Q: I’ve made some of the best gains ever with your 4X training, but I may be going stale. I can’t seem to go up in weight any longer. Don’t I need to get stronger to get bigger?
A: If you get stronger, you MAY get bigger—but you can get bigger WITHOUT getting stronger. In other words, size and strength are NOT directly intertwined. Check out this quote from Peary Rader, founder of IRON MAN magazine, who was doing size and strength research more than 50 years ago…
Experiments we have carried out show that we can put an inch on the arms in a short period of time by pumping [or lighter-density] methods [like 4X]… On the other hand, we can, by training on an entirely different system [heavy weights/power] develop 10 or 20 percent more strength without one bit of increase in the size of the arms. Now this sort of ruins the popular theory that [a muscle’s] strength is in direct relation to its size.
Think about it this way: If size equaled strength, wouldn’t the current Mr. Olympia contenders be squatting over 1,000 pounds?
And why don’t the strongest powerlifters, who squat 600, 700, 800 pounds, have quads that are even bigger than pro bodybuilders’? Because there’s more to building size than increasing strength. In fact, as the quote above says, you can get quite a bit stronger without getting any bigger—that increased strength is due to improved nerve force, which is key in powerlifting programs.
Here’s something else to think about: Former power-bodybuilder Johnnie Jackson stated in IM that when he trained with mostly heavy max weights, like a powerlifter, he got smaller. Interesting…
So to address your problem, if you want to get stronger, you can move away from 4X for a while and train with lower reps and heavier weight—but don’t take the reps too low. Try a routine like the Power Pyramid in the Freak-Physique e-book. That uses full-range Positions of Flexion for each muscle, standard sets with longer rests, and a 6-to-8 rep range so you build strength with a size side effect…
Now, if you’re more concerned with packing on major muscle size first and foremost, we suggest you infuse your current program with some 4X variation for more mass creation. Here are a few we’ve discussed some good ones:
Shock-centric 3X: That’s taking your normal 4X weight, but you do one second on the positive and six seconds on the negative for 7 reps—that is slow on the down stroke of a squat and fast on the up stroke; still use 30 seconds of rest between sets. You’re getting about 50 seconds of tension time on each set and a lot of eccentric muscle trauma, so be prepared for soreness.
4X or 3X Pyramid: That’s doing a standard 4X or 3X sequence, but you add a little weight on each set so your reps drop—10, 9, 7; use 30 seconds of rest between sets. This can help boost strength.
You can also manipulate the last set of a 3X or 4X sequence…
4X Drop: Do a normal 4X sequence, but on the last set, do a drop set—at exhaustion you reduce the weight and immediately crank out another set to failure. So your reps look like this (number in parenthesis is the drop set): 10, 10, 10, 9(6)
4X Super: Do a normal 4X sequence, but after the last set to exhaustion, you immediately rep out on another exercise for that target muscle. For example, if you do a 4X sequence on pulldowns, after you complete set 4, immediately move to undergrip pulldowns to exhaustion to attack your lats from a slightly different angle.
4X + X Reps: You can also add X Reps to your last set—if you can stand the intense burn. When you hit exhaustion on, say, incline presses, lower the weight to just off your chest and blast out a series of eight-inch partials at that prime fiber-activation spot, the semi-stretch point. They do hurt—but they work! More growth-fiber activation and size-building tension time.
As we often say, when it comes to muscle growth, it’s all about CHANGE to create BIGGER GAINS.
For best-of-both-worlds programs, see The X-centric Mass Workout e-book. Those include power-pyramid training, negative-accentuated sets, AND 4X. You use heavy weights and longer rests on the big exercises, like bench presses, and moderate poundages and short rests (30 seconds) on the isolation moves with 4X. It’s a great combination routine for size and strength gains.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson
Build MASS with bodyweight training
One way you’re guaranteed to pack on stacks of muscle is through a process called muscle protein synthesis (MPS), which more than doubles 24 hours after an intense workout…
Until recently, MPS was only elevated when trainees would lift 70-90% of their one-rep max…
That’s not only dangerous for your joints, but it also sets you up for high injury risk every time you exercise…
It used to be believed that training with your own bodyweight couldn’t get you the same results as training with your 70-90% one rep max… Until NOW.