We’ve all had days when life doesn’t cooperate quite as much as we’d like and we end up needing to cut our workouts short on time. That doesn’t necessarily mean we need to have any less of a workout, however, and it often means that we can end up having an even more productive workout than normal.
The fact of the matter is that most of us actually rest too long between sets. It’s one thing if you’re training for strength, but if muscle mass is your goal, a little density in your game can add a lot of density to your frame. Vince Gironda, the legendary and original trainer to the stars, was a big proponent of getting more work done in a shorter period of time as a means to increase muscle mass and conditioning. It was true then and it’s still true now.
I’ll be the first to admit that I like to use heavy weights on some key exercises. It feels good mentally, and it usually feels good physically, too. As the years pile on, however, heavy isn’t always good. It helps with the mind, but doesn’t do much for aging joints, and certainly isn’t the key component to muscle mass. It obviously plays a key role in physique development, but it’s really only a small part of the puzzle.
Heavy weights tend to hit only the force-generating myofibrils, while moderate weights and longer tension times allow you to hit the often-ignored sarcoplasmic energy fluid, which is huge key to muscle size.
The best way I’ve found to get the best of both worlds is the 4×10 training method. You simply pick a weight with which you could normally get about 15 reps and do it for 4 sets of 10, or at least you try to. Do 10 reps on your first set, rest for 30 seconds only and then do your next set of 10 reps, rest for just 30 seconds and then try to get 10 reps on your last two sets (maintaining only 30 seconds of rest between each set). Chances are you’ll only get 9 on the third set and maybe 8 on the last set. If you’re still able to get 10 reps on the last two sets you need to increase the weight, but make sure you at least go to failure on the last two sets regardless. Rep cadence should be about 2-3 seconds on the negative and 1 second on the positive to ensure longer tension times, too.
The weights you use will allow you to get a decent hit on the force-generating myofibrils, but more importantly, the combination of short rests and long tension times will ensure a complete thrashing of the sarcoplasm. Plus, you’ll get the added benefit of a shorter workout and probably a better pump than you’ve had in a long time if you’re more accustom to heavier work loads only.
It’s a hard philosophy to wrap your head around if you like to move massive poundages, but the first time you do it you’ll likely be shocked at the level of intense muscle burn, let alone the off-the-charts pump. Give it a try, even if you feel the need to do it when no one’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.