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What are stage sets and should I use them to get more size?

ironmanmagazine.comQ: You’ve mentioned stage sets. What are they, and should I use them to get more size? 

A: Jonathan Lawson and I discuss stage sets as one of our favorite X-hybrid techniques in Beyond X-Rep Muscle Building. We first tried them after reading about them in one of Ellington Darden’s books on high-intensity training back in the ’80s. So what the heck is a stage set?

You break the exercise stroke into three sections, and you do the hardest third first. For example, on lateral raises the top end of the stroke is the hardest. That goes from where the dumbbells are at a point even with your lower pecs up to where they are just above shoulder level.

So you do that top section for about six to eight “third” reps. After that you lower the dumbbells to about waist height and raise them to a point even with your lower pecs. That section of the stroke is the second hardest. Do eight “third” reps there.

Last you lower the dumbbells all the way—to where they are in front of your thighs. Now raise them out to waist level. Do eight “third” reps there at the bottom of the stroke. Your side-delt heads should be on fire.

If you’re using the 4X mass method, rest 35 seconds, then hit another stage set—and so on for four sets.

Obviously, the weight you use for a stage set will be considerably lighter than what you use for a normal set. If you’re using 4X, the first two rounds should be fairly easy—you won’t be struggling, but your delt pump will blowing up big time.

By round three you should be struggling to get eight in each stage. You’ll get a long tension time and unique fiber stress on every stage set. Your sarcoplasmic size should explode with new growth.

Another way to use stage sets is to do just one on the last round of a 4X sequence. You do three rounds, and go all out on your third—that is, get as many reps as you can on set three. Now reduce the poundage, rest 35 seconds, and do a fourth set, stage style. It’s a great finisher for just about any exercise because of the extended tension time.

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, see the ad sections in this issue. Also visit  and for info on X-Rep, 4X and 3D POF methods and e-books.  IM

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