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The Growth Threshold: Breaking the Size Barrier

“Growth threshold” is a term I borrowed from legendary bodybuilder Lee Labrada, who is still in incredible shape at 51, by the way (interview and pics coming soon in IRON MAN). Here is Lee’s definition (from the 4X e-book)…

“The growth threshold is the point at which the level of fatigue in the muscle is high enough that a growth response is elicited. Your goal during a workout should be to fatigue the target muscles you are training more and more with each succeeding set. In other words, you want the muscles to progressively get more and more tired out, until you reach a point where the muscles are functionally ‘worn out.’ Signals are sent to the brain that set up the compensation, or growth, process during the postworkout period, so that in future workouts you can handle it.”

The 4X style is a good example. It’s an excellent method to crash the growth threshold—break through to get huge. For those not familiar, it’s a moderate-weight, high-fatigue training style that’s easy on the joints but big on mass production. If you want to try it on an exercise or two…

Pick a weight with which you can get 15 reps, but only do 10; rest 30 to 40 seconds, then do 10 more—and so on until you complete four sets. On that fourth set you want to go all out—to muscular failure. If you get 10, add weight to that exercise at your next workout or go for 4×11. Simple, progressively brutal, but very effective for new size increases.

I know what you’re thinking: “Moderate weights? But I need to go ultra heavy to build mass.” Not according to the research. Here’s what Phil Wagner, M.D., at SPARTA Performance Science concludes:

“The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that moderate intensity loads be used for muscle hypertrophy, and it suggests that training focus on high volume of exercise. High-volume training uses moderate (medium-high intensity) loads for a large number of repetitions and sets, with a small amount of rest between sets and exercises. Research has shown that the rest time between sets has a large impact on the growth of muscles. Research from Eastern Illinois University showed that not letting your muscles recover between sets, using 30 to 60 seconds of rest, acutely increased the release of growth hormone prompting greater muscle hypertrophy (growth).”

Talk about flying in the face of conventional-training “wisdom.” But that is right in line with Labrada’s training. Hear him:

“I do not let my muscles regain all of their strength before starting the next set. After all, my goal is to fatigue my muscles more and more with each succeeding set until they hit the growth threshold.”

Now in the quote from Dr. Wagner above, you may have noticed a reference to “volume.” How much is enough? I’m a proponent of Positions-of-Flexion mass training, so I recommend at least those three exercises for each muscle. For example, for triceps it’s close-grip bench presses (midrange), overhead extensions (stretch) and pushdowns (contracted). That trains the full “arc of flexion” for the tri’s—and if you do 4X for each move, you crash the growth threshold for each angle of pull in about 15 minutes, five minutes for each 4X sequence.

In a previous blog I mentioned Doug Brigole, a Mr. America and Mr. Universe winner. He’s been experimenting with 4X style training, and was ecstatic because his bodyweight went to 202 pounds and he was getting more ripped. I just got another very excited e-mail from him: “I just passed 209 lbs. last night!”

I’ll have more on growth-threshold training variations in future blogs. For now, try 4X to blast through to huge.

Stay tuned, train smart and be Built For Life.

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