My training partner and I used to laugh, saying, “Imagine if it were just our warmup sets that were giving us the most size gains.” Unfortunately, I think that might have been true back then—at least in the sarcoplasm, where the most size potential is.
I say that because like most trainees, my work sets were only lasting about 20 seconds. That’s because I thought I had to go superheavy to grow. But research has shown that a near-prefect tension time for muscular hypertrophy is up around 40 seconds. A lot of so-called bodybuilders only get that on their warmups, me included until recently.
Since I’ve been making an effort to use a one-second-positive/three-second-negative cadence on all of my sets in a 4X sequence, it’s made a big difference—in both muscle size and leanness. That’s the tempo scientists have determined to be superior for fiber activation and size gains. Why? For one the slow negative, which damages the myofibrils for remodeling, followed by an explosive positive at the target muscle’s semi-stretch point. That’s the “X spot” at which the actin and myosin strands line up for best force generation—and fiber activation.
Also, if your set lasts for at least 40 seconds, it will also stress the sarcoplasm, the energy fluid in fibers that is so critical for getting ultimate muscle size. With 4X you would be getting 40 seconds on all four sets in about five minutes. You get both myofibrillar trauma and sarcoplasmic expansion.
Remember, with the 4X mass method you take a weight with which you can get 15 reps, but you only do 10; rest 35 seconds, then do it again—and so on until you complete four sets. You go all out on the fourth set, and if you get 10, you add some weight to that exercise at your next workout.
Now if you’re into heavy training and doing a lot of lower-rep power sets, you can still use that cadence on at least some of your sets. You could even do a back-off set—reduce the weight after your heavies and do one or two 10-rep sets with a deliberate one-up-three-down cadence. Those two 40-second smart bombs will have a big effect on your muscle size.
That cadence is especially important for muscle groups that you have a hard time feeling and/or exercises that are easy to cheat on. A good example is any type of calf raise. Most trainees simply do not control the negative stroke—ever! Try an explosive positive and then a controlled three-second negative all the way through your sets for calves. I guarantee you’ll be sore the next day from just that simple change.
Another key exercise on which almost all trainees neglect the negative is lateral raises. Lighten up and try the 1-3 tempo. Talk about new growth stimulation—and it’s right in the lateral head if you keep your form strict with a slight forward lean. Oh, and don’t rest at the bottom of each rep; stop short so you keep tension on that head throughout the set. You’ll feel it, believe me.
Stay tuned, train smart and be Built for Life.