FST-7 Training Method: Fascia Stretch Training

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fstright FST 7 Training Method: Fascia Stretch Training

What is FST-7?

FST-7 is a training system I devised after years of research and a great deal of trial and error with many clients. FST stands for Fascia Stretch Training, and the seven refers to the seven sets performed for the final exercise of a target bodypart.

I have had many clients use this system for overall growth and especially to improve stubborn bodyparts that were seemingly resistant to just about anything else the person had tried.

FST-7 encompasses several factors both inside and outside the gym.

Is fascia limiting your muscle growth?

There are three types of fascia in the human body, but the type bodybuilders should be concerned about is deep fascia. This is dense fibrous connective tissue that interpenetrates and surrounds the muscles, bones, nerves, and blood vessels of the body. The high density of collagen fibers is what gives the deep fascia its strength and integrity. The amount of elastin fibers determines how much extensibility and resiliency it will have. In other words, some of us have fascia that is thicker and tougher than others.

The most genetically blessed bodybuilders have thinner fascia, which is why their muscle bellies appear to be larger and fuller, with that round ‘bubbly’ look that all bodybuilders covet.

Ronnie Coleman and Phil Heath would be two prime examples of individuals blessed with thin fascia. Their muscles expand easier. Think of it in terms of it being easier to blow up a balloon as opposed to one of those water bottles that strongmen like Franco Columbu used to. Jay Cutler and Nasser El-Sonbatty are two men that clearly have thicker fascia. This didn’t prevent them from building substantial muscle mass, obviously, but neither man ever had that round ‘Marvel Comics’ appearance to their muscles. Yet the average bodybuilder has thicker fascia than either of those two champions. In an effort to expand their fascia and allow growth to occur, some have turned to Synthol and other items that are injected deep into the muscle belly. There have even been some advisors, mainly online, that make it seem as if this is the only solution and must be done. They will also try and insist that all the pro’s use Synthol and site inject, which I can assure you is not true. Synthol and related products are foreign substances, and you can never be certain how they will metabolize in the body. We are starting to see various health issues with bodybuilders that are more than likely related to site injecting. Yes, you do need to stretch the muscle fascia to experience optimal growth, but that is not the way to do it.

All stretching is not the same

I am not the first person to recognize the importance of stretching the muscle fascia. First John Parrillo, then more recently Dante Trudel of DC Training fame, incorporate aggressive stretching during workouts as part of their training programs. They had the right idea, but stretching the fascia by elongating the muscle is not the best method.

FST-7 is based on stretching the muscle from the inside out by volumizing it. This is accomplished by getting the greatest pump possible while training.

fst1 FST 7 Training Method: Fascia Stretch Training

Do I still train heavy, or can I just pump up with light weights?

One thing I don’t want anyone misconstruing is that FST-7 is all about pumping. That’s just one component. I also believe that a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle, and you absolutely must train with heavier weights in the 8-12 rep range. I have tried many variations of heavier and lighter training with clients over the years, and discovered that both types are needed. Heavy weights will build thickness and density, but they will not give you that round, full look. Similarly, getting incredible pumps all the time can impart some of that roundness, but you won’t ever get extreme muscle size without training with heavy straight sets. So you need to focus equally on maximizing both your strength and your pump in the same workouts to see optimal results. Here’s an example of a biceps workout, FST-7 style, that shows you how to incorporate both:

  • Alternate dumbbell curls 3-4 x 8-12
  • Machine preacher curl 3 x 8-12
  • EZ-bar curl 7 x 8-12

I don’t typically like to use very high reps, because too often you will experience general fatigue and get short of breath before you have built the maximum pump in the muscle. I also don’t like the weight to be too heavy and limit the reps any lower than eight, because this is when you see form breaking down and ancillary muscles kicking in and robbing the target muscle of the proper stimulation.

You can think of the ‘7’ set as blowing up a balloon.

We keep the rest periods fairly short, because as you pump up the muscle, a little blood escapes in that time. You can think of it as blowing up a balloon with a slight leak in it – even though the balloon is being inflated, some air is escaping. The key is to build on the pump sets by set, exponentially, so that it reaches its maximum state by the final set. If the rest periods were too short, you wouldn’t have enough energy to do justice to the seven sets. Another question I often get is, should the weight be constant as the seven sets go on? It can be, but it’s perfectly fine to reduce the weight one or two times as needed to stay in the proper rep range. There may also be times when you need to increase the weight, but this happens less often.

How often can I train bodyparts this way?

Generally speaking, this type of training is too traumatic on the larger muscle groups to use more than once a week. Due to the sheer volume of muscle cells, soreness tends to linger too long to allow for more frequent workouts. For instance, Phil Heath recently completed a back workout and was sore for four days. Since he is supposed to be training back and chest twice a week in preparation for the Arnold Classic, this threw him off his schedule somewhat. The higher than normal amount of microscopic tears in the muscle caused by FST-7 training necessitates a bit more recovery time than standard training protocols. However, smaller bodyparts like arms and calves certainly can and should be trained twice a week. This gives you twice as many opportunities to stretch the fascia in what are often exceedingly stubborn bodyparts. Here’s a sample split that displays how you could arrange this:

  • Day one: Biceps and triceps, calves
  • Day two: Legs
  • Day three: OFF
  • Day four: Chest and triceps
  • Day five: Back and calves
  • Day six: Shoulders and biceps
  • Day seven: OFF

This is a split geared toward someone with the goal of improving stubborn arms. There are many other variations depending on what the individual’s goals might be.

fst2 FST 7 Training Method: Fascia Stretch Training

Which exercises are best suited to the ‘7’ sets?

Certain exercises are more appropriate than others for the ‘7’ sets. The big compound free weight movements like squats and deadlifts usually are poor choices, for two reasons. For one thing, they involve several other muscle groups and don’t do a good job of isolating a target muscle. Also, they require technique and balancing, which tends to break down if one attempts to perform multiple sets in such a short time span. Machines are a good choice in many instances because they keep you in a fixed plane of movement and thus make it easier to isolate a given muscle. Those with selectorized stacks also make it very fast and convenient to increase or decrease the resistance as needed. Here are some suggested movements that I have found work very well:

Back width: Machine pullovers (Hammer Strength, Nautilus) or cable pullovers

Back thickness: Seated row machines with chest support

Chest: Pec deck or peck flye machine*, cable crossovers

*I find that the pec decks with the pads for the elbows usually work very well for shorter trainers, while the pec fly machines with handles seem to be better for tall guys. Try both – you will know by the pump and range of motion you achieve which one is a better choice for you.

Shoulders: Machine lateral raises with pads – my favorite is made by Bodymasters. Hammer Strength, LifeFitness, and Cybex also produce similar models.

Quads: Leg extensions, leg presses

Hamstrings: Seated or lying leg curls

Biceps: EZ-bar curls, machine curls, cable ‘front double biceps curls’

Triceps: Cable pushdowns using rope attachment, Overhead cable extensions, Skull crushers (for advanced trainers)

Calves: Standing and seated raises, calf raises using leg press (alternate between these three)

When should I do my ‘7’?

The best time to do your ‘7’ is as the final exercise for a muscle group. You don’t want to do it first, as this would take away from your performance on the heavy straight sets that are also a critical factor in building muscle mass. Finishing off a bodypart with a great pump is something many top bodybuilders have been doing instinctively for years, not knowing that they were expanding their fascia and maximizing growth. It may be tempting to do your pumping sets earlier on if you can’t seem to get any kind of pump going, but I would urge you instead to do something like a set or two of 21’s to get the blood flowing and then proceed with your heavy sets before capping it all off with your ‘7’ set for that bodypart. Remember, ‘7’s’ are done at the conclusion of each bodypart, so if you are working multiple bodyparts in a given workout, you will be doing two or more of these extended pumping sets.

fst41 FST 7 Training Method: Fascia Stretch Training

Sample FST-7 bodypart routines

Triceps

  • Close-grip bench press 3-4 x 8-12
  • Weighted or machine dip 3 x 8-12
  • Overhead cable extension 7 x 8-12 – (beginner and intermediate)
  • Skull crushers 7 x 8-12 – (advanced)

Quads

  • Leg extensions 3-4 x 8-15
  • Squats 4 x 8-12
  • Hack squat or leg press 3 x 8-15
  • Leg extension or leg press 7 x 8-15

Chest

  • Incline dumbbell press 3-4 x 8-12
  • Incline dumbbell flye 3 x 8-12
  • Flat Hammer or dumbbell press 3 x 8-12
  • Pec deck or cable crossover 7 x 8-12

Shoulders

  • Seated dumbbell press 4 x 8-12
  • Barbell or dumbbell front raise 3 x 8-12
  • Dumbbell lateral raise 3 x 8-12
  • Lateral raise machine 7 x 8-12

Back – Width Emphasis

  • Neutral-grip chin-ups 3 x failure
  • Wide-grip pulldowns 3 x 8-12
  • Barbell row 3 x 8-12
  • Hammer Strength row 3 x 8-12
  • Machine or cable pullover 7 x 8-15

Back – Thickness Emphasis

  • Reverse-grip pulldowns 3 x 12-15
  • Low cable row or 1-arm dumbbell row 3 x 8-12
  • T-bar row 3 x 8-12
  • Deadlift 4 x 8-12
  • Hammer Strength row 7 x 8-12

Note: For either back workout, those needing to specialize on lower back development should add 3-4 sets of weighted hyperextensions.

Traps

  • Dumbbell shrugs* 3-4 x 8-12
  • Machine shrugs 7 x 8-12

*Proper form consists of leaning head and torso slightly forward and shrugging up to an imaginary point behind your ears – do not roll shoulders. Reps should be done slowly with an emphasis on squeezing the contraction point for a full one-second count.

Rear Delts

  • Dumbbell rear lateral raise 3-4 x 12-15
  • Reverse pec flye or cable 7 x 12-15
  • Rear laterals

Hamstrings

  • Lying leg curls 3-4 x 10-15
  • Stiff-leg deadlift 3-4 x 10-12
  • Single leg curl 3-4 x 10-15 each leg
  • Seated leg curls 7 x 10-15

Calves (alternate workouts)

  • Workout A
  • Standing calf raise 4 x 10-12
  • Seated calf raise 4 x 15-20
  • Leg press or calf sled raise 7 x 10-12
  • Workout B
  • Leg press or calf sled raise 4 x 10-12
  • Donkey or standing calf raise 4 x 10-12
  • Seated calf raise 7 x 12-15

*Calves should be trained twice a week with roughly 48-72 hours between workouts, such as Monday and Thursday, Tuesday and Friday, or Wednesday and Saturday.

Pre-workout nutrition: Priming the pump

Hopefully most of you grasp the importance of solid pre-workout nutrition. This provides the body with all the raw materials it will need to fuel an intense and productive weight training session. I like to see my clients get in a minimum of two solid-food meals containing both lean proteins and complex carbohydrates prior to training. The protein source can be chicken or turkey breast, white fish, or even leaner cuts of red meat such as filet or top sirloin if one is training later in the day. Good carbohydrate sources would be oatmeal, sweet potatoes, or brown rice. These are all slow-burning carbs that will deliver time-released energy, as opposed to fruits and other simple sugars that digest too quickly and can leave you with an insulin crash while training.

Equally important to the food intake is adequate hydration.

fst31 FST 7 Training Method: Fascia Stretch Training
This is particularly applicable to anyone using thermogenic products. Most of these have a diuretic effect, which means you need to take care to drink a bit more water to compensate for the fluid loss. Notice that I said water and not diet soda. Carbonated drinks tend to be too filling and hence you don’t drink enough. A common question I get is, how soon before the workout should my last meal be? Generally speaking, you want your last meal to end about one hour before your workout begins. The exception would be legs. Since heavy leg training is so metabolically demanding, the last meal should be a bit earlier – say ninety minutes. These are just guidelines. If you are the type of person that is starving an hour and a half after a clean meal, you probably don’t ever want to let more than an hour go by from the end of the pre-workout meal to the workout. If you seem to digest your food more slowly and get nauseous when you eat too close to the workout, adjust your meal timing accordingly. Staying away from high-fat foods or sugary items should help stave off feelings of nausea while training.

During the workout

While training, most people will only need plenty of water – roughly a liter. This also depends on your size, how much you tend to sweat while training, and the season. Obviously you need more water in the summer, particularly if you train at a place like MetroFlex Gym that doesn’t believe in air conditioning, or if you work outdoors. You can sip a carb drink or a thermogenic drink if you tend to ‘run out of gas’ while training, but neither takes the place of water. If you choose to have one of these beverages during your workout, you should also have a water bottle and alternate between the two to ensure proper hydration.

I can’t emphasize this strongly enough – there is simply no way you can achieve a great pump if you aren’t drinking enough water before and during the workout. As you know, the human body and especially our blood supply is comprised of over seventy percent water, so you need to have a steady supply to stay hydrated.

Post-workout nutrition

Within 15-20 minutes of the end of your workout if not immediately, it’s important to drink a shake to start the re-compensation and recovery process that ultimately leads to muscle growth. There are several different recovery powders I am currently testing with my clients, and I will have the results soon. But in the meantime, you can’t go wrong with a highly bio-available protein source such as whey protein isolate along with a rapidly-assimilated carbohydrate source like dextrose, waxy maize, or maltodextrin. If you are a hardgainer ectomorph type, don’t be afraid to mix two or more carb sources together. You can even add in something like fruit juice for flavor and additional simple carbs. If you are trying to lean out or you are simply a person that gains fat very easily, you will want to take it easy on the amount of carbs in this shake. You still want to always include at least some carbs in this shake, except in the case of the final stages of a pre-contest diet for those that are striving to lose the last vestiges of bodyfat.

Roughly an hour or two later, you want to have another solid-food meal that should be similar in composition to the pre-workout meal. For the purpose of better absorption, you want to keep the fat content low, particularly saturated fats. The timing of this meal will depend on the size of your shake as well as your appetite. Obviously you can’t eat until you are hungry again. If you are drinking a large shake that is very filling for you, it might take two hours for your appetite to return substantially enough to allow you to eat a solid meal. Conversely, a lighter shake should digest faster and you should theoretically be ready to eat just an hour later. Also note that there tends to be more bloating and gas associated with lower-quality grades of protein powder. They tend to taste good, but contain large amounts of lactose. Do yourself and your loved ones a favor and spring for the good stuff.

A note on sodium

Many bodybuilders have it in their heads that sodium is bad for them and should be avoided. They intentionally remain on very low-sodium diets year-round when the fact of the matter is,

you only need to be concerned about sodium intake in the final few days before a contest when you are attempting to shed subcutaneous water. Without proper amounts of dietary sodium, you simply won’t be able to get a pump.

Some of you may have experienced this when competing. If you are trying to pump up and haven’t had more than trace amounts of sodium for a couple days, your muscles will be totally flat and unresponsive, even if you are eating carbs and drinking some water. Then, if you go out and have a burger and fries after the judging, your muscles seem to magically inflate, and you are able to generate an excellent pump for the night show! Sodium helps transport carbs into the muscles, so by all means don’t be afraid to put a bit of salt on your food. I actually encourage my clients to get their sodium from condiments like ketchup, mustard, and barbecue sauce in the off-season. It should be noted that for any of you with medical conditions such as hypertension or diabetes that require you to adhere to strict low-sodium diets, always observe the guidelines set forth by your physician or your dietician.

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1 Comment

  • Reply September 22, 2011

    Anthony Cooper

    Great article!

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