Phase Training for Size Gaining

At some point in most of our fitness lives, we’ve all been asked if we work out—and even worse if followed by the comment: “Really? You lift weights?” That’s about the time when you realize maybe you’re not doing everything quite right in the gym.

You start to ask yourself if you’re overtraining, undertraining, using the wrong exercises, not activating enough muscle fibers or if you’re missing some key growth components of your muscle fibers?

I had a lot of those questions back in the mid-’90s. I had been training for a few years, but my results weren’t what I’d consider acceptable after that amount of time. I really wanted that unmistakable bodybuilder look of Lee Labrada or Bob Paris, but nothing was building the mass I was after. My workouts had become a perfect example of just going through the motions.

That was right about when I started to work for Iron Man Magazine, and I had plenty of pent-up motivation. The timing was perfect, as Steve Holman, the editor in chief, was looking for someone to test a crash course muscle-building routine he was developing. It was a 10-week program with two five-week phases and I volunteered quicker than you could say the word “muscle.” Begged to be part of it was more like it.

The results were pretty spectacular. I put on a rather astounding 20 pounds of muscle—in only 10 weeks! 

JL Before After 10-Week Size Surge

Phase 1 was a three-days-per-week big-exercise program for five weeks, with almost no stretch-overload moves included. Phase 2 was a shift to a Positions-of-Flexion 3D muscle-building routine, designed for maximum muscle-fiber activation—with stretch-position exercises for every bodypart. I trained every other day on that program for the second five weeks, and gains exploded!

It worked because I reprogrammed my metabolism, neuromuscular efficiency and anabolic hormone output during Phase 1. Then in Phase 2 I trained each bodypart in 3D POF style, attacking the full arc of flexion, which included stretch-overload for each muscle. That’s when the gains really took off.

I believe the addition of stretch-position exercises is one of the big reasons the gains were so substantial in Phase 2. Another is continuous tension/occlusion work that occurs during the contracted-position exercises. But there’s another often overlooked reason—phase training itself…

Each of the five-week phases began with a medium-intensity week. In other words, I started the Phase 1 routine doing all of the sets as described in the muscle-building crash course I was testing, but didn’t push to exhaustion that first week. I transitioned into it for three workouts. After those three medium-intensity workouts, it was all out for four hell weeks (training three days a week).

When I shifted to the more extensive 3D POF program for Phase 2, I again began with a medium-intensity week, allowing my muscles to supercompensate from that first phase before going all out again.

A medium-intensity/supercompensation week every few weeks is a huge benefit no matter what program you’re on. If you keep pushing hard continuously, your body will never have a chance to fully replenish from previous weeks of intense workouts and could potentially get into an overtraining, muscle-draining downward spiral. Not conducive to gains!

Dr. Hans Selye, a renowned researcher on stress, describes this as the General Adaptation Syndrome, with the three stages of any stress (such as intense weight training) being alarm, resistance and exhaustion. You want to always downshift your intensity before you hit exhaustion. That can help you push through plateaus.

This full routine is in the Size Surge Workout e-book in case you want to give it a try yourself. It’s a routine I still find myself going back to every so often, as even I need a reminder to allow for super compensation once in a while.

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.