Many gym rats find themselves stuck in the mindset of needing to always train heavy in order to grow. By doing that, however, they can miss out on key sarcoplasmic size stimulation, which is probably a big reason that so many find themselves spinning their wheels on the road to Muscleville. That mindset can also be a key to the number of chronic injuries many of them have. In that regard, I know I’m guilty-as-charged from years of heavy training when I first started out, and my back has never been the same since reaching my ego-boosting squat goals in the early-2000s.
I know from decades of personal experience that trying to always increase your weights being used while training heavy at every workout can do cumulative damage. It makes aging feel like… Well, aging! For some people it can be severe enough to require surgery for hip, shoulder surgery, knee or back issues
I can’t lie, though. I still like the idea of training heavy once in a while, at least from a mental standpoint. My bouts of wanting to do that, however, don’t last long anymore. Regardless of how cautious I am, something will almost always start to feel “not right,” but I still believe there are obvious benefits to heavy weights once in a while. Myofibrillar growth is one, but also strength in general, plus the aforementioned mental boost it can create, and let’s not forget some of the good metabolic benefits of some heavy work once in a while.
Several years ago my training partner and I had experimented with Eric Broser’s Power/Rep Range/Shock method, where every third week was a heavy, power workout. We both managed to reach our peak strength on several body parts, so we were probably the strongest we had been up to that point. We gained a bit of muscle, too, but I haven’t gained much in the way of noticeable size with heavy training since I was in my 20s and early-30s.
I’ve since moved to a few variations of the 4X training style. This involves using a moderate weight for 4 sets and using the same weight on each set. You pick a weight with which you could get 15 reps, but on your first set you stop at 10, rest 30 seconds and do your second set of 10 reps, rest 30 seconds again, and so on… The third set is usually a shocking struggle and the fourth set will usually equate to 7-9 reps, though you’re still trying for 10. If you reach 10 on the last set, the weight is too light and you need to go up next time.
This has provided a great balance of muscle gain and conditioning, and the post-workout muscle fullness is off the charts. In order to keep from stagnating with the 4X approach, you can also add in intensity techniques, like DXO, X-Fade, Stage Sets and X/Pause (all explained in the Beyond X e-book).
The X/Pause technique, for instance, is when after you reach failure on the last set of an exercise, rest for 10 seconds, then go to failure again. I generally prefer to do that sequence twice in a row on a given exercise… if possible.
Don’t let you ego get in the way of trying new things in the gym. Yes, you’ll have to use less weight with the 4X technique, but try it on at least one exercise to feel what it’s like. I guarantee you’ll want to try it on others, and hopefully you won’t care if anyone’s looking.
About the Author
Jonathan Lawson has been working in the health and fitness industry for over 20 years; weight training for 21 years, competed in numerous bodybuilding competitions, worked for IRON MAN Magazine for 17 years, co-owns X-Rep.com where he has co-published over 15 e-books and writes a daily training blog. He has appeared on the covers of, and been featured in, dozens of international magazines, books and e-books.