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Low-Rep Muscle-Mass Lowdown

Q: What’s your opinion of low-rep sets, like singles, doubles and triples? Will they help me build more muscle?

A: Low reps are more for developing strength, but indirectly they can help you add size. I say indirectly because low-rep sets help you develop neuromuscular efficiency, or better nerve force. Eventually, that can help you activate more muscle fibers on your higher-rep muscle-building sets.

There are, however, safer ways to build neuromuscular efficiency—like end-of-set X Reps and/or end-of-set static holds, a.k.a. StatX. For example, say you hit full-range exhaustion on decline-bench presses at about rep nine. Lower to the semistretch point near the bottom of the stroke and pulse with eight-inch partial reps. If you can’t do any on your own, have your partner help you with three to five normal-speed X Reps.

If you don’t have a partner, slowly lower your last rep, using a six-second negative, and stop at the semistretch point, just above the turnaround. Then hold for as long as possible. Obviously, you need a Smith machine for declines so you can rack the bar in the low position after your StatX. For squats be sure you’re in a power rack.

I’m not a big fan of low-rep sets because I’m not a powerlifter; I’m more interested in developing muscle size, so I try to leave my ego at the gym door.  A few years ago my ego as well as that of my training partner Jonathan Lawson got the best of us, and we just had to squat 500 pounds. We both finally did it for a couple of reps—but after all the low-rep strength work we did to get there, our legs didn’t look bigger or better. That’s not the worst of it. We accrued so much spine-compression damage that to this day we both have back problems. We feel like dumb-asses for that lack of common sense.

Remember, if you want to make the best muscle gains possible, you need to be injury free to train consistently and intensely. That’s why we suggest you use X Reps and/or StatX instead of dangerous low-rep sets. Five reps per set is as low as we go—and that’s rare. You don’t need low reps to build maximum muscle.

Q: I’m back to a basic Positions-of-Flexion program, the POF Power Pyramid [from X-traordinary Muscle-Building Workouts]. I gained almost 10 pounds with it a year ago, so I figure it’s always good to return so something that works. After reading X-Rep Update #1, I’m thinking about using Forced X Reps. Should I add a set with those, or do my last set in the pyramid as my forced set?

A: Forced X Reps are one of the most brutal forms of overload—but incredibly effective in the mass-building department if you do them correctly and safely—with complete control, no jerking or heaving. For the uninitiated, here’s the brutality explained from X-Rep Update #1:

“With FX-Overload you pick a poundage that’s about 20 to 30 percent heavier than your normal [nine-rep] work-set weight, and you do only X Reps in the semistretch position—with help from your partner on most of them, which should total 12 or more.”

The semistretch point near the turnaround—like close to the bottom of a chin or incline press—is where the muscle can generate the most force and fiber activation. That’s why X-Rep Overload can do incredible things for your mass quickly; however, you don’t want to abuse it.

That’s why I suggest you do not add a set of FXO; rather, do your third set in the power pyramid using heavy partner-assisted X-Reps. That will keep you at three sets, still adding weight on each, but your reps will look something like this: 9, 6, 12(FXO).

After the midrange-exercise pyramid—with severe X-overload on the last set—you move to a stretch-position exercise and then a contracted-position exercise to complete the full-range POF chain.

So for FXO you use a weight with which you can get about five X Reps on your own, and then have your partner help you power out six to eight more, staying in the X zone. A good place to start is with the same weight you used on your six-rep set in the pyramid. That should give you a good size-building tension time of more than 20 seconds on your FXO set. You’ll feel these working big time, believe me!

Q: I have been using [end-of-set] X-Rep partials and making the best gains of my life. I consider them one of the top muscle-building breakthroughs. You always seem to be at the cutting edge of mass techniques. Any other secrets you can recommend to boost my gains?

A: Thanks for the kind words regarding X Reps. They have done great things for hundreds of trainees—and Jonathan Lawson and I made the best gains of our lives with them that first X-Rep year—in only five weeks.

The very first X-Rep workouts we used to achieve those spectacular results are in our first e-book, The Ultimate Mass Workout.

As for the latest, greatest “secret,” we’ve recently become very excited again about negative-accentuated sets—that is, doing a set using a one-second-up/six-seconds-down cadence. The more we research the technique and use it, the more we’re convinced it’s on the same “breakthrough” plane as X Reps due to its extreme muscle-building and fat-burning effects.

I’ve explained here on numerous occasions that emphasizing the negative stroke of an exercise triggers more microtrauma—microscopic muscle tears that require a lot of energy to repair. That’s the reason it can boost your metabolism for days after your workout as your body continuously works to rebuild the tissue.

In other words, you burn bodyfat as you repair and build muscle. How great is that? NA training, however, appears to be even more powerful than we thought.

According to Ellington Darden, Ph.D., negative-style training is one of the fastest ways to trigger “extreme hypertrophy.” That’s what he defines as rapid-rate muscular growth: “The overall effect of extreme hypertrophy is the enlargement of the major muscle masses as fast as scientifically possible.”

That’s exciting stuff—and the reason we’re using at least one negative-accentuated set for around seven reps for each bodypart. To get at the most fibers with the NA technique, we usually use it on a big, compound move, like some type of squat for quads, some type of row for back, etc.

We began more serious NA focus toward the beginning of spring in order to kick-start the fat-burning process. We also use X Reps, of course. Now we’re realizing that NA sets are doing great things for our muscle size very quickly—rapid-rate growth and a new burst of anabolic drive. Talk about motivation! Give them a try for quick cuts and new muscle size. [For more on negative-accentuated training and programs, see The X-centric Power-Density Mass Workout, available at]

Q: I have almost all of your e-books. They are all great, and I reread them often. Right now I’m on The Ultimate Fat-to-Muscle Workout. Can I use Double-X Overload on all the stretch-position exercises in the program? I think that will produce even more muscle microtrauma similar to the negative-accentuated sets on the big exercises. That should speed up my fat loss and muscle gains, right?

A: If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day; if you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime. What does that have to do with your question? I’m just glad to see you taking techniques from the other e-books Jonathan Lawson and I have written and applying them to your current workout. You’re learning how to “fish”—grasping the mass-building concepts and applying them when and where appropriate.

That’s the reason we continue to apply and experiment with new research, and why we keep producing new e-books and features in this magazine—to help you think and teach you how to evolve your own training. You don’t have to just follow the workouts we prescribe as written. In fact, we encourage you to experiment and shuffle in other mass tactics—like DXO on the stretch-position exercises, as you suggest.

For the uninitiated, DXO is one of the X-Rep hybrid techniques. It’s simply doing an X-Rep partial after each full rep. For example, on flyes, you lower the dumbbells to the stretch point, raise about 10 inches, lower to the stretch point again, and then raise them all the way to the top.

That X-Rep “hitch” between full-range reps produces more stretch overload, which will help induce more microtrauma and accelerate the fat-to-muscle process outside the gym. Plus, it’s linked to hyperplasia, or fiber splitting, and anabolic hormone release in muscle tissue. It also activates more muscle fibers via the myotatic reflex, which can jolt new size. You’ll see your bodyfat shrink and your muscle mass grow.

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 176 and 216, respectively. Also visit for information on X-Rep and 3D POF methods and e-books.  IM

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