Mass X-celeration Interview, Part 2: New X-Rep Training Insights!

This is the second part of an interview with Jonathan Lawson and Steve Holman... According to Holman and Lawson, X Reps can make a set three to five times more effective at building mass. See this great Q&A where they give details about building mass!

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This is the second part of an interview with Jonathan Lawson and Steve Holman, IRON MAN magazine authors and developers of X Reps, who 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 '04.

To refresh your memory about standard X Reps, 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—like near the bottom of a bench press or chinup.

According to Holman and Lawson, X Reps can make a set three to five times more effective at building mass because at the end of a set you're in the ideal fast-twitch time zone and by adding X Reps you continue to activate fast-twitch fibers at the precise spot where the muscle can fire most effectively.

X-Rep Incline Hammer Curl X-Rep Incline Hammer Curl
Click Image To Enlarge.
X-Rep Incline Hammer Curl.
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In fact, they believe that if you don't do X Reps at the end of a standard set to exhaustion, you're not getting complete muscle stimulation because you've stopped short of hitting as many fibers as possible in that one set.

X Reps at the end of a set also give you more continuous-tension time plus semi-stretched-point overload. One animal study produced a 300-percent-plus mass increase after a month of stretch overload, and the researchers tied it to hyperplasia, or fiber splitting. Could X Reps at the semistretched point create that type of exceptional hypertrophy? The technique definitely has tremendous mass-building potential. Let's continue with the interview...

[ BL (Butch Lebowitz) ] You mentioned X-Rep-only sets—taking a heavier weight and just doing 10-inch partials at the max-force point, like near the bottom of a bench press or chinup. In the past you said it was better to use X Reps at the end of a regular set. Have you changed your minds?

    JL (Jonathan Lawson): I said that in our first interview because of what we'd discovered about the size principle of fiber recruitment. When you do a set of, say, 10 reps, the low-threshold motor units fire first, then the mediums, then the highs during the last few reps. So when the going gets tough, the fast-twitch fibers get growing—and morphing. It's like a domino effect.

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    That can still happen on an X-Rep-only set that includes about 12 X Reps—with that many partials you'll get a pretty good anabolic tension time—maybe not 30 seconds, but you may not need that much considering that you're stressing the muscle right at it's critical max-force point. But when you asked about it in our first interview, you suggested using very heavy weight and only doing five or six X Reps. In general, that's not as good for growth stimulation as it is for strength.

    SH (Steve Holman): Also, different groups of muscle fibers fire throughout the stroke. So if you don't do the full rep, you could miss some fibers. Then again, that varies with different exercises. On bench presses, for example, the pecs get very little work toward the top lockout, so stopping before lockout is a good idea. Ronnie Coleman does only half reps, pushing the bar from near his chest to about halfway up, which is right where the pecs start to lose tension. It's the same with squats. He bottoms out and then only comes just above the halfway point before heading back down.

    Full-range work is more important on exercises where the resistance is on the target muscle throughout the stroke, like leg extensions, but even then holding the contracted position may reduce tension on the target because of a lot of tendon and ligament support in that position. Both Coleman and Cutler rarely squeeze the target muscle on isolation exercises. Watch Coleman's "Redemption" DVD and Cutler's "Ripped to Shreds" DVD. They use a pistonlike action.

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    I use to recommend that trainees hold the contracted position, but I'm starting to think that's not such a good idea, unless you want to enhance your neuromuscular efficiency for more strength. The contracted position is actually the spot on the stroke where the target muscle cannot fire very effectively because the fibers bunch up.

Click Image To Enlarge.
Many Pros, Like Jay Cutler,
Use Partial-Range Movements.

[ BL ] Okay, you're hitting me with a lot of info. Let me get this straight: The continuous-tension thing appears to be very important for size. And you said that 30 seconds of tension time is best. But some body parts respond better to higher reps, like quads, calves and forearms. What's up with that?

    SH: I think that has to do with frequent use and fiber adaptation. The bodyparts you mention all get used a lot for walking and gripping, and that type of work forces many fast-twitch fibers to transform into more endurance-oriented types. In other words, they're still fast-twitch; they just have more of an endurance component than pure fast-twitch fibers.

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    With so many more endurance-oriented fibers, you need somewhat higher reps to stress the muscles enough for growth. Tension times that are longer attack those more resilient fibers. Lower reps work the pure-power fibers more, and those bodyparts you mentioned, at least in most people, contain a minority of the pure fiber types—due to all the endurance activity put on those muscles throughout your life.

[ BL ] Hmm, so I guess putting X Reps on the end of 10-rep set of leg extensions generates a lot of growth-stimulation power, maybe more than on upper-body exercises? I've tried it, and it's painful. You guys are definitely sadistic bastards!

    JL: Due to the nature of the quad fibers, I guess you could say that. More endurance-oriented fast-twitch fibers are one reason we think the Double-X Overload works so well for building leg size—that is, an X Rep between each full rep. If you do 10 reps, you're really doing about 15 when you add the X Reps between standard reps. And then, if you're a "sadistic bastard" and end with a series of X Reps, you extend the set even more. You don't need a lot of sets to get growth when you use that kind of efficient intensity.

[ BL ] Efficient intensity. I think that's a great description for what you guys are all about. "Learn more about efficient intensity at" I like it. Along that line, which is most important for building more muscle, max-force-point overload, continuous tension or stretch overload?

    SH: They all contribute, but the size-building potential of each may be different for each person. So, if you have a lot of endurance-oriented muscles, longer continuous-tension times will probably do more for you than max-force-point overload. On the other hand, if you have a lot of power-oriented fast-twitch fibers, max-force-point overload may get you more size—but you shouldn't neglect either.

    In fact, X Reps at the end of a set extend the tension time and give you max-force-point overload, which makes them a very efficient mass-building technique. Plus, it appears that both of those factors help produce that fiber morphing we've been talking about. Oh, and they provide some stretch overload too. Again, stretch overload may increase fiber number through hyperplasia or transformation, and it also increases anabolic hormones.

    All of those factors work together in a synergistic fashion, and standard end-of-set X Reps can help you cover the bases. Even so, you enhance the benefits by using a variety of X-hybrid techniques, like X Fade, Double-X Overload and X-centric training. Each has a different effect on those muscle-growth factors.

    Click Image To Enlarge.
    Coleman Uses Double-X Overload To Build His Gigantic Traps.

    Stirring them into the mix provides variety that is critical for growth, and I think that's a big part of how we made even more gains in '05 after our impressive improvements in '04.

    As we say at the web site, to up muscle gains, the stimulus has gotta change! But you also have to be sure you're covering all the muscle-building bases, which includes hitting a variety of fiber types and hypertrophying the endurance components of the muscle cells. That can pump up those endurance-oriented fast-twitchers and morph others into fibers that have more growth capacity.

    JL: One of our theories is that that's the reason gains are so slow for so many trainees—they don't cover all of those muscle-building bases or they focus on only one. And if that single focus is on something they don't have an abundance of, their gains will really be slow. The best example is the thin, hardgainer type.

    Ectomorphs generally have more endurance-oriented fibers. If all they do are low-rep sets, their gains are going to be painfully slow or nonexistent because they don't have a lot of pure-fast-twitch fibers. It's like a five-foot-tall basketball player.


    If all he does is try to slam-dunk it, he'll probably never make a basket—at least not for a heck of a long time. That's the long, hard road. He has to look for ways to get the ball through the hoop that take his genetics into consideration.

    The only way a hardgainer may be able to make low reps build muscle at a decent clip is with supersets, drop sets and/or X Reps and X-hybrid techniques that produce an extended-tension-time effect.

    That can involve a variety of fiber types and build the endurance components of the muscle cells he's got. Longer continuous-tension sets are very important for hardgainers, but as we said, all bodybuilders should also use them to help cover all the bases, or facets, of muscle growth.

[ BL ] But shouldn't a genetic freak like Ronnie Coleman get huge with low reps? He must have an outrageous number of pure fast-twitch fibers. Why does he go for extended tension times on a lot of his sets?

    SH: He has a lot of every kind of fast-twitch fiber. But going for extended tension times on most of his sets is the most effective way to cover all of the bodybuilding bases. We explained the size principle of fiber recruitment and how using a medium-rep range involves a lot of different fiber types.

    Doing medium reps (around 10) also builds the endurance constituents of and around muscle cells, causes key fiber morphing and produces anabolic hormone surges more effectively. Coleman knows that from experience. That medium-rep range is simply more efficient at building overall muscle size on many different levels—with a strength side effect, as we explained earlier. And he's gotten a pretty incredible strength side effect.

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[ BL ] Yeah, he's one strong dude! How about the number of sets? You guys are definitely not volume-training boosters. Don't you think you'd get bigger and better if you used more sets the way almost all of the champs do?

    JL: We don't use anabolic steroids, for one thing. Those drugs boost recovery and allow the users to be successful with a lot more volume. Overtraining isn't really a worry for steroid users; it is for us.

    But the biggest reason we don't use more sets is, we just don't have time. We have to train on our lunch hour, so we have to condense our workouts into that time—and it's impossible for us to train on the weekends. We have to make training part of our workday.

    Click Image To Enlarge.
    We Have To Train On Our Lunch Hour.

    SH: That's why we're so into all the intricate details of building muscle. Sure, you can use straight sets and vary the rep ranges, doing four or five haphazard sets per exercise, and get results without the pain of training to nervous system exhaustion or using X Reps. But you have to have time to train for two to three hours six days a week. We don't.

    The Central Nervous System.
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    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.

    We have to get it done in about an hour, so that means cramming all of the muscle-building factors into a few sets. As Jonathan said, efficient intensity. We try to hit as many fiber types as possible, build the endurance structures of the muscle cells, rev up an anabolic hormone surge and maybe even get some hyperplasia in as few sets as possible. We rarely do more than two work sets per exercise, but X Reps and X-hybrid techniques, along with drop sets and supersets, get the muscle-building job done more quickly.

    What Is The Difference Between Hypertrophy & Hyperplasia?
    Hypertophy is an increase in the size of a muscle or organ.
    Hyperplasia is an increase in the number of cells in an organ or tissue.

[ BL ] I've been reading in your e-zine that you think it's possible to get all the mass-building effects for awesome gains just doing two sets of one exercise per bodypart. True?

    SH: Well, we haven't tried it, but yes, in theory we think it's possible to get most of the requirements for muscle growth using a few sets of one ultimate exercise per muscle. For example, if you use decline presses for your chest in nonlock style to create continuous tension, you could do your first set for 10 reps, with four X Reps tacked onto the end.

    On your second set you could add weight and do a lower-rep set of, say, six or seven, but do a drop set. Reduce the weight enough so you can use the Double-X-Overload technique, doing an X Rep between full reps, on the second phase of the drop. Do seven of those.

    Now you've activated the size principle of fiber recruitment and attacked a variety of rep ranges, and, as a result, you've hit many types of muscle fibers. You've also achieved continuous tension in the proper growth time zone. Plus, you've pumped and burned the muscle for anabolic hormone action and hammered it with max-force-point overload, which may trigger fiber splitting.

    JL: That last one is a stretch—pun intended. Fiber splitting is tied to stretch overload in the research, but we're not sure if semistretched-point overload, which isn't as severe as full stretch, is enough to make it happen. That's one reason we're still including stretch-position exercises, like flyes for pecs, in our routines.

    We list the best stretch-position exercises in our e-books that are available at, and we still follow the Positions-of-Flexion protocol, one way or another. And we also include contracted-position isolation exercises to get more occlusion, or blood-flow blockage. Right now we do stretch exercises at one workout and contracted exercises at the next. But because we can get continuous-tension effects on our compound exercises, we're beginning to think that stretch-position exercises are more important than the contracted-position ones.

    Click Image To Enlarge.
    Cables Can Make Continuous-Tension More Feasible.

[ BL ] Yeah, you said earlier that X-Rep-only sets on stretch exercises may make for some killer mass moves. Sounds pretty intense, but that's probably the reason they work, right?

    SH: If hyperplasia is a reality, then we think that type of severe stretch trauma is the best way to force it to happen. Or maybe it's just good at triggering the fiber-morph­ing phenomenon. It definitely does good things for muscle growth.

    We've seen impressive results, for example, doing X-Rep-only sets on stiff-legged deadlifts—12 to 15 X Reps. Talk about hammering the hamstrings!

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Stiff-Legged Barbell Deadlift.
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    That can be dangerous, though, because of the amount of weight you use in such a precarious position. The Double-X-Overload technique also has fiber-splitting and/or -morphing potential because you double up on stretch-position hits during a set and because the weight is a little lighter and easier to control.

[ BL ] Man, really killer info. You guys have given me lots of new ideas to try in my workouts—but I'm still going to do low reps.

    SH: That's fine, but try to get some extended tension times in there too with extra max-force-point overload. I guarantee your mass will increase again.

    JL: And you get to be a sadistic bastard like us.

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Sadistic Bastards.

[ BL ] Correction: a sadistic huge bastard. I'm in!

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