Do you have the genetics to build impressive muscles? Do you think you're so skinny that an eye-popping physique may be impossible? Say your father, in his early 20s, weighed 115 pounds when he married your mother, who weighed a whopping 95. Now, that's a crappy bodybuilding pedigree, but it's exactly what Steve had to overcome.
In high school at 120 pounds, Stick, er, um, Steve often thought that he probably should've pursued ping-pong instead of muscle. Gains were almost nonexistent because he made the common mistake of following the advice of the genetically gifted (like the biggest guys in the gym and pro bodybuilders)—till he finally discovered the truth, something many hardgainers never realize.
Then—BAM!—he got a huge muscle-size surge. And now a new study verifies what took him years to figure out (it's the answer skinny weight trainers have been waiting for—more on that in a moment).
The photo on the left is Jolly Roger Steve when he started; on the right is his physique now, in his mid-40s. Thanks to innovative training tactics (which we'll get to in a moment), his in-shape physique makes his hardgainer roots almost imperceptible.
It didn't come easy, at least for a long time—that is, until he discovered some hardgainer-terminator truths. Those key twig-to-big factors surfaced after lots of experimentation in the gym, discussions with exercise physiologists and loads of observation and persistence (no steroids):
This is the big one—hardgainer types, or ectomorphs, like Steve have more endurance-oriented muscles.
Most hardgainers tend to have low neuromuscular efficiency (muscle-fiber activation capability).
Overcoming Skinny Genetics
So how do you overcome those and leapfrog your skinny genetics to attain big status? Hint: You can't use heavy, straight-set, low-rep training exclusively because it doesn't develop the intermediary endurance-oriented fast-twitch fibers, the 2As which are a hardgainer's best muscle-building asset.
You probably already know that if you're in the ectomorph, or scrawny, camp, you require fewer sets due to limits in recovery ability. Keeping workouts relatively brief helps reduce the muscle-ravaging effects of cortisol (number two above). But shorter workouts are only a small part of the mass-building equation.
If you interpreted the above hint correctly, you may have guessed the other part—slightly higher reps, drop sets (two sets back to back with a weight reduction), supersets (two exercises back to back for the same body part) and X Reps—which are 10-inch partials at the max-force point, near the turnaround, after nervous system exhaustion that extend time under load (we've discussed that technique in previous features here at Bodybuilding.com and at our site, www.X-Rep.com).
Longer Tension Times:
Why those specific techniques? Longer tension times! Putting a muscle under tension for extended periods, as compared to low-rep sets, can significantly increase fiber recruitment, which helps solve problem three above, low neuromuscular efficiency.
The real key to fast mass for hardgainers is that those longer tension times build the energy-producing structures (endurance components). That's important because those endurance components are something hardgainers have in abundance, much more so than pure anaerobic fibers that respond to lower reps. (Read that last line again.)
So listen up, hardgainers. If you want to build some serious muscle size, you need to attack and build the endurance structures in every muscle group. That's not just theory; Steve's case study shows it anecdotally and here's a new research study that verifies it absolutely...
Researchers took about 100 randomly selected subjects and trained them using various set-and-rep protocols. Those with a so-called ACE-2 variant, or endurance gene (skinny folks), responded best to training using 12 to 15 reps, or extended tension times.
When those subjects used heavier weight that limited their reps to around eight, they showed no difference in gains. (Hardgainers, did you get that?—you gotta quit training with so many low-rep sets and go for tension times of 30 seconds or more on most.)
On the other hand, the subjects who were more anaerobic, with something called an ACE-DD variant, showed similar gains from both types of loads. They also made greater strength gains than the endurance-oriented group. Still, this anaerobic DD group made the most gains from the heavier training, implying that they respond best to that kind of lower-rep weight work. [Colakoglu, M., et al. (2005). Eur J App Physiol. 95(1):20-26.]
We've noticed that exact response variance in our own training, as Steve's muscles are more endurance oriented (ACE-2) and Jonathan's are more anaerobic (ACE-DD).
If our training has too much extended-tension work, Jonathan stagnates; if we do too much heavy straight-set work, Steve's muscle gains stall or regress. Everyone needs both types of training to max out muscle mass, but the right amount of each can be different depending on your genetics.
The good news is that X Reps increase muscle gains for either type. For example, we both got spectacular results with our original X-Rep program (outlined in The Ultimate Mass Workout e-book). Why?
While X Reps extend tension time to a degree, they do so right at the max-force point. So with X Reps Steve gets his longer-tension-time mass-building requirement, while Jonathan gets a bigger dose of max-force overload for more anaerobic growth stimulation. It's a very potent double-barreled mass tactic that extends a set at the max-force point, such as near the bottom of an incline press (see the video clip above).
No matter what your genetics, end-of-set partials, or X Reps, can work for you-if you don't abuse them. In our original X-Rep program we used the tactic on only one set of selected exercises-and our workouts lasted about an hour.
Results: We both got quantum leaps in size and strength, as shown in the one-month before and after pics at X-Rep.com and in some of our features here at Bodybuilding.com.
All of this shows why we've been telling hardgainers for years that they need supersets, drop sets and other extended-set techniques if they want to gain at a good clip. The above study supports that advice.
In other words, if you're a skinny hardgainer type, you need to lean more toward longer tension times-although some heavy max-force work is helpful so you also get at your pure anaerobic fibers.
If you have a more average build, you can lean more toward heavy straight-set training, but you should include a drop set or superset here and there as well because you have endurance components you also want to maximize, just not as many as hardgainers have. And in either case, don't neglect the X!
Note: For more information visit www.3DMuscleBuilding.com.