Q: I have a hard time feeling warmed up for my first heavy set. I’ve tried three progressively heavier warmup sets before my work set, but I still don’t feel ready to blast on my first work set on most exercises. That’s a problem because it is my only work set, as I’m using your 3D HIT program [listed in X-traordinary Arms]. It’s like I’m wasting my big midrange exercise. Should I do two work sets for insurance?
A: We believe that not being warmed up properly is one of the biggest reasons high-intensity programs fail to build much muscle. Being completely “warm” for your first work set is important on any program, but it’s especially critical on one-work-set-per-exercise routines like our 3D HIT. We’ve got a couple of solutions for this first-set secret to muscle size…
Yes, you could do another work set, if you have time, but remember that the more heavy sets you do, the more you drain your recovery ability. The point of 3D HIT is maximizing recovery and growth by doing one work set in each of the three positions of flexion for each bodypart. You have to make every work set count in a big way to make it effective. And your big midrange exercise is probably your most important, which is why you do it first. There are two things you can try:
1) Warmup overload. Use 10 to 20 percent more weight on your last warmup set than you’re going to use on your one work set. That’s right, more weight. But do only four controlled reps. That heightens your nervous system so that when you back off for your work set, it feels very light. Your neuro-muscular system will be more primed for perfect performance on your one work set. A good example of this is tossing around a heavy medicine ball and then picking up a basketball—the basketball feels as light as a feather.
2) Contracted-position exercise warmup set. We’ve discussed the blood-pressure-cuff study in which blood was blocked to the lower arm with a BP cuff for two minutes, when the subjects did wrist curls. When blood flow was blocked and then released, the subjects got a 20 percent increase in strength—due to the extreme influx of blood after the BP cuff was removed. That’s like a supercharged warmup (warmup sets get blood into the target muscle, as well as lube joints). To get a similar blood-bath effect prior to your work set, use a continuous-tension contracted-position exercise in your warmup sequence. For example, for bench presses, do two progressively heavier warmup sets, then do a set of cable crossovers or pec-deck flyes. Use a fairly light weight for about 12 to 15 controlled reps, without releasing tension from your pecs. Do just the bottom two-thirds of the stroke to emphasize the occlusion effect without much stretch…
That postactivation technique described in #2 will give you a significant uptick in blood flow after the isolation exercise (similar to when the blood pressure cuff was removed in the study). Rest for about a minute, then do your one and only work set on bench presses. You should feel your pecs working harder and you should be even stronger! [For more on the warmups and how to use these postactivation techniques, see Chapter 12: Prelude to Mass in the 3D Muscle Building e-book.]
Q: You guys were doing leg extensions first in your quad workout, but it seems like you’re doing squats first now. Which is better? I like the pre-exhaustion effect I get when I do extensions first.
A: Doing extensions as your first quad exercise can work well (similar to the crossovers above)—unless you start getting carried away as we did (you’ll see why in a moment). The quads are large dense muscles, and that means they need more lighter preliminary sets to get enough blood circulating for optimal warmup. Remember that studies show that a warm muscle contracts up to 20 percent better than a cold one, so don’t neglect your warmup sets. And that’s precisely how we were using leg extensions—at first…
We would do three progressively heavier sets, none of them with much intensity. But we allowed those sets to evolve into work sets. In other words, we started pushing the last one or two to exhaustion and using a heavy weight that allowed us to get 10 reps (Jonathan was using the stack!). We noticed some knee pain after a few of these heavy leg-extension-first workouts, so we contacted Joe Horrigan of the Soft Tissue Center in Marina del Rey, California. His explanation made a lot of sense and forced us to re-evaluate our quad workout…
When the leg extension is performed, the major lower leg bone (tibia) slides, or translates, forward. That stretches an important ligament in the knee known as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Biomechanics research of the knee has demonstrated that during the squat and leg press, the tibia translates, or slides, backward due to the hamstring activity during these exercises. That reduces the stress on the ACL.
Another problem with the leg extension is the cartilage on the back of the patella (knee cap) is maximally stressed on its thinnest area. The cartilage is not uniform in thickness. The cartilage is thinnest at the top and bottom of the patella and thickest near the middle. The maximal pressure on the thinnest part of the cartilage can damage or crack the cartilage. When a trainee performs a squat, the maximal stress lines up with the thickest area of cartilage on the patella. We were clearly designed to perform a squat motion.
We had heard this from Joe before, but it simply slipped our minds. We started doing heavier and heavier leg extensions first—to pre-exhaust our quads prior to squats. That way, we reasoned, we wouldn’t have to use as much weight on squats and, we thought, would avoid excess back trauma. Unfortunately, the strategy was causing knee trauma.
Depending on the routine we’re on, we often do one light warmup set of extensions to lead off our quad workout. Then we do three progressively heavier sets of free-bar squats before our one heavy all-out work set (more warmup sets are especially important in the winter). Then we complete the full-range 3D chain with sissy squats (stretch) and, finally, leg extensions (contracted)—but we use a lighter weight on the extensions and go for 12 to 15 reps for super saturation.
Leg extensions (warmup), 1 x 12-15
Squats (warmup), 3 x 10, 8, 6
Squats (work set), 1 x 9-12
Sissy squats (work set), 1 x 9-12
Leg extensions (work set), 1 x 12-15
You may want to try this workout if you’re into efficiency of effort. It doesn’t take long and the pump is incredible. Plus, your knees will feel great as your squat poundages climb at every workout. Oh, and you’ll pack your thighs with new muscle size!
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
Note: The X-traordinary Arms e-book, with biceps and triceps specialization routines for width and peak/sweep as well as the full 3D HIT program that hits every muscle with Positions of Flexion, is available for FREE with our Anabolic After-40 Muscle-Size Manual HERE.
—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson