba and Spinning classes. As crazy as it sounds, I wasn’t convinced I was physically maxed out either. Maybe I wouldn’t be putting on 20 more pounds of muscle, but a couple pounds in strategic areas to improve the overall shape of my physique? I knew in my heart I still had that in me, but I had to wonder. Without superheavy weights, how would I accomplish it? Enter 4X.
By now IRON MAN readers should be quite familiar with Steve Holman’s 4X training system. The key point is that you do four sets of 10 reps with the same weight, taking just 30 seconds of rest in between. Since you use a weight that you could get 15 reps with, the first set is not challenging. As the sets go on, blood and lactic acid build up rapidly in the target muscle, making those 10 reps increasingly difficult to complete. The final set takes all-out effort, and if you can get 10 reps on it, you can use a bit more weight the next time.
It seemed too simple to be effective, but there were plenty of testimonials from trainers, many of them older and/or advanced, praising 4X and reporting significant new results. Having nothing to lose, I resolved to give it a go once I had healed from my surgeries.
As I have zero financial interest in 4X, you can take my satisfaction with it after just a few weeks as being totally sincere. I’m not being paid to endorse 4X, but I do. Though in hindsight I suspect I could have avoided some of the damage to my tendons and joints in recent years had I discovered this method sooner, I feel more gratitude than regret—better late than never!
From day one my pumps were outrageous, yet I felt none of the frightening strains in my joints and connective tissues that I typically get these days when I use weights that limit me to six to eight reps. Have I packed on 25 pounds of fresh new mass? Of course not, but I have definitely seen more fullness to my muscles, and I am making gains in the key areas I’m targeting. That’s simply huge for me, given how long I’ve been training, the laundry list of injuries I’ve accumulated and the fact that it runs contrary to almost everything we collectively believe about muscle gain—i.e.; that mass gains are only possible when you use greater resistance than you’ve ever used before. My back, shoulders, knees and elbows feel fine, and I can honestly say I haven’t been this excited about training for years.
If you fall into some or all of the categories discussed above—if you are close to or at your maximum possible strength, have a history of injuries that makes very heavy weights impossible or at least foolhardy or simply haven’t seen any physique improvements in years and need to try something completely different—you owe it to yourself to try 4X. I’m kicking myself for not finding it sooner, but I am so happy I did and decided to use it. I suggest you check out The 4X Mass Workout, an e-book available at www.X-Workouts.com. That’s a plug but a very sincere one, no compensation whatsoever required.
Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding—Muscle Truth From 25 Years In the Trenches, available at www.RonHarrisMuscle.com.