Q: I get it. Using a high-rep set to failure in order to fatigue the slow-twitch fibers first gets more fast-twitch fibers to fire on the heavy sets after. I also like the fact the the slow-twitchers get growth stimulation too. I get bigger faster, but I hate that high-rep set. It hurts and it’s boring. I tend to speed it up to get it over with. Is there another way to get freaky growth?
A: Yes, there are two ways. Before we get to those, we want to explain why it works via the Size Principle of Muscle Fiber Recruitment.
That basically says that in any set, the earlier easy reps fire a majority of slow-twitch fibers. And as the reps get harder, more and more fast-twitch fibers are brought into play. At failure, the majority of fibers firing are fast-twitch.
So instead of one high-rep set, what if you did a few 10-to-12-rep sets, but NOT to failure and with short rests between? Those sub-failure sets close together would fatigue mostly slow-twitch fibers just like one all-out high-rep set.
The hard set or sets to failure after would still activate more fast-twtich fibers because of the slow-twitch exhaustion (STX), which was shown in a recent Brazilian study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology.
That’s the 3X or 4X mass method: Take a weight with which you can get 15 reps, but only do 10. Easy set. Rest 30 seconds, then do it again. Still easy but getting harder–slow twitch becoming exhausted, fast-twitch beginning to dominate. Rest 30 seconds, then go to failure, which should occur at around rep 8 for fast-twitch activation.
That’s 3X. You can add another set for 4X if you want more freaky growth.
Incidentally, that’s precisely how legendary bodybuilder Danny Padilla built mass. He was known for his classic, no-flaws physique–at only 5’2″, and his nickname was “the Giant Killer” because his perfect mass-symmetry combo allowed him to beat bodybuilders who were much taller and larger than he was. You can see why his physique is “legendary” in this pic…
He would do more volume–5 sets with the same moderate weight–but keep in mind that he was genetically gifted and also using, um, “advanced supplements.” Lol.
Still, the method helped him place in the top five of many pro contests back in the ’80s. Again, just like 3X or 4X, he used the same weight on every set, with short rests between them–never more than a minute, and he managed some seriously freaky growth.
And when he was able to do 10 or 12 on all five sets, he would up the weight a bit. The first sets were fairly easy for slow-twitch exhaustion; the last few were brutally hard and emphasized fast-twitch size stimulation…
Method 2: So what’s the second method to help you avoid the high-rep set? Well, this one’s more of a Jedi mind trick because you still do that first set with a long tension time, you just slow it down…
It’s the X-centric method, emphasizing the lowering on each rep, the eccentric stroke.
So you still use your 20-rep-set weight, but you only do 9 reps, lowering in 6 seconds and raising it in 1. That’s 72 seconds of time under tension. A 20-rep set using 3/1 tempo is 80 seconds–almost equal…
With this method, just like STX, you go to failure–until you can’t lower in 6 seconds or the pain is just too severe…
Another benefit of the slow lowering X-centric method is that the fibers get a unique stress–there’s absolutely no momentum so the muscle is sure to get tension stress over the FULL LENGTH of the negative range. That means you will create micro-tear trauma and you will get sore.
Still, if you hate 20 reps because of how long the set takes, X-centric will not be much different, other than you count to 8 instead of 20. Try it. If you hate it, use the 3X or 4X method instead.
Either way you pre-fatigue the slow-twitch fibers, gradually bringing in the high-growth fast-twitch fibers on the last tough sets to fire up your freak-physique jets.
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Till next time, train hard–and smart–for BIG results.
–Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson