Q: I pound away at my workouts, but I’ve only gained about three pounds of muscle in nine months. I’ve gotten stronger, but where’s the size?! I don’t know what to do. I add weight to my exercises whenever I can, but that doesn’t seem to help. I want big, full muscles that will fill out my T-shirts.
A: Are you doing your work sets in the eight-to-10 rep range? Are you resting about 2 minutes between sets? Are your sets lasting about 25 seconds? Are you doing that on all of your exercises? If so, THAT’S WHY YOU’RE NOT GROWING.
Most bodybuilders mistakenly train for myofibrillar stimulation. The myofibrils are the actin and myosin strands in the muscle fiber that generate force. Sets in the six-to-eight range—25 seconds of tension time—primarily train those. If you want mostly strength, you focus on the myofibrils—that’s what powerlifters do…
But you want EXTREME MUSCLE SIZE, right? That means you also need serious sarcoplasmic expansion. The sarcoplasm is the energy fluid in the muscle fibers. It contains the mitochondria, ATP, glycogen, noncontractile proteins, etc. When you get a skin-stretching pump, you know you’ve triggered some super sarcoplasmic-size effects.
Now, we’re not saying you don’t need to train for some muscle strength. That can improve muscle size as well due to myofibrillar hypertrophy and proliferation. Here are some diagrams to help explain. Here’s Figure 1, a muscle fiber with little to no training…
Now a comparison of a fiber with mostly myofibrillar growth (left, Fig. 1) and one with both myofibrillar AND sarcoplasmic expansion (right, Fig. 3)…
As you can see, if you get significant size in BOTH “sides” of the 2A muscle fiber, you’ll be well on your way to having bigger, fuller muscles (seam-splitting size and tighter T-shirts). Your muscle fibers will be the size of Figure 3, not Figure 2.
It was discovered that the 2A fiber type is dominant in the biggest bodybuilders—and those fibers have both power AND endurance capacity. They’re DUAL-capacity fibers, and that’s why bodybuilders must train for both power and endurance. From bodybuilding researcher Jerry Brainum…
A recent study examined single muscle fibers. Since the type 2B [pure power] fibers are the muscle fibers most likely to grow, it stands to reason that the bodybuilders in the study would have an abundance of such fibers, or at least more of them than the other kinds of muscle fibers. The reality was that they showed a higher portion of types 1 [slow-twitch] and 2A [dual-component fast-twitch] fibers, with a complete absence of type 2Bs. [Eur J Appl Physiol. 103(5):579-83. 2008.]
Almost zero 2B pure power fibers. So why are most bodybuilders training for power all the time? Beats the hell out of us. That’s a big reason growth is so damned slow for most! That research should open every bodybuilder’s eyes to the need for both power and endurance-style training for ULTIMATE muscle growth. So how do you do that? Here’s the simplest way…
End on a high note—higher reps and/or higher tension time. In other words, if you’re doing a 3-exercise, full-range Positions-of-Flexion routine for each bodypart, do standard sets and reps for myofibrillar stimulation on the big midrange move first. You can also do that on the stretch-position exercise that’s second. But when you get to the last contracted-position move that has continuous tension for muscle occlusion, or blood-flow blockage, go for high reps and/or longer tension times…
Let’s say this is your triceps routine (bigger triceps will get your sleeves tighter quickly, as the tri’s make up 3/4 of your upper-arm size):
Midrange: Close-grip bench presses, 2 x 7-9
Stretch: Overhead extensions, 2 x 7-9
Contracted: Pushdowns, 2 x 10-12
Notice that you do higher reps on the contracted-position occlusion exercise—but that may not be enough to push sarcoplasmic growth to the extreme for the seam-splitting size you’re after. Instead, on that last exercise try…
4X with high reps. This is 4X-style training (from The 4X Mass Workout e-book), but you do 15 reps instead of 10 on all sets. Pick a weight with which you can get about 18 reps, but only do 15; rest 30 seconds, then do 15 more. Rest 30 seconds again, and do 15 more. On your last set do as many reps as you can. If you get 15 on that fourth set, add weight to the exercise at your next workout.
Speed reps. Here you move fast, about 1.5 seconds per rep, and you do at least 20 reps per set. Fire them out with no pauses—and explode out of the turnaround.
Slow-mo. As we mentioned, sarcoplasmic expansion is all about short rests between sets and/or long tension times. Most bodybuilders only get about 20 seconds per set, so reduce the weight and use a 5/5 tempo. That’s right, five seconds up and five seconds down. Do at least 6 reps so you get one full minute of tension time. You can have your partner watch the clock and call out 30 seconds and 60 seconds (it’s longer than you think!). A hardgainer colleague used this slow-mo style on ALL exercises and regained mass, packing on more than 30 pounds of muscle in 28 days.
There are other ways to get a sarcoplasmic-size explosion, like drop sets, double drops, rest/pause, etc. Those are covered in the POF e-manual, 3D Muscle Building, which also contains many complete POF workout programs that incorporate those sarcoplasmic-size stimulators along with power work.
The bottom line is that you need total 2A growth—myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic expansion, or, as we call it, power and density. You’ll get the most immensity—which means seam-stretching muscle and gals raising eye-brows…
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson
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