Musclemag Feature about FST-7
If you’re Hany Rambod, the 33-year-old resident of San Jose whose roster of personal-training clients includes over a dozen professional bodybuilders, it’s results that matter. In fact if you don’t make muscles grow, you literally don’t bring home a paycheck. Hany insists the muscle-building process — or lack thereof for many of us — is really quite simple, and growth is predicated on fascia tissue that encases the muscle. “Fascia that surrounds the muscle can act to limit its size,” he says. The fact is that skeletal muscle tissue is enclosed in this sheath of dense connective tissue. Fascia primarily protects your muscles and helps maintain their positioning, however, Hany contends that it can also hinder your muscles’ ability to grow. “The thicker the sheath is, the greater the restriction on each muscle’s growth potential,”he says. Conversely, as Hany explains, the exact opposite is also true when the sheath is very thin. The density of this sheath is ultimately determined by your individual genetics, but that doesn’t mean it has to limit your growth potential and leave you doomed for lagging bodyparts. The question, then, is how can you overcome the restrictions in place from what your mom and dad gave you? After years of personal research and a great deal of trial and error, Hany says the answer to breaking through muscle resistance lies in a program he developed called Fascial Stretch Training (FST-7). He’s got more than a few IFBB pro physiques who can attest to its results — think Ray Arde, Bill Wilmore and Troy Brown, just to name a few. FST-7 encompasses several factors both in and out of the gym. Here’s a breakdown of how to follow this system to reach your goals (which for our purposes will be applied to chest and arm training):
You have to stretch before, after and during your workouts.
“Basic stretching is used while warming up or cooling down from exercise,” Hany explains. “This particular type of stretching targets the superficial part [surface layers] of the muscle(s) and its attachments.” While stretching is typically thought of as a way to help prevent injury, improve muscle recovery and ultimately support better growth Hany points out that “stretching the fascia is different.” As Hany explains, stretching aggressively during your workouts, particularly when a muscle is engorged with blood, loosens the sheath encapsulating that muscle. Although the scientific data on this point is extremely limited, many experts and bodybuilders believe stretching during your workout triggers greater potential for growth. Tom Platz, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Parillo and Dante Trudel are just a few who support this theory. Though Hany agrees with them to an extent, he argues that fascial stretching is best achieved by working from the inside out — through muscle volumization via gorging the target muscle with blood — not simply by elongating the muscle itself. Therefore, his training system requires you to perform basic stretching before, during and after your workout, and you must complete a higher volume of sets (pump sets) for the final exercise to ensure maximum expansion of the fascia. Try to hold each stretch for up to 30 seconds, and concentrate on feeling the pull in the muscle. Make sure you don’t bounce in and out of stretches and focus on moving slowly throughout. It’s important to note that when you stretch between sets, you do so with every exercise except for the last one. On your last move you’ll instead be applying a different technique (explained in Rule #4).
Do basic and heavy moves first.
“Using a higher-volume [approach] facilitates growth by filling the muscle with nutrient-rich, fascia-stretching blood,” explains Hany. “But [low-volume] heavy training is [also] important to stimulate muscle growth.” FST-7 is therefore designed with the value of both heavier and lighter training in mind. Use a low volume (three sets in the 8–10-rep range) and choose basic, compound lifts (for density and thickness) to start your workout. The barbell bench press is a good choice for chest. Keep in mind, Hany says, “The exercise you start with [will] actually depend on your physique.” For example, if you lag in the upper chest area, start your workout using movements such as incline dumbbell or barbell presses. “If you’re one of the rare individuals blessed with a totally balanced chest, you have a little more freedom in your exercise selection,” he says. You’ll then follow your compound exercises with isolation movements to focus on developing muscle fullness and roundness. Although Hany generally recommends finishing your workout with machine isolation movements as the final exercise, in some cases free weights are better suited depending on the muscle group being trained. When doing chest and biceps for instance, “An isolation exercise such as cable crossovers is best for pecs while EZbar curls seem to work better for biceps,” Hany says. The exercise you select should allow you to completely focus on that muscle and force as much blood into it as possible. “If assisting muscles [are called upon] to stabilize, you simply won’t be able to force the required blood volume into the desired muscle.” Hence, the focus for your last exercise is both on single-joint and machine movements whenever possible.
Increase the volume and decrease your rest periods on your final exercise.
After years of experimenting in the gym using trial-and-error methods, Hany determined that seven sets on the last move in your workout is ideal. (He does confess that “The number isn’t absolute and depends on [the bodybuilder’s] recovery ability.”) More important than the number of sets is stretching the fascia of the targetmuscle at the right times: at the end of eachset on your final exercise. This is when the muscle is the most filled with blood and at its maximal size. “Normal rest periods vary anywhere from 1–2½ minutes depending on the bodypart,” says Hany. “This allows the body sufficient time to recover in order to handle maximum weight on the next set.” However, the goal of the seven sets is to maximize your pump by forcing as much blood into the muscle as possible, not to allow you to move the most weight. “The length [of normal rest periods] is too long and would allow some of [this] blood to flush out,” he says. “Think of it as filling up a balloon that has a small leak: Your muscles slowly lose the blood being pumped into them.” The goal here is not to move the most weight, but rather to achieve the best pump possible. Therefore, on your final exercise reduce the rest periods to a maximum of 30–45 seconds between sets. You’ll still be partially fatigued from your previous set, which means you’ll sacrifice some of the weight you can normally lift, but the pump and burn will increase exponentially.
Flex! Utilize isometrics during your between-sets rest intervals.
While you may not be predisposed to standing in front of a crowded gym and flexing your muscles after a set, that doesn’t mean this technique is without value — you just need to find a place to do it when no one’s looking! By performing short isometric holds (timed flexing of the target muscle) during your betweensets rest periods, you can further increase the amount of pressure on the fascia. The key here is to build exponentially on your pump sets so the muscle fascia reaches its maximum state of expansion by the final set. Start by holding the muscle in the flexed position for 10 seconds at a time, and then slowly work your way up to 30 seconds.
Drinking water between sets is essential.
Interestingly, drinking water during your rest intervals is critical on your final seven sets. “Water makes up the majority of your blood volume,” says Hany. “More volume in the muscle requires more water — it’s important to drink water throughout the entire workout, but it’s especially important during the sevens.” Hany instructs his clients to sip about 2 ounces of water during each rest period, before and after the isometric holds. Not only is water important because it helps to increase muscle volume, but it also acts as a vehicle for absorption of muscle- building vitamins, minerals, amino acids and oxygen into the muscle. Simply drinking water, of course, doesn’t automatically lead to more muscle growth. You still need to increase calories using key macronutrients such as protein. “I’m currently developing an FST-7- specific nutrition program,” Hany says. “I’ve tested many different foods and supplements to see what items maximize recovery from these workouts.” When he does, expect to read about it here!