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Muscle Size, Strength and the Old-School Link

When it comes to moderate-weight, high-fatigue training, like 4X workouts, a lot of people think it’s from current research and is a new approach. Not true. As I mentioned in previous blogs, Danny Padilla, a one of the best competitive bodybuilders from the ’70s and ’80s used a form of it (5×12 with 45-60 seconds between sets. And before that Vince Gironda, the Iron Guru and famous Hollywood trainer coined the term “density training” for his 8×8 method.

No, they didn’t know about the myofibrils, the force-generating strands in muscle fibers, or the sarcoplasm, the energy fluid surrounding those strands. They just knew that short rests between sets with moderate weights and higher reps blew up muscles quickly. Yet still the myth that you have to get stronger to get bigger persists.

Heck, even more than 40 years ago Peary Rader, the founder of IRON MAN magazine, had this to say…

“Experiments we have carried out show that we can put an inch on the arms in a short period of time by pumping [or lighter-density] methods…. On the other hand, we can, by training on an entirely different system [heavy weights and power], develop 10 or 20 percent more strength without one bit of increase in the size of the arms. Now, this sort of ruins the popular theory that a muscle’s strength is in direct relation to its size.”

So lots of bodybuilders are missing out on major muscle size by only trying to get strong. Today’s top bodybuilders have figured that out. In fact, top IFBB pro Johnnie Jackson is also a competitive powerlifter. He has said that when he trains ultra-heavy with low reps exclusively, he gets smaller, not bigger. That’s due to lack of tension time—he’s emphasizing only myofibrillar growth and getting almost zero sarcoplasmic stimulation. He must switch to using more reps and/or short rests between sets to look like a bodybuilder for physique competition.

But wait! What about big Ronnie Coleman. You’ve probably seen his DVDs with him pulling 800-pound deadlifts and benching 500. No doubt he’s got the genetics to build incredible strength, but as far as building muscle goes, here’s what he recently wrote:

“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 10-12 rep range, because that’s what made me grow best.”

Bill Dobbins, co-author 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.”

Sure, you can train both ways. I call it Power-Density. I’m just not sure how much the power workouts contribute to muscle size. Doug Brignole, Mr. America and Mr. Universe, said he believes the sarcoplasm contributes about two-thirds to the hypertrophic equation. That leaves the power-generating myofibrils adding only one third—but it could be more or less depending on the trainee’s genetics.

I’ll delve more into that in a future blog, as well as 10×10 density tactics and how current bodybuilder Mark Dugdale has used it for surges in muscle mass. Till then…

Stay tuned, train smart and be Built For Life.

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