Whether or not the program you're looking at on any given day is the "best mass-builder ever" depends to a very great extent on what you've been doing all along. If you
have a history of working in the low to medium rep ranges you will unquestionably get a huge growth surge by switching to high reps. Capillary growth alone will give
you a fast and noticeable increase. That's just an example. Radically changing what you're doing will usually elicit some rapid growth.
The program you are going to read about is not for beginners. No, absolutely not. Look at the pretty pictures if you want to, but do not read the text. It will strike you blind. It may not even be appropriate for some intermediates. I think in most cases, no, probably not. A certain level of conditioning as well as neuromuscular coordination must be present before this routine will do anything other than hurt you really badly. We're talking wheelchair time here, folks. I am not kidding. If you think you have what it takes, I encourage you to try it. You'll either grow like a weed or wish you were dead. Maybe both.
Okay, disclaimer done. Let's get on with it. First we'll look at the science behind it, then the program. Knowing why you're doing something before you have to do it is always wise. Makes the pain you'll be suffering a little easier to bear.
As you'll have deduced from the title, there are four dimensions, aspects, or perhaps more accurately stated, components of muscular growth. Actually there are others but these are the ones modifiable through training. Needless to say, you have to provide the nutrient base necessary for growth or very little will happen, but for the purposes of this article we'll be dealing with training aspects only. These four components are the fast-twitch muscle fibers (types 2a and 2b, 2b fibers sometimes referred to as 2x - don't know why), slow-twitch muscle fibers (type 1), and the capillary network in the muscle group. Each of these is encouraged to grow under a different kind of stress. All will contribute to your ultimate mass. Under the right conditions there is a fifth dimension, but it'll be my little secret for now.
Some people will main there is no point in trying to develop the slow-twitch fibers because their potential for growth is "extremely limited." Bull. At least one study has indicated (via a biopsy) that the slow-twitch fibers taken from elite bodybuilders were up to 27 percent larger than those sampled from untrained individuals. If we assume for the sake of argument that the muscle biopsied had a 50-50 mix of fast- and slow-twitch fibers, 13.5 percent of the ultimate growth in that muscle was due to slow-twitch fiber growth. Hardly a negligible contribution.
Muscle fibers get their names from their relative speed of contraction. FT fibers (2b) contract roughly ten times as fast as ST fibers (1). FT type 2a contract at speeds somewhere in between. Generally speaking, FT fibers contract faster and more forcefully. When you go for a personal record in the bench, these are the fibers you're calling upon. They also fatigue very rapidly. ST fibers contract more slowly but are able to contract longer before failure. Virtually all muscle groups are a combination of the two types. (An exception is the muscles that control eye movement, which are all FT. Think about how quickly your eye can dart from place to place.) However, certain fibers will dominate. The calf has FT fibers but it is a predominantly ST group. Keep this fact in mind when we get into the guts of the program.
Capillary growth is a frequently neglected aspect of muscular growth. When the topic is discussed at all it is frequently discounted on the basis that it doesn't contribute to "performance." More bull. The capillaries carry oxygen and nutrients to the muscle cells and carry away waste products. They are critical to performance. Oh, I'll grant you, 1 doubt if we could conclusively prove that if I have ten percent more extensive a capillary network than you do my performance would be that much better. The point is, working to increase capillary growth is not purely cosmetic. There is a performance aspect as well, of course, for the purposes of this c discussion cosmetic is good enough. We are, after all, concerned with building muscle, and your capillary network will contribute significantly to that resulting bulk.
We need comparatively low and heavy reps for FT development, higher and lighter reps for ST development, and very high reps for capillary growth. But wait. There are two types of FT fibers. One contracts even faster than the other. This difference may explain the ongoing debate between schools of thought about power training. Some trainers advocate the use of rapid, "explosive" reps while others decry that notion as misguided and dangerous. If you happen to have a relatively high proportion of 2b fibers, you'll respond exceedingly well to explosive training. If you have a few more 2a fibers, explosive may involve more risk than it's worth. But there is a safe way to train explosively, and it's necessary for this program to work to its fullest potential. You train explosively to hit the 2b fibers. Then you go a bit more slowly, but still heavily, to fully stimulate the 2a fibers. Finally hit the high reps for ST growth and very high reps for capillary growth.
You do your initial sets in the Louie Simmons style. I don't know if he knows it or not (actually, I doubt that anything he does is by accident), but the way he advocates training for power is optimum for hitting the ultrafast 2b fibers. You use 60 percent of your one-rep max in a given movement for 3 reps. Yes, 3. Don't forget that these fibers have almost no endurance. You won't feel as if you've done much work because the other fibers making up the muscle laugh at 3 reps. The ST fibers don't even know you did anything yet. They're still sleeping. But the 2b fibers are done in by 3 reps. The safe way to train explosively is to remember that only the contraction phase of the movement should be fast.
We'll walk through it just to be sure you've got this concept. Let's say you're doing benches. Lower the bar under complete control till it lightly touches your chest. Lift it about half an inch so that the muscle is under tension. Then smoothly accelerate, contracting as fast as you can. At the top pause for a second and lower smoothly and under control again. The dangerous tendency is to do all aspects of the rep fast and hard, bouncing and throwing the weight around. Doing it that way will get you hurt. To safely and effectively stimulate these fibers, you want only the contraction to be explosive.
Next load the bar to 85-90 percent or so of your max and do 5 reps. These are max reps. You shouldn't have a sixth in you. Try for 6. Go ahead. Really try. If you make it, increase the weight next time. (This is as good a time as any to say you must keep a journal of weights and reps. If you don't you're wasting your time.) you have now fully worked the 2a FT fibers.
Reduce the weight again to around 50 percent of your max. That's a guess. You may have to adjust it. Your target rep failure is 20 or so. You aim for 20, but you want the set to be really hard. Ideally, you should burn out screaming at 21 or 22 reps. Then increase the weight by the smallest increment possible for next time. Execute the reps smoothly. You don't have to do them slowly, but you absolutely shouldn't do them fast. Don't just snap out the early reps so that the later ones are easier. Make each rep count. Incidentally, ever see someone do that when he's ostensibly doing high reps? Do the early reps really fast because the weight is light? Well, now you know why he's doing that. Executing the reps quickly spares the slow-twitch fibers in the early part of the set. Don't fall into that trap. You're doing this set to work the ST fibers. Don't cheat.
Finally reduce the weight to roughly 20-25 percent of your max. Guessing again here. Your target failure is 50 reps or more. Guaranteed, the deciding factor in when this set ends is your pain threshold. Try for 60 reps. The goal is psychological. If you're shooting for 50 and the reps start to really hurt, you'll stop the instant you get to 50. If you shoot for 60, well, maybe you fail at 53. See what I mean? It's going to hurt-we know that-but only for a few minutes. That pain is what tells the body more capillaries are needed to funnel oxygen in and carbon dioxide out. More than anything else this process will spark a surge in capillary density.
And now for the fifth dimension. Okay, the joke will only work on people of a certain age group. (See, there used to be this rock group called the Fifth Dimension ... oh, well, never mind.)
Remember I hinted at a fifth aspect to muscle growth? I said it was my little secret. Here it is: hyperplasia. This has been the Holy Grail of bodybuilding for decades.
Imagine if you could increase the number of fibers you were born with as well as increasing their size. In effect you would be surpassing what should have been your genetic limits and going way beyond. Everyone's always said that's impossible. The accepted belief in physiology is that you're born with a set number of muscle fibers and that's all you get. You can increase their size. Under certain conditions you can even alter their makeup. (Under prolonged aerobic stress 2b fibers will begin to function as slow-twitch fibers.) But you can't increase their numbers. Or so the current wisdom would have you believe.
Hyperplasia refers to the actual increase in the number of muscle fibers. It's never been positively proven to happen in humans. Why not? Well, first you need to find a really gung-ho volunteer who'll agree to having the skin stripped off a muscle so that all the fibers can be counted. Then you need to find a desperate-to-graduate grad student willing to count all those fibers. One study determined that the tibialis anterior muscle (which runs along the shin bone) contains approximately 160,000 fibers - and that's just one, not terribly large, muscle. Need I go on? Hyperplasia has been conclusively proven to happen in animals. Considerable indirect evidence exists that it occurs in humans. We can even say, to a degree, how to make it happen. That's where the fun really starts.
First let's review the animal evidence. Sola et al. in 1973 used the first animal model. They hung a weight on one wing of a chicken or quail and left the other wing unencumbered. By putting a moderate weight (ten percent of the bird's body-weight) on one wing, they imposed a weight-induced stretch.
The findings were that this method of overload caused a 16 percent increase in fiber number in the muscle affected. These results have been duplicated successfully too many times to mention. One innovation came from Jose Antonio, PhD, who had the insight to try a progressive overload scheme. He loaded the unfortunate fowl with 10 percent of its bodyweight to start, then made systematic increases of 15 percent, 20 percent, etc. The final weight was 35 percent of the bird's weight. Each weight increase was followed by two full days of rest. This approach produced the greatest gains in muscle mass ever recorded in an animal-or human-based model: up to 334 percent increase in muscle mass with up to 90 percent increase in fiber number. Not counting the rest periods, the total number of stretch days was 28. Less than one month of labor induced well in excess of 300 percent increase in muscle mass. Chew on that statistic for a minute.
Other studies involved an exercise model as opposed to a stretch model Cats were trained to perform a wrist-flexion exercise with one limb only against resistance to obtain a food reward. The resistance was gradually increased. In addition to the expected hypertrophy (growth) of fibers, the number of fibers also increased from 9 to 20 percent.
The human evidence is mostly indirect reasoning for the reasons mentioned earlier. For example, one study involving bodybuilders and powerlifters showed they had arm circumferences that averaged 27 percent greater than the sedentary control group, yet the muscle fibers obtained via biopsy were not substantially different in size. Many other studies have duplicated these findings. If your muscle is bigger, but the fibers inside the muscle aren't, the only inference that explains that contradiction is that more fibers are present in the muscle.
Other studies, one of which was referred to earlier, have shown bodybuilders had larger fibers than did a control group. Evidently the most defensible position is that both hypertrophy and hyperplasia take place under certain conditions. I wish the various studies of bodybuilders had examined the training methods followed by the human participants. That would give us a clue as to what conditions were more likely to cause hyperplasia and hypertrophy as opposed to only hypertrophy. One clue I noticed was that the athletes in the study which definitely indicated hyperplasia were referred to as "elite" bodybuilders. That may be just a coincidence, but it may indicate that those who achieve elite status instinctively develop training techniques which tend to encourage hyperplasia. Or perhaps bodybuilders with the potential to become elite may have a genetic tendency in that direction.
In any case we can use the animal studies as a guideline. These would seem to indicate a need for high volume and/or pronounced stretching. We have sets of high repetition already incorporated for other reasons. All we need to add is a stretching component. (For years John Parrillo has advocated a reputedly very painful stretching technique to stretch the fascia, allowing for the muscle to expand into the enlarged envelope. Maybe a factor in the growth seen in his trainees is stretch-induced hyperplasia, not just fascial expansion.) Dr. Antonio theorized that stretching almost to the point of injury followed by a required rest period supported the most dramatic results. This theory will form one of the more uncomfortable aspects of this approach.
Let's walk through a bench workout. The number of sets in the sample is a best guess. You can modify the number based on your experience and individual recuperative powers, but don't go crazy. This is tougher than it looks. My assumption is that, as the workout progresses, a cumulative stress affects the total system. Consequently, my recommendation is to gradually reduce the number of sets at each given weight.
We'll assume your max bench is 300 pounds. After a couple of warmup sets you'll load the bar to 180. Do 3 sets of 3 explosively. Increase the weight to around 265 and do 2 sets of 5. Drop the weight to 150 and do 1 set of 20 or so. Finally, drop the weight to about 65 and do a set of 50 to 60. Have a couple of 20-pound dumbbells next to your bench. Pick them up at the conclusion of your sets and use them for some really deep stretching. Go into the bottom of a fly and let the weights stretch your pecs to the point of pain. Hold the stretch. Take a short rest, stretching your triceps while you're resting your pecs and then repeat.
Remember, the theory is to carry the stretches almost to the point of injury. How long the stretches should be and how many stretches you should do are individual decisions. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest 30 to 60 seconds' duration. Repeat once to see how it feels. This is a personal choice as much as the number of sets you'll do with weights. I think building up to longer (and more) stretches with greater weights will be more productive, up to a point, just as with traditional weight-bearing exercises. I also think the same rules apply regarding overtraining. This is an extreme program and it will hurt, but too much is still too much. There's always a balancing act between stress and recuperation.
Anything you can do to encourage recuperation will always be beneficial. Massage is excellent and you can do it to yourself. Massaging your own back would be kind of tricky, but you can certainly do your legs, pecs and arms without a problem. Get some good massage oil and work it into the target muscle to stimulate circulation and promote healing. Another great way to stimulate circulation is by alternating hot and cold water in the shower. That's not always pleasant, but it can be effective.
One of the most effective methods, in my opinion, for promoting recovery is the feeder workout. You really have to try this technique. It's so simple you'll be tempted to blow it off, but I guarantee it works. It's so good that it deserves an article all its own. Shortly after your workout (usually four to six hours) you do a second session. If you'd done the bench workout we outlined earlier, you'd set the bar with your normal warmup weight, or even a little less. Do 5 sets of 10 to 12 reps -just enough to get really warm. When you start to feel a light pump, go home. That's it. So simple. You've flushed fresh oxygenated blood into the damaged muscle and removed waste products and debris. Try the workouts we've discussed with the feeder workout and without it. I guarantee you'll experience noticeably less pain and stiffness if you use the feeder workout. If you can't get back to the gym for the second workout, do some freehand stuff at home. Pushups substitute for bench. Do bodyweight squats. Tie some surgical tubing to a doorknob and do one-handed rows. Remember, you're just doing a protracted warmup. You don't need a lot of resistance.
Before closing, I must comment on target areas for this approach. You may be tempted to just do your normal workout using this rep scheme. I would recommend against it. Some guys out there may have superior powers of recuperation that would allow them to use this system with isolation exercises, but they're going to be pretty rare. I think it is most effective done for compound movements. The benefits are spread over multiple muscle groups without magnifying the overall stress on the body. Besides, the effectiveness of this routine is based on allowing you to target the different muscle-fiber types. Although you may be tempted to use it to bring up your lagging calves, I question whether you have enough FT fibers in the calves for explosive sets of 3 to be anything but a waste of time. The other aspect of the program, aggressive stretching and the like, may prove to be very effective. Experiment. In the long run the way you apply this system will depend on your personal circumstances. Recovery ability, metabolism, diet, supplements, not to mention drugs, will all be factors in how aggressively you can train and still grow.
Individual abilities run the gamut from genetically gifted to the most extreme hard gainer. An extremely gifted athlete might be able to keep most of his workout the same and simply use this rep scheme on, say, chest, back and thighs to increase overall mass. This application would be exceedingly rare and, I think, a mistake. A better plan would be to choose one compound movement and let it be the mainstay of the workout. Remember, benches don't hit only the pecs. You can get a very good whole-body workout with some kind of a row, some kind of a press, and either leg press or squat depending on how big your cojones are. (Call me when you get to the 50-plus set on the squat -1 want to watch!) A hard gainer with limited recovery ability would probably be best off using this extreme method for only one movement per workout and doing 1 or 2 "normal" sets for the other exercises in the workout. For example, do 1 or 2 sets each of rows and leg presses and use the extreme approach for benches. Then rotate so that each movement in turn gets brutalized as the week progresses.
Remember to stretch the living daylights out of the target muscle. In keeping with the most impressive animal studies, I am recommending two full days of rest between sessions. That means training no more than three times a week, maybe only twice depending on your recuperative powers, while on this program. Now a quick recap:
3 sets of 3 at 60% of max done explosively to fatigue 2b FT fibers.
2 sets of 5 at 85-90% of max to fatigue 2a FT fibers.
1 set of 20 at 50% of max to fatigue FT fibers.
1 set of 50-60 at 20-25% of max to increase capillary density.
aggressive stretching to promote hyperplasia.