The Big Secret. Ah, is it steroids? No, because we’re talking drug-free muscle growth. Heavy weights? No, although challenging your muscles is important. Training to failure? No, but you should go all out on some sets.
Maybe this quote from strength and muscle-building expert Jim Stoppani, Ph.D., will give you a clue: “The best TUT [time under tension] for strength is about 4 to 20 seconds per set and about 40 to 60 seconds per set for muscle growth.”
That gave it away, didn’t it? The #1 key, or “secret,” is tension time—and I can guarantee that most trainees who are seeking extreme muscle size are finishing almost every set in less than 20 seconds, not even close to 40. Wear a watch with a sweeping second hand and time them. Now time your own sets. Are you doing any that last more than 40 seconds? If most of your sets aren’t in that ultimate-growth zone, then you’re limiting muscle-size stimulation—period.
One of the most popular and massive bodybuilders of yesteryear is Mike Mentzer, and his sets were in the six-to-eight-rep range. In his competitive heyday his cadence was about three seconds per rep. (Note: It wasn’t until after he retired and started training people that he reduced rep speed to about eight seconds per rep).
Wait! Did you do the math? That’s only 18 to 24 seconds per set, yet Mike was massive. What gives? If you’ve ever read about Mike’s competitive training routines, you know that he extended most of his sets with forced reps followed by negatives. So when he reached failure at rep seven, his partner would help him grind out three or four more reps (add 10 seconds). But he wasn’t finished.
After the forced reps his partner would lift the weight and Mike would lower it slowly to a count of five for another three or four reps. Add another 10 to 15 seconds. So his sets were really lasting more than 40 seconds.
He always said that he was depleting different levels of strength with those intensity tactics, etc. But the real reason they worked was because he was extending his sets into the extreme-growth zone.
To top it off, he often did pre-exhaustion. He would do an isolation exercise first, say crossovers for chest, with the forced and negatives, then he would move immediately to a compound move like bench presses. So his 40-second first set was followed with very little rest by another 40-second set. Talk about a sarcoplasmic-size blast!
Remember, the sarcoplasm is believe to contribute the most to muscle-size increase. It’s the energy fluid in the muscles that expands from longer-tension-time sets and/or short rests between sets. Mentzer was doing both. He would usually do two rounds of a pre-ex cycle, or superset, before moving to another exercise for that muscle or a new bodypart.
I trained like Mike in my youth and made some decent gains; however, it’s very traumatic. The stress hormone cortisol shoots out of your adrenal gland like water from a high-pressure firehose. He could tolerate it because of his superhuman genetics and, um, “supplements.” I needed lots of naps. Mentzer’s Heavy Duty training is definitely not for most people, especially if you’re over 40. A better way to get extreme size stimulation is with 4X.
The 4X mass method is this: Pick a weight with which you can get 15 reps, but only do 10; rest 30 to 40 seconds, then do it again—and so on until you complete four sets. Go all out on your fourth—to failure—and if you get 10 reps, increase the weight at your next workout or try for 4×11.
Now, remember that the key to extreme mass is TUT, so every one of those four sets should last right at 40 seconds. That means one-second positives and three-second negatives. Time it; a 40-second set is longer than you think.
4X is moderate-weight, high-fatigue muscle building, and it hits all facets of extreme hypertrophy without opening the cortisol floodgates or damaging joints, perfect for older trainees and hardgainers who have a propensity for cortisol overload. You can combine it with heavy-set training, but that appears to be unnecessary if your prime objective is maximum muscle size. Give it a go and start to grow.
Stay tuned, train smart and be Built for Life.
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