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The Power-Mass-Building Myth: Don’t Make This Mistake!

In the winter many bodybuilders shift to a power phase. The heavy weights feel great, and by increasing strength, they add size; plus, they will be stronger when they go back to higher-rep bodybuilding training in the spring. Right?

Yes, they get stronger, and they may get bigger too, but it’s not usually from more muscle size—it’s a recipe for adding fat (but there is a way to do it to avoid the blubber and get bigger and stronger quicker, as you’ll see)….

When you focus exclusively on lower-rep power sets, you train primarily the myofibrils. Those are the force-generating actin and myosin strands in muscle fibers. Those do have some potential for growth, but research is beginning to show that it’s the sarcoplasm that is most responsible for the largest muscle-size increases.

The sarcoplasm is the “energy” fluid in the muscle fibers. It contains glycogen from carbs, ATP from creatine and the mitochondria–where fat is burned. That fat-burning property is important! If you do NOT stress the sarcoplasm with at least a few longer-tension-time sets and/or shorter rests between sets, your mitochondria lose fat-burning steam.

In other words, if you don’t include some longer bodybuilding-style sets, your mitochondria will get lazy and you’ll get fatter. Hmm, do bodybuilders usually get fat when they go on a power phase? Yes—and that could be due to neglecting the muscle mitochondria (true, they usually loosen their eating too, which compounds the fat-accrual problem).

On top of that, if you’re not stressing the sarcoplasm with longer tension times and/or short rests, it will shrink, so you will undoubtedly get some muscle atrophy on that “side” of the muscle fiber—despite getting stronger via myofibrillar hypertrophy and neuromuscular efficiency. (Fatter with less muscle—this is getting ugly!)

According to respected researchers Vladimir Zatsiiorsky, Ph.D., and William Kraemer, Ph.D., “Mostly myofibrillar hypertrophy is found in elite weightlifters, whereas sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is typically seen in bodybuilders.” It’s the reason bodybuilders are so much more muscular—extreme sarcoplasmic expansion.

Am I saying that you should not do a power phase? No, not at all. If that’s what you’re into, go for it. What I am saying is that you should include some sarcoplasmic stimulation to keep your size moving forward. For example…

1) Do the last set of your big exercises—bench presses, squats, deadlifts—as a higher-rep burnout set. Arnold used to do this during many of his power phases. He also included isolation exercises with higher reps. The set or sets should last at least 40 seconds, the sarcoplasmic growth threshold. Drug-free IFBB pro bodybuilder Dave Goodin (pictured here) does this as well. He includes a 12-rep back off set after each power lift and he follows with three sets of a different exercise for 12-rep sets. That’s a must for him, a hardgainer type who has trouble holding onto muscle size; if he did all low-rep sets, he would shrink. (Dave’s complete power program is in his Shredder Mass Workout e-book.)

2) End each body part with a 4X sequence of a compound or isolation exercise. The 4X mass method is taking a weight with which you can get 15 reps, but you only do 10; rest 30 seconds, then do it again—and so on for four sets. Go all out on your fourth set; if you get 10, add weight at your next workout or go for 4×11. Also, be sure and do every rep with a one-second positive and a three-second negative. That will give you 40 seconds of tension time on all four sets.

3) End some or all of your exercises with an X-centric set—a.k.a. negative-accentuated training. For these you use a moderate weight and lift it in one second and lower in six. That’s seven seconds per rep, so if you get eight reps you push sarcoplasmic expansion with almost a full minute of tension time.

One last point: If you don’t stress the sarcoplasm much due to exclusive power sets, you don’t burn as much glycogen. Remember, the sarcoplasm is where that sugar from carbs is stored. If you don’t burn as much to create a greater glycogen deficit, guess where those excess carbs you eat are going? It’s another reason abs usually disappear completely during a power phase.

Higher-rep sets, 4X and/or X-centric sets—take your pick to get big quick, especially when you’re on a power trip. They’ll also help you avoid the oh-crap-I-got-fat trap.

Stay tuned, train smart and be Built for Life.

Note: For information on Steve’s training ideas and complete training programs, visit

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