by Christian Thibaudeau T-Nation
Here’s what you need to know…
- To make a muscle grow, put it under constant tension for 50-70 seconds. This technique mimics the benefits of occlusion training.
- Occlusion training deprives the target muscle of oxygen during lifting and increases the release of growth factors in a muscle.
- The growth factor workout is a series of complexes that place your pecs under constant tension. You’ll use several flye and press variations.
- Contract the pecs. Focus on squeezing at the top. Don’t just go through the motions.
Muscle Growth: The Short Version
To build a muscle, make it release local growth factors. How? By keeping it under constant tension for 50-70 seconds. This does two things:
- A lot of lactate and hydrogen ions will accumulate inside the muscle.
- The muscle will be put in a relative hypoxic state – not enough oxygen enters the muscle which becomes oxygen-deprived.
The result? Muscle growth is triggered.
Growth Factor Training
Growth factors are substances such as insulin-like growth factors (IGF-1, IGF-2) and mechanical growth factors (MGF) that have a very high impact on protein synthesis (muscle building).
Stimulate the release of these in a muscle and you’ll build it.
Studies have shown that growth factors are stimulated mostly via an accumulation of lactate/hydrogen ions inside the target muscle as well as depriving the target muscle of oxygen during lifting.
The latter was found when doing studies on occlusion training: performing sets where blood flow to the muscle is greatly reduced by wearing a compressive cuff.
Doing so diminishes oxygen transport to the muscles as well as the clearance of metabolic waste (lactate/hydrogen ions).
Sets under these conditions have shown a similar hypertrophy response even when very light weights were used compared to regular, heavier sets. Researchers found that the main contributing factor was the release of growth factors.
But you don’t have to create an occlusion with a pressure cuff to get the same effect.
When a muscle is either tensed (flexing) or stretched, blood entry inside the muscle is greatly reduced. Less oxygen gets in and less metabolic waste is taken out, which creates the same effect as occlusion training in regard to the release of growth factors.
How to Mimic The Effects of Occlusion
To mimic the beneficial effects of occlusion training, keep the muscles contracted for 50-70 seconds. Out of those 50-70 seconds, spend as much time as possible with the muscles being flexed.
So it’s not just about doing the exercises for the duration required, but about focusing on keeping them under tension/flexed throughout.
Sure, you could simply perform one exercise for 50-70 seconds non-stop. But there are several reasons to do compounded exercises in one set:
- It’s easier mentally.
- You can maintain better focus (after doing an exercise for more than 30 seconds it’s easy to lose focus).
- It allows you to hit a greater variety of muscle fibers.
- You can use a bit more weight overall for each exercise (since you have fewer reps of each than you would if you only did one exercise for the same duration).
First, Heavy Work
Start the chest growth factor workout with a “heavier” exercise that’s still in line with the growth factor way of thinking – longer time under tension – but doesn’t require all the principles (constant tension, constant focus on the pecs).
The whole upper body benefits from training heavier on the bench press, and doing so will “turn on” the pecs which will make the subsequent pump work more effective.
One method is a multi-contraction drop set. It requires some specific equipment: light resistance bands and Mark Bell’s slingshot. I find this to be the best option but I’ll provide other ones for those who don’t have these tools.
First do 5 reps with added band resistance. Then remove the bands and immediately do 5 more reps. Then put on the slingshot and pump out as many reps as you can. Do 3 sets.
If you don’t have access to a slingshot and bands here are two options you can use:
5 reps bench press, then as many top-half bench press reps as possible (going down until elbows are just above 90 degrees). Then hold the top position, squeezing the pecs for 15-30 seconds.
- 5 reps: Bench press, close-grip
- 5 reps: Bench, mid-grip
- 5 reps: Bench, wide-grip
- Take 10 seconds between each step.
Growth Factor Work
Complex 1: Press Medley
Start with a medley that will blow up your pecs in only one set. This is brutal work even though light weights are used.
It’s a long complex, so pay attention! Here’s the whole thing, then I’ll go through the individual elements below:
- 8-10 reps: Incline dumbbell press, reverse grip
- Max reps: Incline dumbbell press, regular grip (same weight)
- Max reps: Push-up, feet elevated
- Max reps: Flat dumbbell press, reverse grip (same weight)
- Max reps: Flat dumbbell press, regular grip (same weight)
- Max reps: Push-up
The reverse grip dumbbell press is a great way to hit the upper chest.
For all the dumbbell pressing exercises in this medley, focus on squeezing/flexing the chest. Don’t just lift the weights.
Contract the pecs to make the weight go up. At the top of each rep give the pecs an extra squeeze – squeeze in while trying to touch the ceiling.
Complex 2: Kettlebell Flyes and Presses
Use kettlebells for this complex, which includes two types of flyes and one press.
Kettlebells work better than dumbbells for flyes. Because of the position of the resistance, the pecs are under load for a greater proportion of the range of motion.
With dumbbells, the muscle tension on the pecs is greatly reduced at about 60% of the range of motion. This can make the reps less effective, especially when you’re using a method where you must maintain constant tension to create an occlusion effect.
Do 3 sets of this complex.
5-7 reps: Low flye
5-7 reps: Regular flye
5-7 reps: Press
Complex 3: Squeeze Press & Flye Combo
This complex starts with the dumbbell squeeze press. Ideally you need to use hexagonal dumbbells since you need to squeeze them hard together.
If you don’t have hex dumbbells, you can squeeze a foam pad or something similar between both dumbbells. The key during the squeeze press is to squeeze inward as hard as possible; this is more important than the weight used.
Lift them up slowly to maximize the squeeze. Then move on to regular flyes, getting a good stretch in the bottom position. Finish with high-position flyes in which you bring the dumbbells down above your shoulders and lift them back up above your chest.
5-7 reps: Squeeze press
5-7 reps: Dumbbell flye, regular
5-7 reps: Flye, high
Depending on your strength or fatigue level, finish the workout with either 50 dips or 50 push-ups.
The goal is to do the whole 50 reps in as little time as possible. You can take short pauses during the process, but aim to complete the 50 as quickly as you can.
The goal is only to trash the chest, so if after 30 dips you know that there’s no way you’ll make it to 50, it’s okay to switch to push-ups for the last 20 or so reps.
|Heavy Work: Bench Press|
|A1||Bench Press, added band resistance||3||5||10 sec.|
|A2||Bench Press||3||5||10 sec.|
|A3||Bench Press, slingshot||2-3 min.|
|Complex 1: Press Medley|
|B1||Incline Dumbbell Press, reverse-grip||3||6-8|
|B2||Incline Dumbbell Press, normal-grip||3||Max|
|B3||Push-Up, elevated feet||3||Max|
|B4||Dumbbell Press, reverse-grip||3||Max|
|B5||Dumbbell Press, normal-grip||3||Max|
|Complex 2: Kettlebell Flyes and Presses|
|C1||Kettlebell Flye, low||3||5-7|
|C2||Kettlebell Flyes, regular||3||5-7|
|C3||Kettlebell Press||3||5-7||90-120 sec.|
|Complex 3: Squeeze Press & Flye Combo|
|D2||Dumbbell Flye, regular||3||5-7|
|D3||Dumbbell Flye, high||3||5-7||90-120 sec.|
|E||Dip and/or Push-Up||50|