Mass X-celeration Interview: Stretch Overload & 300 Percent Mass Increases!

Jonathan L. and Steve H., Iron Man magazine authors and developers of X-Reps, recently packed on about 10 pounds of muscle. Check out this great interview as they explain another muscular quantum leap - The X Factor. Get the full details right here!
Ten more pounds of hardcore muscle mass? Yes, please. Two helpings. Bring it on - now!

Any bodybuilder knows that 10 solid pounds of extra muscle will transform his entire physique and mystique - you know you'd look much bigger and harder and gain babe-magnet confidence out the wazoo!

Your shirts would get tight, and your strength would zoom out of sight. Case in point: Jonathan Lawson and Steve Holman (Iron Man Magazine authors and developers of X-Reps) recently packed on about 10 pounds of extra beef - and that was after the amazing gains they made during their first X-Rep experiment in 2004.

Jonathan Lawson Steve Holman
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Jonathan Lawson & Steve Holman.

After 40-plus years of combined training experience and a recent surge in size and strength, they made another muscular quantum leap. Usually, impressive gains like that don't keep coming after so many years of week-in, week-out training - unless you start using drugs. That's why I'm convinced that these dudes are onto some new, serious muscle-training mojo.

You've already heard the buzz and seen their before and after photos at their web site and in their features, unless you've been living in a cave somewhere - or without a computer (which is almost like living in a cave).

Q&A - X Factor Interview Q&A - X Factor Interview.
Recently Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson stumbled onto a new training concept that took their muscle size, shape and density to new dimensions. Learn more about the amazing X-Reps right here!
[ Click here to learn more. ]

I was floored by their 2004 photos. The changes they made in one month and my often-ugly skepticism demanded that I interview Lawson about exactly what went down. The result was “The X Factor,” which appeared in the February and March 2005 issues of Iron Man Magazine and here at this website.

He was honest, interesting and pretty big, so, needless to say, I was jealous as hell. He persuaded me to put the "X" to the test. Results: I quickly packed on about five pounds of new muscle - and now I want more!

lawson lawson
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Jonathan Lawson, Before & After.

holman lawson
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Steve Holman, Before & After.

That's why I'm back in the X-Men's faces - this time because I saw their most recent photos at The sons of #@%!!s are even bigger and just as ripped as in 2004.

They say it's all due to new X-Rep techniques and refinements of the original concept, no drugs involved. I look at those photos and go, “Damn, imagine what they'd look like on!” Let's get to the bottom of this Mass X-celeration madness - because we all want (make that need) - more muscle. Bring it on!

The Interview

[ BL (Butch Lebowitz) ] First, give us a quick rundown of X-Reps. What are they and why do they work?

    JL (Jonathan Lawson): You do a normal set to nervous system exhaustion, and when you can't get any more full reps, you move the weight to the max-force point, where the target muscle can generate the most power, and do partial reps. That spot is usually down near the turnaround - there has to be some stretch in the target muscle.

The Central Nervous System.
The human central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. These lie in the midline of the body and are protected by the skull and vertebrae respectively.

This collection of billions of neurons is arguably the most complex object known.

The central nervous system along with the peripheral nervous system comprise a primary division of controls that command all physical activities of a human.

Neurons of the central nervous system affect consciousness and mental activity while spinal extensions of central nervous system neuron pathways affect skeletal muscles and organs in the body.

    SH (Steve Holman): That works because at the end of a set you're in the ideal fast-twitch time zone - so it only makes sense to continue activating fast-twitch fibers right where the muscle can fire most effectively.

    In fact, we believe that if you don't do X-Rep partials at the end, you're wasting the set to a degree. Well, maybe not wasting, but you're not getting complete muscle stimulation because you've stopped short of hitting as many fibers as possible in that one set.

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X Reps.

X-Rep Bench Press Video X-Rep Bench Pressing Video

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    X-Reps at the end of a set give you more continuous-tension time plus semi­stretched-point overload. The max-force point on the stroke, a.k.a. the "X spot," is where the target muscle is somewhat elongated - near the bottom of an incline press or chin up, for instance - so there's also the possibility of hyperplasia, or fiber splitting, occurring when you severely overload it there.

Hypertrophy Vs. Hyperplasia
Hypertrophy refers to an increase in muscle size, due to the enlargement of the size of the cells, as opposed to an increase in the number of cells (by cell division, a.k.a. Hyperplasia). Hypertrophy is most commonly seen in muscle that has been actively stimulated, the most well-known method being exercise.

X-Rep Incline Press

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    So X-Reps could conceivably contribute to creating more fibers, but that's still controversial. Nevertheless, we know stretch overload does something special.

    One animal study produced a 300-percent-plus mass increase after a month of it. That makes us think not only that X-Reps have a lot of muscle-building power but also that X-Rep-only sets on stretch-position exercises, like flyes for pecs, may have tremendous mass-building potential.

[ BL ] Three hundred percent? Damn, I'd like to triple the size of my arms - that'd pop some eyeballs! Oh, but you forgot to mention that X-Reps hurt like hell. Is it worth it?

    SH: That's a good point because that hurt (or burn) is tied to anabolic hormone release - another reason X-Reps are so effective at building muscle. Most trainees rarely get a burn on heavy compound exercises like bench presses.

    Doing X-Reps at the end of a set makes the burn almost automatic, which means you should get a burst of anabolic hormones on top of all the other good mass-building synergy.

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Doing X-Reps At The End Of A Set
Makes The Burn Almost Automatic.

    If you think about it, using X-Reps at the end of a set is kind of like automatic preexhaustion. When your triceps fail on bench presses, for example, your chest still has power left near the bottom of the stroke, so you move to the pecs' max-force point and keep them firing through a short range.

[ BL ] On some exercises I don't have anything left for X-Reps. At the end of decline presses, I can't budge the bar out of the bottom. What's up with that? Should I rack it and grab some lighter dumbbells for X-Reps?

    SH: X-Reps are more difficult for some people on certain exercises. It's often a neuromuscular deficiency. We usually suggest substituting a static hold at the max-force point ("X spot") to develop more nerve force.

X-Rep Static Concentration Curls

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    Even better, have your training partner help you with X-Reps - like short, pulsing, forced reps, only moving through the X range. Don't do full-range forced reps! (Those are significantly inferior.)

    Your idea of going to lighter dumbbells is a good variation, but you lose the continuous tension that's one of the key benefits of immediately moving to X-Reps at exhaustion. We believe that tension times of about 30 seconds on the majority of sets produce the most effective muscle-building stimulus.

X-Rep Assisted Concentration Curls

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    Another option is to do a heavy set to exhaustion, rest, then do another in X-Rep-only style. Do about 12 to 15 X-Reps so your time under tension is long enough to stimulate the most growth. That's a great max-force-point-overload set.

[ BL ] You mentioned forced reps. You don't believe those are very effective, right?

    JL: X-Reps are better than full-range forced reps because with Xs you extend the set at only the key area on the exercise's stroke. You stress the exact spot that enables the target muscle to generate the most force and fiber activation. With forced reps, on the other hand, you tend to writhe around and strain as you inch your way through full-range reps with help from your training partner. Pretty inefficient; lots of wasted effort.

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    SH: Yes, slow-motion full-range forced reps waste a lot of nervous energy as you push through weak areas of the stroke with imprecise unloading - that is, pushing or pulling from your partner.

    That's why trainees who use a lot of forced reps tend to get tremors after training - they overstress the nervous system. A recent study confirms that. There's more on that study in the Q&A section at our website.

    Research suggests that a big cause of overtraining is excessive nervous system stress, and full-range forced reps do a lot to increase that probability - much more than X-Reps - without much mass stimulation in return.

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X-Reps' Short Stroke At The Max-
Force Point Is A Superior Way To
Extend A Set For Maximum Growth.

    On the other hand, X-Reps' short stroke at the max-force point is a superior way to extend a set for a maximum growth response with less nervous system drain.

[ BL ] Time under tension makes sense, but you said that for best muscle gains, sets should last about 30 seconds. I'm a low-rep power guy, and I made good gains adding them to my low-rep sets. How do you explain that?

    JL: Well, heavier weights and lower reps will produce growth in a few types of fast-twitch fibers, but there are more than a few types. Some scientists have said that there are anywhere from five to nine different fast-twitch-fiber types, some being slightly more endurance-oriented than others.

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[ Click here to learn more. ]

    SH: And that means a muscle's fiber makeup can determine whether it responds well to a specific rep range. Let's say you have more pure fast-twitch fibers. You can grow with lower reps - up to a point.

    That may be your case, Butch, because you said you gained more than five pounds using X-Reps with lower-rep work. Maybe they helped you get over the hump and involve more of your pure fast-twitch fibers.

    Then again, you've been training with low reps for years, so those particular fibers may be close to maxed out. A better guess is that by adding X-Reps, you moved out of the power-building range and got closer to the muscle-building one. In other words, you quickly added mass by involving more fibers, maybe different ones, and building some endurance constituents in the muscle cells - like mitochondria.

A major organelle of the human cell.

Mitochondria: The spherical or elongated organelles in the cytoplasm of nearly all eukaryotic cells, containing genetic material and many enzymes important for cell metabolism, including those responsible for the conversion of food to usable energy. Also called chondriosome.

    Remember, when it comes to muscle fibers, you want to hit as many types as possible to max out growth and pump up every aspect of those fibers. It's not only about building the pure fast-twitch fibers, as some high-intensity advocates seem to believe. An all-out single may get at a group of the pure fast-twitchers, but that's about it.

    It just makes sense that the more fiber types you can build and the more ancillary growth factors you can increase, like capillaries, the bigger your muscles will be.

    "...when it comes to muscle fibers, you want
    to hit as many types as possible..."

    That's why the best overall range for building muscle for most bodybuilders is around 10 reps. At three seconds per rep, that totals 30 seconds per set, which appears to be ideal for activating the size principle domino effect - that is, moving from low-threshold motor units to mediums to highs at the end of a set.

    Ten-rep sets hit a variety of fibers while also increasing the size of the energy-producing structures, like capillaries, around the fibers, which adds to growth. The last few reps of a 10-rep set are also when you're maxing out fast-twitch recruitment. Add X-Reps, and you've got something very powerful from a lot of different directions when it comes to adding muscle size.

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    Then there's the fiber-transformation factor. A lot of studies show that pure fast-twitchers, type 2Bs, can evolve into fast-twitch fibers with more endurance, type 2As. Because those fibers do double duty, they have the capacity for more growth.

    If you always do low reps, you may not get that morphing effect. Muscle biopsies show that the biggest bodybuilders have an enormous number of type 2As, probably because of longer tension times, which results in fiber morphing.

    "If you always do low reps, you may not
    get [the] morphing effect."

    JL: And that morphing may be a longer process for some muscles. You use your quads and calves a lot for walking, so they may already have loads of 2As. Longer tension times will cause immediate size effects in those bodyparts. For other muscles, like chest, there may be a lag time - it may take months for the fiber morphing to take place. So you just have to stick with it for the transformation to happen and then growth to occur.

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You Just Have To Stick With It
For The Transformation To Happen.

[ BL ] So you're saying that if I want to get bigger, I shouldn't do low reps?!

    SH: Low reps are okay, but they're considered more suited to building strength than size - you build tendons, ligaments, neuromuscular efficiency and pure fast-twitch fibers. So it depends on what you're after. If you're after strength with a size side effect, do more lower-rep sets, with only a few longer-tension-time sets. That's what strength coaches, like Bill Starr, advocate.

    We're after the flip side - maximum muscle size with a strength side effect. So we do low reps on a set or two, but even then we usually add X-Reps or at least a static hold at the X spot. Or sometimes we do those lower-rep sets as part of a drop set or superset.

What Are Drop Sets & Supersets?
A drop set is a set where you do as many reps as you can with a certain weight, then immediately lower the weight and do more reps. There should be as little rest as possible between sets.

A superset is the alternating back and forth between two (or more) exercises until the prescribed number of sets is complete, usually with no rest between exercises. There are various types of supersets, however.

Find more definitions in our glossary.

Drop Set Video Guide:

Super Set Video Guide:

    We've become very big believers in extending tension times for recruiting various fiber types and morphing others into ones with more size potential as well as for building the energy-producing structures in muscle cells that add up to more mass.

    In other words, we try to make most of our sets last for at least 10 reps. Have you ever heard of a top bodybuilder getting big while doing only singles? Not gonna happen. The muscle-building effects of that are too limited.

    And not just because you hit only a select group of pure fast-twitch fibers. There's also the problem of nervous system failure, one of your body's defense mechanisms, which we explain at our website.

Analyzing Mr. Olympia's Workout - An X-Rep Perspective Analyzing Mr. Olympia's Workout - An X-Rep Perspective.
The max-force point is the place along an exercise's stroke at which the target muscle has the most power-output potential. Learn more about this point and see how Mr. Olympia works it in...
[ Click here to learn more. ]

[ BL ] That's one of your new X-Rep techniques, correct? You do X-Reps between reps - and then sometimes you sadistic bastards add X-Reps on top of that, right?

    SH: Yes, putting an X Rep before each successive standard rep throughout a set is the Double-X-Overload (DXO) technique. We noticed Ronnie Coleman doing it on shrugs on his “Redemption” DVD.

DXO Incline Hammer Curl DXO Incline Hammer Curl
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DXO Incline Hammer Curl.

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DXO Incline Curls

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    He doesn't do a lot of sets for traps, but they're one of his most impressive bodyparts. We think a lot of that development is due to the extra stretch overload he gets with that technique. Remember the stretch/fiber-splitting connection?

    Then there's Cutler, who uses the DXO technique on almost all of his exercises. As Jonathan said, he does X-Reps between regular reps or between groups of reps. His “Ripped to Shreds” DVD has a lot of that on it - lots of stretch and semistretch overload.

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[ BL ] So maybe that helped him get past some of his genetic problems. All that extra stretch overload caused his muscle fibers to morph and split, giving him a lot more potential for hugeness.

    JL: Well, as we keep mentioning, stretch overload has been linked to hyperplasia, so that's not a far-out possibility. Or maybe it's just a great stimulus for that fiber morphing we're talking about, transforming fibers into ones with more growth potential.

    Anyway, we really like the DXO technique and think it's responsible for a lot of our recent gains. Maybe we're splitting fibers - who knows? I'm not willing to get painful muscle biopsies to find out. All I know is, it works!

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Jay Uses A Double-Stretch Technique
On Most Of His Exercises Between Reps Or Groups Of Reps.
Is He Triggering A Fiber-Splitting Effect?

Photo From Ripped To Shreds.

    DXO is one of my favorite X-hybrid techniques. You can see that it dominates our X-Blog training journal at our site.

    We use it at every workout - on compound and isolation exercises alike. You just X at the max-force point between reps - every time - and you can really feel the target muscle firing. Then we tack on X-Reps after that. You'll feel it, believe me...

[ BL ] What if I do three or four X-Reps between reps? Will I get even better mass gains?

    SH: Try it. We're all about experimenting with different X-hybrid techniques. The ones we've found that work best for us are in our Beyond X-Rep Muscle Building e-book. Because you'll have to reduce the poundage, you could use that triple-X tactic as a back-off set. Do it after a heavy set or two for more tension time and semistretched-point loading.

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Semi-Stretched & Stretched-Position Overload
Are Extremely Important.

View More Pics From The 2005 Mr. Olympia Here.

    Frequently varying your tactics like that is very important for continuous muscle growth.

    Part 2 will include more on X-Rep-only sets, X-hybrid techniques, and info on why X-Reps may be the hardgainer terminator - a muscle-building solution for rail-thin bodybuilders. Watch for it, coming soon to!

    [Note: For before and after photos, and more X-Rep info, visit]

Selected images courtesy of and copyrighted by Iron Man Magazine.