Phase Training for BIG Gaining

Back in the mid-90s, which sounds incredibly long ago, I was lucky enough to land a job with one of the premiere muscle rags, Iron Man Magazine. Almost immediately upon starting to work there, I became friends with Steve Holman, the editor in chief. I also forced myself upon him as a training guinea pig for a book he was finishing. That short 10-week training program was responsible for reigniting a flame which had slowly died out and I’ve been fully ensconced in the world of fitness since…

My takeaway from that experience, however, was that I learned my previous marathon training sessions had actually worked against me. Similar to Arthur Jones’ Colorado Experiment with Casey Viator in 1973, this 10-week phase training program not only brought back the 10 pounds of muscle I had lost more quickly than I thought possible, but it also built 10 more pounds of new muscle on top of that. In case you didn’t catch that math, I made an unbelievable muscle gain of 20 pounds in 10 short weeks.

I believe the phase training approach was more than a little bit responsible for that. While I gained a bit of muscle during the first phase of the program, my strength increase was most noticeable for the first low-volume, heavy phase. My most visible size gains occurred during the second phase where I had my first experience with the 3D POF approach.  My muscle size seemed to improve after almost every workout. Literally!

I believe there are a number of reasons the second phase was so productive at building size after the foundation of strength was in place, and those are: synergy, maximum muscle fiber recruitment, peak contraction and range of motion.

Synergy is muscle teamwork, and it’s a key reason that compound exercises are so effective. Several muscle structures work together to move maximum poundages. Our bodies are designed to function in this manner, which means that multi-joint exercises are the best movements to start with on this sort of routine.

Fiber recruitment occurs when you put a target muscle group in an overextended, or stretched, position. At that point you initiate the myotatic reflex, which is when the nervous system sends an emergency response signal to the brain to recruit the maximum number of muscle fibers. Using that reflex to your advantage can help you get to fibers you couldn’t recruit with other exercises.

Peak contraction is when you use an exercise that puts the target muscle in a position where it can contract completely against resistance. That finishes it off with an occlusion-inducing contraction, with as many fibers as possible firing.

Range of motion is when you include specific midrange (synergy), stretch (myotatic reflex) and contracted exercises to work the target muscle through each part its full range of motion. This leads to better overall size and strength gains.

Here’s an example of using that full range of motion:

Midrange (synergy): Barbell curls
Stretch (mytotatic reflex): Incline dumbbell curls
Contracted: Nonsupport concentration curls

3D Biceps Exercises


As the photos below illustrate, by the end of the 10 weeks I had made a substantial change in my physique with this approach. This reignited my passion for training, and that fire has been burning strong for nearly 20 years since.

Before and After 20 Pounds

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 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.