The Intelligent & Relentless Pursuit of Muscle™

X-Comp Training
Compensatory acceleration
and the bodybuilder


It's leg day. You stroll over to the squat rack to perform your usual three sets of ten. You dip lethargically under the bar, throwing on the same weight you've been using for months (or is it years?). Your mind isn't on your workout. Hell, you're bored. You think, "I wonder what those rascals on Friends are going to be up to tonight?" An ear-numbing clang jars you from your stupor. Louis Simmons, the mad monk of powerlifting himself, has just banged on another disk. Before you can get unbalanced, another head splitting clang jolts you from the other side. Fred "Dr. Squat" Hatfield has just slapped on another plate. Clang. Bang. Two more big ones fall into place. From behind you, an ominous voice says:

Charles Poliquin has stepped in to spot. A glance in the mirror and your panic rises. Ian King and Jerry Telle are waiting for you over by the deadlift platform. Telle is rubbing his hands together and smirking. Ian is opening a fresh box of smelling salts and a first-aid kit. Simmons smacks you in the back of head and demands three reps. Fearing for your life, you bang them out. Racking the weight, you think, well, that wasn't so bad after all. Then you hear Simmons growl, "Seven more sets, maggot."

Depending on your frame of mind, the above situation would either be a dream come true or an utter nightmare. In reality, being trained by several of the world's top strength experts at once probably wouldn't work. They'd soon forget about you laboring away on the bench as they debated things like tempo, fiber types, diet, and exercise selection. About the only thing that would stop the heated discussion, would be their unanimous decision to go find Paul Chek, haul him to the bathroom, and give him a swirlie. Then they would all go have a beer, leaving you to flounder on the bench like Richard Simmons pressing his signature model, vinyl dipped, 15-pound dumbbells.

Actually, these strength coaches would probably agree on several topics. One concept that almost all coaches incorporate at one time or another is called "compensatory acceleration training," dubbed CAT by Fred Hatfield and used extensively by Louis Simmons. Simmons has applied this technique with his athletes for years to produce some of the highest caliber weightlifters in the world. It's about time that we bodybuilders realized that this system has a lot to offer us as well.


Dig, If You Will, a Picture...

Let me propose a scenario. You're a bodybuilder with a maximum bench press of 300 pounds. You've loaded the bar with 210 pounds. Once the bar reaches your chest, you focus your full concentration on exploding the weight up with all the force your body can muster. You complete 3 reps, with a total time under tension of 8 seconds.

The next time you train chest, you load the bar up with 295 pounds. You struggle with all your might and after a grueling 6-second concentric rep and a burst blood vessel in your eye, you triumphantly hoist the weight to its lockout position.

Since your maximum force was applied to the bar in each set, both recruited high threshold, II-B fibers. Using a 20X-tempo prescription, the total time under tension of each set was also roughly identical. For my purposes, I'll define the first set (consisting of three repetitions, lighter weight, and an explosive concentric) as compensatory acceleration training.

So how did these two protocols differ? We can quibble over eccentric poundages. But since we're talking about very short duration, explosive sets, the difference in actual hypertrophy due to the eccentric part of the movement is negligible. The speed of contraction was obviously different, and another difference lies in the simple fact that one set consisted of three reps, the other only one.

Louis Simmons argues that by concentrating on exploding the weight up, compensatory acceleration conditions your body to recruit fast-twitch fibers. He has his athletes perform 8 of these sets per workout. And just as importantly, by virtue of the higher number of explosive repetitions, this type of training demolishes the nervous system even more so than conventional strength training consisting of heavier weights at slower tempos. Think of it as German Volume Training for strength athletes. And, since the weight is relatively light during this type of training (only 70% of your maximum) you can focus on perfecting your form. When you do perform heavier sets, your nervous system is pre-programmed to follow that textbook form.

Of course, this doesn't mean that using this compensatory acceleration principle is appropriate during all strength phases of your bodybuilding program. There's definitive merit to performing heavier, maximum sets of up to four reps. In heavier sets, the bar is moving so slowly that the trainee cannot rely on momentum to propel the weight up, instead having to provide all the force necessary to move the bar throughout the full range of motion.

So, the conclusion you should draw from this is that both types of training have merit! Compensatory acceleration is by no means a replacement for the standard strength phases that utilize heavier weights and a slower tempo. It is however, a viable alternative that should be incorporated into your program.

With X-Comp training, the important part is the "X," or explosive portion of the exercise; therefore, use a weight that's 70% of your one-rep maximum and focus on powering through the lift at maximum concentric speed. (During the eccentric or negative part, however, you'll use a more traditional speed.) Also, don't expect to go to failure on any of the compound movements. On the isolation movements, use a weight that allows you to complete the prescribed number of repetitions with two reps "held" in reserve. Remember, this program's objective is to condition your nervous system and tap into those elusive, II-B fibers, so don't worry about going to failure. (Instead worry about exploding the weight up like a piston.)


The X-Comp Workout

Enough talk, here's a sample workout, utilizing my own adaptation of traditional, compensatory acceleration training. The workout is performed three days out of the week. Perform this two-week cycle twice, for a total of four weeks. You'll notice that the workouts for Monday and Friday don't change, but the leg workout is alternated between what Ian King calls quad dominant and hip dominant workouts. In other words, perform the quad-dominant routine on the first Wednesday, the hip-dominant routine on the second Wednesday, then repeat one more time.


Monday 1) Chest and Back

A1) Medium-grip bench presses:* Push with the outsides of your palms, visualizing yourself being pressed into the floor.

    Sets: 8
    Reps: 3
    Tempo: 20X**
    Rest: 120 seconds

*For those of you not familiar with the "A1, A2" labels, they refer to the order in which you'll do the exercises. For example, on chest and back day you'll do a set of bench presses (A1), rest for the set amount of time, then perform a set of chin-ups (A2). After a rest, you'll go back to the bench and repeat until you've done eight sets of each movement. Then, you'll move on to the "B1, B2" exercises, and do them in the same fashion.

**Tempo refers to the speed of each portion of the lift. The first number refers to how many seconds it should take you to lower the weight (the eccentric portion). The middle number tells you how long to pause at the bottom of the movement (like when the bar is on your chest when benching). The last number tells you how many seconds you should take to raise the weight (the concentric portion). The designation "X" means you should "explode" and drive the weight up as quickly as possible.

A2) Medium-grip chin-ups, palms facing you: Squeeze the traps together hard at the top of the movement and descend to the point where your lats are in the fully stretched position. Use additional weight if necessary by holding a dumbbell between your ankles.

    Sets: 8
    Reps: 3
    Tempo: 30X
    Rest: 120 seconds

B1) Slow decline dumbbell flyes: Squeeze the weight up only as high as you can feel your pecs being stimulated, which is well before the point where your arms are perpendicular to the floor. Your palms should be facing forward as they would be in a regular dumbbell bench press.

    Sets: 3
    Reps: 5
    Tempo: 505
    Rest: 90 seconds

B2) Slow prone dumbbell flyes: Lie face down on as high a bench as you can find. If no high bench is available, set an adjustable bench at a slight incline, and lower the weight down only 2/3 of the way, so that the tension is constantly on the rear delts.

    Sets: 3
    Reps: 5
    Tempo: 505
    Rest: 90 seconds


Wednesday 1) Thighs and Abs

A1) Front squats: If you have no limitations in the knee or ankle joints, use the full squat. If there are physical limitations, bend only far enough so that joint integrity isn't compromised.

    Sets: 8
    Reps: 3
    Tempo: 30X
    Rest: 120 seconds

A2) Leg extensions

    Sets: 8
    Reps: 3
    Tempo: 30X
    Rest: 120 seconds

B1) Swiss ball crunches: Place a dumbbell on your chest to increase resistance and ensure a full stretch in the bottom position.

    Sets: 3
    Reps: 10
    Tempo: 401
    Rest: None, or as long as it takes to set up for B2

B2) Swiss ball reverse crunches: Make sure you have something sturdy to hang on to behind your head. Cross your legs and bend them at 90 degrees. If you're new to this exercise and have trouble with the balance, go very slow until you get the hang of it, then increase the tempo.

Swiss ball reverse crunches Swiss ball reverse crunches

    Sets: 3
    Reps: 10
    Tempo: 402
    Rest: None, or as long as it takes to set up for B1


Friday 1) Arms and Shoulders

A) Seated military presses: Note that there isn't an "A2" for shoulders, which get plenty of action already from chest/back day. Use Ian King's style of the military press. Take the weight off a power rack like you're getting ready to do a front squat. Make a triangle of support with your legs and lean into that triangle slightly. Do not use back support. Use a slightly wider than shoulder width grip. Note the slow tempo.

Seated military presses Seated military presses

    Sets: 5
    Reps: 5
    Tempo: 505
    Rest: 120 seconds

B1) Incline close-grip bench presses: Use a 14-inch grip and keep the elbows as close to the sides as possible during the movement, not allowing them to flare out, which will take the tension off the triceps.

    Sets: 8
    Reps: 3
    Tempo: 20X
    Rest: 120 seconds

B2) EZ-bar spider curls: For this exercise, use a preacher (Scott) bench, and turn the pad around so that your arms are pressed into the vertical part of the pad. Squeeze hard at the top of the rep and avoid leaning back. Concentrate fully on contracting the biceps.

EZ-bar spider curls EZ-bar spider curls

    Sets: 8
    Reps: 3
    Tempo: 20X
    Rest: 120 seconds


Monday 2) Chest and Back

Same as above.


Wednesday 2) Long Head Hamstrings and Calves

A1) Romanian stiff-legged deadlifts: Consult with a trainer if you've never performed this lift before. Ensure that you maintain your spinal curvature throughout the entire lift, and keep your head up.

Romanian stiff-legged deadlifts Romanian stiff-legged deadlifts

    Sets: 8
    Reps: 3
    Tempo: 20X
    Rest: 120 seconds

A2) Standing calf raises

    Sets: 8
    Reps: 3
    Tempo: 20X
    Rest: 120 seconds

B) Wood choppers: Use a cable machine, and begin the movement with your arms extended directly over one shoulder. Keep your body in line with the cable machine. In a twisting motion, use your obliques to bring your hands down below your waistline on the opposite side.

Wood choppers Wood choppers

    Sets: 5
    Reps: 5
    Tempo: 505
    Rest: 120 seconds


Friday 2) Arms and Shoulders

Same as above.

That's it! Remember to really explode the weight up on all movements with the tempo designation "X." If you don't, you're wasting your time! Use this program for no more than four weeks at a time. And don't even attempt this program if you don't have a solid base of training under your belt of at least one year. After four weeks, from the neural adaptation you'll get from this program, expect to break new barriers in strength in your subsequent hypertrophy phases.

You may not squat over a thousand like Hatfield, or bench over 600 like Simmons, but you will get bigger and stronger with X-Comp training.


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