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Lighter, Higher-Rep Warmup Sets

Q: You may have answered this before, but don’t lighter, higher-rep warmup sets grow the sarcoplasm [the energy fluid] of the muscle cells? They’re obviously not power sets, so if you do, say, three warmup sets, aren’t those like the first three sets of a 4X sequence? Then you can rest and follow with a power set or two for the myofibrils [the actin and myosin strands in the muscle fibers that generate force].

A: That can work to a degree, as I’ll explain—and you can adopt that style for four-to-six-week phases—but it appears to work best for bodybuilders who are myofibrillar dominant. Those are the trainees who are naturally strong because they have more myofibrils and the ability to hypertrophy those actin-and-myosin pairings easily. Mike Mentzer is a good example.

In his competitive heyday he—and his brother Ray, a Mr. America winner—typically did one or two “work” sets for an exercise; however, they preceded those work sets with a lot of warmup sets. Here’s what one former Mentzer training partner said:

“I trained with Ray and Mike on three separate occasions. They were doing two work sets on most exercises and usually two and sometimes three exercises per bodypart then. Each body-part also got [about] four warmup sets. We did 12 sets for chest, but they counted only four sets. We did seven sets for triceps, but they counted four sets. HIT proponents would say that several of those sets were warmups and were not productive sets. I know they sure pushed  me pretty close to the edge on those so-called warmups.”

Also keep in mind that the warmups were usually slow tempo. Mike often recommended a four-seconds-up/four-seconds-down cadence. So essentially they were getting sarcoplasmic stimulation first, blowing up the muscle with a preliminary pump, then taking a work set or two to failure for myofibrillar growth.

As I suggested above, the Mentzers were genetic anomalies who had an amazing propensity for strength—and therefore superior myofibrillar numbers and growth potential. Mike squatted more than 500 pounds at age 15. Also keep in mind that anabolic steroids appear to affect primarily myofibrillar growth acceleration.

What about the other 98 percent of trainees who aren’t genetically predisposed to extraordinary strength and myofibrillar growth? They have to use a more balanced approach and even lean toward sarcoplasmic expansion to get that bodybuilder look. It’s the reason hardgainers still look like hardgainers after years of trying to train heavy with lower reps. They need to concentrate on sarcoplasmic size for fuller muscle structures. Frank Zane is a good example of a smaller type who accomplished that.

Whether you’re an average bodybuilder or a genetic freakazoid with a propensity toward myofibrilar growth —and “supplements”—concentrating on sarcoplasmic expansion can do amazing things to help you create ultimate muscle size.

If you’d like to try a high-intensity approach to building mass similar to the way the Mentzer brothers trained, use a full-range Positions-of-Flexion program for each -bodypart—three exercises in most cases. Do three progressively heavier warmup sets for each big, midrange exercise, then one all-out set. Follow with a warmup set and one set each for the stretch- and contracted-position exercises to complete the full arc of flexion. Be sure to do controlled reps so you get around 40 seconds of tension time on every work set—longer for lower body.

If you want to infuse your current routine with the best techniques for density—meaning sarcoplasm—training, include the 4X mass method, 10×10 and/or X-centric sets:

4X sequence: Pick a weight with which you can get 15 reps, but do only 10; rest 30 seconds, and then do 10 more—and so on until you complete four sets. On the fourth set go all out to reach the growth threshold. If you get 10 or more, increase your weight for the exercise at your next workout—or go for 4×11. Note that 4X is a good mix of sarcoplasmic stimulation as well as myofibrillar activation.

10×10: Pick a weight with which you can get 20-plus reps, but do only 10; rest 30 seconds, and then do 10 more—and so on until you complete 10 sets. The first sets will be very easy, but the last few will be brutal. You should not get 10 reps on sets eight, nine and 10. If you do, add weight. That’s pure sarcoplasmic stimulation (more on 10×10 in the next answer).

X-centric—or negative-accentuated—sets: Use a lighter weight than you do on your standard 10-rep set and do one-second positives followed by six-second negatives. You should use a weight that allows seven reps—which will give you 49 seconds of tension time at failure. It’s primarily sarcoplasmic stimulation due to the long tension time, but the slow negative strokes also produce microtears in the myofibrils, which can increase growth and enhance fat burning.



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 DVD and Size Surge programs, visit  Also visit  and for info on X-Rep, 4X and 3D POF methods and e-books.  IM


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