Q: I’m a competitive powerlifter, so I haven’t tried your 4X method. It requires moderate weights, and that’s not me. I need to train heavy. But I have been using your X-centric sets, usually only one or two at the end of each heavy compound exercise, like bench presses and squats. My problem is that I’ve been using X-centric sets for a month, but I’m five pounds heavier. I’m worried because I don’t want to jump a weight class at my next lifting meet. I’m pretty sure it’s all muscle because I’m seeing more striations in my chest, legs, and even shoulders, and many of my bodyparts look rounder. Should I stop using X-centrics? Is this happening because of the extra fiber trauma I’m getting from those sets?
A: The extra fiber trauma from emphasizing the negative stroke on your negative-accentuated (NA) sets is no doubt part of the reason you’ve added new muscle quickly—that causes fiber remodeling, or growth; X-centric sets also cause more fiber inflammation, which can make you look bigger and rounder. But there’s more to it than that (exciting stuff for those of us who want to pack on maximum muscle size)…
For the uninitiated, an X-centric, or negative-accentuated (NA), set is raising the weight in one to two seconds and lowering it in six. For example, on squats, you lower in six seconds and drive it up in one to two. You use that negative-emphasized rep tempo with a weight that allows about seven reps total. Seven reps times seven seconds means you get 49 seconds of tension time on the muscles.
That tension time is closer to the ideal for maximum muscle hypertrophy than what you’ve been doing. Being a powerlifter, you concentrate on strength—heavy weights for around six intense reps per set. We’re sure that all of your sets are lasting only 20 seconds or less, which is fine for a powerlifter. In essence, you’ve been in the strength/power TUT (time under tension) zone continuously…
With X-centric sets, you’ve introduced the hypertrophic TUT into your workouts. The result is a muscular growth spurt—hence the five pounds of new muscle in only one month. However, it may actually be more than five pounds, according to your description…
You say you are seeing more striations in many bodyparts. That indicates you’re also burning more fat. So you may have dropped a few pounds of body fat while still adding bodyweight. If you lost four pounds of fat and gained five pounds on the scale, you’ve really packed on an impressive NINE POUNDS OF MUSCLE IN ONE MONTH (most of us would kill for that fast progress!).
If you’re worried about jumping up a weight class, you may want to axe the 7-rep X-centric sets from your workouts. If you found that they were making you stronger, and you want to keep a version of them in your program, try this for your last set of squats, bench presses, etc. instead…
Simply increase the weight you’re using on your NA sets and reduce the rep count. In other words, you take a heavier weight that only allows THREE or FOUR NA reps per set—one-second positives and six-second negatives. That will give you a TUT of 21 seconds, more in the strength-building realm than what’s conducive to optimal hypertrophy—which is around 40-plus seconds.
For most of our e-zine readers, however, packing on that kind of muscle while losing some body fat is exactly what they’re looking for. For them, we highly recommend standard NA training—adding one 7-rep, 50-second X-centric set to the end of each compound move. That will put you in the essential fat-to-muscle groove and your physique will radically improve.
Note: For more on NA training, programs and variations, see The X-centric Mass Workout e-book.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson
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