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Pros, Drugs and Juicing Your Growth Threshold

Q: You say a lot of pro bodybuilders have used versions of your 4X mass method and made great gains. But weren’t they on drugs? Don’t steroids make a huge difference? Will this type of training really work for me if I’m over 50 and don’t use drugs?

A: A few years ago I interviewed a colleague who trained with many of the legendary pros, including the Mentzer brothers, Danny Padilla and Rory Leidelmeyer, to name a few. It was enlightening.

His perspective is invaluable, as he’s tried it all. He is quoted throughout the e-book The 4X Mass Workout 2.0, as the 4X method is a direct offshoot of how he trained with Padilla when Danny was dialing in for a contest. Danny was one of the best shorter pros back in the ’80s—known as “the Giant Killer.”

Danny used five sets instead of four per exercise—and with more exercises than I prescribe, according to my colleague. Regarding your question about the drugs, here’s what he had to say:

“I’ve followed the same routines off drugs, and with a few adjustments I still made good gains. Not like when I was on drugs, of course, but still measurable. And I am not genetically gifted. Let’s face it, you can make good progress drug-free and build a very good physique, but someone using drugs is going to progress faster, farther and better.

“Drugs work, and they are part of the game, but I also believe that the routines followed by the pros are the same routines that drug-free bodybuilders need to follow with some adjustments.”

That’s the reason I went with three or four sets instead of five, and I also train with fewer exercises per muscle group than Padilla did. I generally do three-exercise Positions-of-Flexion work for each bodypart.

For those not familiar with 4X, you take your 15-rep max and do only 10 reps. Rest 35 seconds, then do 10 more—and so on for four sets. On the fourth set you go to muscular failure, and if you get 10, you add weight to that exercise at your next workout.

Another version is downward-progression 4X. Again, take your 15-rep max, but this time do 12 reps. Rest 45 seconds, a bit longer, add some weight, then do 10 reps. Rest 45 seconds again, add more weight, and do eight reps. Rest 45 seconds one last time, add weight and go to failure, striving for at least six reps.

You can use either of those methods in the programs in The 4X Mass Workout 2.0—even the home-gym version.

My colleague said that the main difference between drug users and drug-free trainees is volume. The drug-using pros have more recovery capacity, so you can train like them—with 4X, DP 4X or whatever—just don’t do as many sets and exercises.

Another thing to consider: Growth hormone, which many pros use these days. GH helps fortify joints and connective tissue so they can tolerate crazy heavy weight much more often. The 4X method uses moderate weight, growth-threshold training, which is much easier on the joints. That’s true even for the downward-progression version, in which you add weight on every successive set. The short rests and muscle fatigue prevent the use of huge poundages.

So the GH factor may be the reason that bodybuilders of yesteryear, like Padilla, preferred a 4X style—they were not using GH and so were more susceptible to injury, especially when on a restricted diet prior to a contest.

Again, I prefer to do three-exercise full-range Positions of Flexion for the target muscle most of the time, a 3X or 4X sequence on each. And in 4X 2.0 there’s a nine-week Density-for-Immensity Phase-Training Itinerary, in which you add a set or two and/or integrate TORQ (tension-overload repetition quantity—30-20-15) every two weeks for slight volume upticks before backing off to trigger muscular supercompensation during the ninth week. That practically guarantees new muscle size—no drugs necessary.

—Steve Holman


Editor’s note: For more on moderate-weight growth-threshold 4X mass training, see The 4X Mass Workout 2.0, an e-book available at For e-books on X Reps, fat-loss nutrition and -bodypart specialization, visit the X-Shop at

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