Q: Thank you for clearing up the muscle-growth mystery for me [in the free e-book Secrets to Ultimate Muscle Growth]. I’d always believed in going heavier and heavier to get bigger. Now I know that’s only part of the puzzle. Working in the 4X method, doing X Reps, drop sets and even some high-rep sets, has already gotten me bigger in a few weeks. My question is, Do some people get a better size response from power training and others get more size from density [endurance] work?
A: Absolutely. The biggest powerlifters don’t train for sarcoplasmic—endurance fluid—expansion yet have excellent muscle size. That’s because they were big dudes in the first place, which may signify more myofibril-building capacity. That would explain their extraordinary strength. The myofibrils are the actin and myosin strands inside the muscle fiber that generate force, but for most trainees that’s not the key to ultimate size.
For example, most ectomorphs, a.k.a. hardgainers, don’t have much capacity for myofibrillar growth. That’s why training with heavy-weight, low-rep sets doesn’t do much for them sizewise. They respond best to longer tension times via higher-rep sets and/or short rests between sets to trigger sarcoplasmic fluid expansion. That’s the fastest way for them to get bigger and achieve a bodybuilder look.
• Standard heavy sets and longer rests—four to eight reps with two-plus minutes between sets—build primarily myofibrillar size, producing more force and strength.
• Longer-tension-time sets (30 to 60 seconds) and/or short rests between a number of sets (like 10×10 sequences) build primarily sarcoplasmic size, a muscular-endurance characteristic.
Incidentally, the sarcoplasmic fluid is where the mitochondria are located. Known as energy generators, the mitochondria are where fat burning occurs. The more sarcoplasm you build, the better your body’s fat-burning capacity. So in a sense, going for muscle burn really does help burn fat.
Also keep in mind that the sarcoplasmic fluid is where glycogen is stored. Since glycogen is the energy substrate provided by carbohydrates, you need carbs to replenish and expand the sarcoplasm to get your muscles big and full. The sarcoplasm sucks up glycogen from carbs, producing muscle fullness. That means extreme low-carb diets “starve” the sarcoplasm. Not what you want; it’s why muscles get flat looking after long periods of very-low-carb eating—the sarcoplasm isn’t fully regenerating.
So if you want to get ultimate muscle size as quickly as possible, do some power work to build your myofibrils, but concentrate on expanding the sarcoplasm. You can do both in a number of ways, including X-centric training (negative-accentuated sets), 4X sequences (best balance of power and density training), X Reps (to extend the tension time of a power set) and drop sets. Use those methods to and grow to your muscular best.
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 www.Home-Gym.com. Also visit www.X-Rep.com and X-Workouts.com for info on X-Rep, 4X and 3D POF methods and e-books. IM
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