Although it was a very long time ago, I can still remember my first few years of training as a teenager. I was completely obsessed with mass. Back then I naively inhaled every bit of information I could get my hands on that had anything to do with building muscle. My key source of information—and motivation—was the muscle magazines. I’d read how the pros trained, and then reread those articles again and again.
One thing I noticed in almost every article were descriptions of slow, controlled reps and talk of feeling the muscles working. Then I’d go to the gym and attempt to apply what I’d learned only to get slapped in the face with reality: I’d see the biggest, freakiest guys throwing and heaving weights around. Rarely did they do the slow, controlled reps I’d been reading about.
I distinctly remember seeing of the big guys in my old gym pile 500 pounds on an Olympic bar in a power rack do shrugs with it—if you could call them that. All he really did was pull that massive poundage off the long pins and then move his shoulders up and down about a couple of inches with explosive, jerky movements. He never got near full contraction (although he did warm up with a few sets of full-range movements beforehand).
My thoughts were something like, “Poor, deluded fool. He doesn’t know how to train.” But something just wasn’t right… His traps were like mountains up to his ears. I rationalized that his genetics and steroids could overcome bad training. So I kept doing my strict sets to positive failure and adding a few pounds of muscle each year.
It was more than 10 years later when I finally discovered that those big guys I saw heaving heavy poundages were onto one of the many secrets of size development. Of course, they probably didn’t realize why their explosive movements near the bottom of a rep were packing on so much muscle—they just wanted to move as much weight as possible. But they got huge fast as a result. Take the shrug guy: He was overloading his traps in their semistretched position as he exploded out of the bottom of each rep. He was initiating overload at the turnaround point.
You see big guys doing it all the time—exploding out of the hole on heavy squats, blasting out of the bottom of a bench press, heaving up heavy laterals. No, it’s not pretty—or joint friendly—but with each rep they manage severe overload when the negative erupts into a positive—100 pounds can suddenly register 300 pounds of force right near that turnaround position where maximum force occurs—and they grow because of it.
Of course, many of them do get injured badly due to that style of training. Some may believe that injury is just a necessary evil of heavy loads on big exercises, but it doesn’t have to be…
I’ve found that you don’t have to train with explosive movements to get size effects. All it takes is training smart and will power—the drive to extend any set near the key turnaround position after you hit failure. I’ve described the technique in previous blogs and we call them X Reps because you extend a strict set with power partials. This makes it possible for you to get severe overload at that sweet spot of any exercise, no dangerous explosive reps necessary.
It’s similar to how the big guys do it but without the injury potential, so if you’re interested in packing your physique with more mass, give it a try. Remember, they are power partials in the semistretched position at the end of a set to failure. Try them near the bottom of bench presses (with a spot) or chins. With each pulse you’ll feel the power that can produce unprecedented gains.
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.