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Muscle-Building Tips and Tricks

Many researchers claim that the fascia, or encasements, restrict growth. It’s a constriction that can be remedied somewhat by pumping the muscle with a contracted move like cable crossovers and then elongating that full muscle with a stretch exercise like dumbbell flyes soon after. It’s a lot like stretching a new balloon before you blow it up to make it easier to inflate.

Q: Your latest X-Rep workout program in the e-book X-Rep Update #1 is amazing. I added a couple of pounds of muscle after only two weeks, and I swear I’m seeing cuts and striations I’ve never seen on me before. Do you notice more size and detail when you use fascia-expansion workouts?

A: Standard POF protocol is the midrange exercise followed by the stretch exercise followed by the contracted exercise. For example, bench presses (midrange), dumbbell flyes (stretch) and cable crossovers (contracted). Merely switching the order of the last two exercises—pump followed by stretch—has a greater loosening effect on the encasements around the muscle fibers, which, theoretically, makes it possible for more growth to occur.

Many researchers claim that the fascia, or encasements, restrict growth. It’s a constriction that can be remedied somewhat by pumping the muscle with a contracted move like cable crossovers and then elongating that full muscle with a stretch exercise like dumbbell flyes soon after. It’s a lot like stretching a new balloon before you blow it up to make it easier to inflate.

Another plus is that doing the stretch-position exercise last, when the target muscle is fully engorged, puts more stress on the insertion points. In the example above, doing dumbbell flyes last, after your pecs are fully engorged, puts more stress on the inner area where the pec major attaches to the rib cage. That will etch in more detail all the way up the inner chest. I have trouble with my pecs—stubborn bastards!—but switching the exercise order gave me new size and detail. It has worked for other muscle groups as well.

It’s more evidence that one small change can create big gains. Simply switching the exercise order can get you growing again—as you’ve discovered—and chisel attention-grabbing detail. Oh, one other thing: That latest X-Rep program also includes static holds, which can produce more muscle detail. It’s one reason competitive bodybuilders get harder and more dense-looking muscles when they practice posing for a contest. Posing is a form of static-hold training; however, using weights is even more effective at chiseling more eye-popping cuts.

Q: I’m 44 years old, and I like the idea of heavy workouts alternated with light ones. My question is, Is it a good idea to use preexhaustion up front on light day instead of straight sets? So for light quads I’d do leg extensions supersetted with squats for two rounds instead of doing two sets of subfailure squats and a drop set on extensions afterward. I ask because I’ve read that you don’t like preexhaustion.

A: I don’t think preex is very effective if used exclusively, but it’s an ideal mass tactic in certain cases, and this is one of them. Here’s why: You’ll probably get an even bigger pump on light day with preex than than with the straight-set method listed in the heavy/light program. Remember, light day is for pushing more blood into the target muscle for glycogen replenishment and recuperation, and that’s precisely what preex does best.

Preex isn’t so great for force generation, the key muscle-building component, because you get less fiber activation doing the contracted-position exercise first. That isolation move involves fewer fibers and creates lactic acid pooling in the target muscle. In other words, the prefatigue it creates derails your ability to generate maximum force on the important big, midrange exercise, which you do second in a preex superset. In your example, the big exercise, squats, is hampered by leg extension fatigue, which reduces force generation and fiber activation; however, that makes preex perfect for light-day training. Remember, on light day you’re trying to maximize pump and minimize damage.

So at your heavy quad workout you do straight sets of squats and a drop set or two on sissy squats, a traumatic stretch-position exercise. Then on light day you do two preexhaustion supersets of leg extensions and squats—quick and effective—and you won’t believe the full-blown pump.

Q: I’m using the Basic Ultimate Mass Workout 1 on page 56 of the e-book The Ultimate Mass Workout. I like doing the ultimate exercise for each bodypart with X Reps because I have limited time to train. I know that end-of-set X-Rep partials are important for getting maximum growth stimulation, but I’m having trouble X-ing at the end of some of them, like incline hammer curls. When I reach exhaustion, I can’t budge the dumbbells. Should I grab lighter dumbbells and do a drop set instead of X Reps?

A: As you read in the e-book, the research suggests that movement is necessary for optimal nervous system activation, which means more muscle fibers get in on the action with X-Rep partials at the end of a set. On some exercises, like incline curls and lying triceps extensions, the addition of X Reps is impossible. For those moves I suggest a Static X instead.

When you reach exhaustion—no more full-range reps are possible—slowly move the weight into the semistretch position, or X Spot, and simply hold the weight as you flex the target muscle. That end-of-set static hold is the next best thing to X-Rep partials. You’ll feel it working. It’s much better than just stopping the set at positive failure, which reduces tension time and leaves too many fibers understimulated.

Q: I’m 42 years old, on the thin side and have been training for many years. I want to know if I’ll overtrain by taking my work sets to failure and then adding X-Rep partials to the end. Some expert trainers say it will cause burnout and that you have to be juiced to stand that style of workouts. I’m natural, so I wonder if I can handle that type of training at my age.

A: I’m almost 50 years old, drug free and making great gains with X Reps and X-hybrid tactics—DXO, X Fade, static holds, etc. I’ve been thin all my life. I weighed less than 120 pounds when I started training. With Positions of Flexion training I restructured my physique. By adding X Reps and X-hybrid techniques in my 40s, I’ve gotten bigger and better. My before and after photos are posted at

You’re correct that the older you get, the more cautious you must be about overtraining. It’s a never-ending challenge, which is why I emphasize two important mass-building techniques.

1) Phase training. It’s four to six weeks of all-out training followed by one or two weeks of subfailure workouts without X Reps or intensity tactics. I call the easier week the supercompensation phase, as you actually grow during the downshift from the previous all-out workouts.

2) Heavy/light. For older trainees and/or hardgainer types I highly recommend using a heavy/light training protocol for much of the year. You hit each bodypart with a shorter all-out workout—to exhaustion with X Reps. Then at the next workout for that bodypart you use a subfailure workout with higher reps—or preex, as explained above—for pump and recovery, no X Reps.

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you know that I firmly believe that no matter what your age, some intense training is a must for triggering the best and fastest gains possible—challenging your muscles gives them a reason to adapt and grow. If a muscle gets the same lower-level stimulus constantly, there’s no reason for it to get larger and stronger.

An all-out set also activates the size principle of muscle fiber recruitment best—that’s a domino effect, with the last few intense reps activating key fast-twitch growth fibers that are difficult to recruit in abundance with subfailure sets—and adding X Reps gets at even more of them. Just don’t get carried away and don’t forget to back off regularly.

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 174 and 264, respectively. Also visit for information on X-Rep and 3D POF methods and e-books. IM

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