On your mark. Get set. Grow! Our get-huge hit list below can make your race for muscle size a record-setting sprint rather than a slow uphill crawl. (How about 20 pounds of muscle in 10 weeks? Or a 300 percent mass increase in only one month? Both of those happened, as you'll see.)
After poring over studies, abstracts and articles as well as observing and participating in many experiments at the IRON MAN Training & Research Center, we've learned a few things about getting bigger that can help you grow faster than ever before—and there's lots of motivation thrown in for good measure (and bigger measurements!)...
1. Training Heavy & Longer Tension Times:
I train heavy, but I also extend some sets for longer tension times. Yes, the maximum muscular force you get from heavy poundages is a get-big stimulus, but you also need extended tension times—sets that last longer than 30 seconds—for extreme muscle size.
That helps you activate even more growth fibers and—this is important—develops the endurance components of fast-twitch fibers (mitochondria, capillary beds and so on). Those things beef up your muscles too.
Extreme muscle size doesn't only come from beefing up the fast-twitch power fibers, so don't just use low-rep straight sets. Techniques like drop sets and even higher reps (12-15) on a set or two can give you that extra layer of mass.
Do your heavy max-force sets first, then finish the muscle with longer tension times for a searing burn. (By the way, that burn also triggers growth hormone release, which is anabolic and has fierce fat-burning power! Remember, the leaner you are, the bigger your muscles look.)
2. Pushing Past Positive Failure:
I push a few sets past positive failure for each bodypart. No matter how hard you try, your body forces you to stop sets too early (it's why one-set-to-failure training doesn't do the job). You see, fatigue-product accumulation and nervous system fizzle prevent many of the key growth fibers from being activated at the end of any set, even if you take it to positive failure.
When the max-growth fibers start coming into play, a nervous-system shutdown causes premature exhaustion. Hitting that wall means that loads of growth fibers are left unused. Going past failure with specific tactics can help supercharge muscular hypertrophy.
Science calls this the size principle of muscle fiber recruitment that we discuss in our e-books—on any set you recruit the low-threshold motor units first, the mediums second, then, when the reps start getting tough, you finally bring in the high-threshold motor units, which activate the fast-twitch fibers with the most growth potential. But that's when the nervous system craps out (and why pushing past the pain barrier is so important for growth).
1 of 3: The Central Nervous System (CNS):
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.
So you have two choices:
- Stop sets short and do a lot more to hit a few more growth fibers with each set (lower intensity requires more volume to get at enough fibers for growth).
- Or do fewer sets but go to exhaustion and beyond with forced reps and/or X Reps, eight-inch partials at the max-force point on the stroke.
Yes, it hurts, but going beyond failure with partials at that sweet spot gets more key fibers to fire on any set. In other words, X Reps make any set two to five times more powerful from a size-stimulating standpoint, depending on your pain threshold.
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Even Arthur Jones, Nautilus creator and the father of high-intensity training, said that most trainees can only contract 30 percent—usually less—of their available fast-twitch muscle fibers during any one set to positive failure, even under the most perfect conditions.
That's why in most of our programs we recommend two sets on most movements, and X Reps on at least one of those sets—to move past nervous system exhaustion and past that 30 percent activation roadblock. The first set insures that your nervous system is primed properly (innervation), and the second set, with X Reps, is the money set.
At exhaustion, when you can't get any more full-range reps, move the resistance to a point at which there is some stretch in the target muscle, such as near the bottom of an incline press, and do partials from that point up to just below halfway up the stroke. Three or four of those X Reps will trigger extreme growth-fiber stimulation.
3. Compound Exercises:
I focus on the big compound exercises for maximum force, but I also attack the target muscle with occlusion and stretch overload. Yes, the compound exercises, like squats and bench presses, are the best mass builders, but contracted-position exercises, like leg extensions for the quads and cable flyes for the pecs, can help you hit more fibers and also create occlusion, a blockage of blood flow, which has been shown to have a tremendous impact on size and strength gains.
Notice that on those isolation moves, the tension on the target muscle stays constant throughout the set—or at least it should. That forces blood out of the muscle (occlusion) and burns like the fires of hell!
You get more anabolic hormone release and an expansion of capillary beds and other endurance components for that extra layer of growth we mentioned earlier.
(Note: Researcher Robert Thoburn recently reported that Takashi Abe, Ph.D., a scientist in Japan, got a 7 percent increase in quadriceps cross-sectional area in four months with standard training, but when he used occlusion, he got an 8 percent increase in cross-sectional area—in only two weeks! That's right—two weeks as opposed to 16 weeks. That's about an 800 percent increase in gains when blood flow was impeded with occlusion techniques!)
Then there are stretch-position exercises, such as dumbbell flyes for the pecs and overhead extensions for the triceps. One animal-based study produced a 300 percent increase in muscle mass with one month of progressive stretch overload. That's a triple-size muscle-mass increase in one month—with only stretch overload!
Now that's an impressive size surge! (See the 3D Muscle Building e-book for midrange, stretch and contracted/occlusion exercises for every bodypart, as well as workout programs that include them.)
4. Cortisol Control:
I control cortisol to prevent muscle catabolism. Any stress causes cortisol release in the body, and that in turn can cause muscle cannibalism, or wasting. To prevent that, you should eat enough calories, including plenty of fibrous carbs, and not overtrain.
For most people that means keeping workouts to about one to 1 1/2 hours and not training more than two days in a row. After two days of training, take a day off, if possible. Also, some supplements can help control cortisol release, such as branched-chain amino acids and phosphatidylserine.
We recommend BCAA's and Phosphatidylserine before every weight training and cardio session—especially if you are using caffeine-based fat burners, as those can significantly increase cortisol output due to epinephrine stimulation. Remember, excess cortisol will vaporize your hard-earned muscle tissue, so control it as much as possible.
View Cortisol Products Sorted By Top Sellers Here.
5. Protein At Every Meal:
I eat protein at every meal—including whey protein, if possible, or BCAAs. Most bodybuilders know that they need to maintain a positive nitrogen balance via protein intake every two to three hours to enable muscle growth and disable lean-tissue catabolism.
What most bodybuilders don't know, however, is that solid food can take many hours to digest, which leaks protein into the bloodstream much too slowly. Studies show that with many foods you assimilate only four to seven grams of protein per hour. That's a recipe for crippled nitrogen balance, which leads to slower recovery and growth.
For a faster anabolic response, it's best to have a small whey protein shake or at least some branched-chain amino acid capsules along with most of your solid-food meals. Those fast protein sources flood your bloodstream and start rebuilding muscle immediately.
How about between solid-food meals? We recommend a whey-egg-and-casein blend so you get the benefit of all protein fractions and a fast-and-slow muscle-feeding effect. And don't forget fast carbs and fast protein immediately after you train to jump-start anabolic recovery.
6. Downshifting Intensity:
I downshift my intensity after four to six weeks of intense, all-out training. After so many weeks of going all out in the gym, you need to either take a layoff for a few days or at least reduce your intensity by not training to exhaustion (the obsessively dedicated will choose the latter).
That should allow supercompensation from all of your hard training. That's the approach Jonathan used during his 20-Pounds-of-Muscle-in-10-Weeks program. The first four weeks he used a three-days-per-week, basic-moves program, going to failure and beyond on two sets per exercise.
The fifth week, he stayed on that same program, but stopped every set two reps short of failure—the supercompensation week. The next four weeks he shifted to an every-other-day 3D Positions of Flexion program, usually doing two sets in the key midrange position (big compound exercise) and one or two sets in the other two positions—stretch and contracted, for stretch overload and occlusion/tension.
His muscle gains exploded in that second phase (proof of some of what we've mentioned in these guidelines). His progress in 10 weeks was absolutely spectacular! Here are a couple of his before and after photos...
(Note: The exact programs Jonathan used during his 10-week transformation are in 3D Muscle Building; it also includes info on X Reps, midrange exercises, stretch overload and occlusion.)
There you have it: A few of our views you can use to get huge. Mass rules! It's time to get growing! See you in the gym.