When you hear the word "science," what does it mean to you? My guess is that word probably makes you conjure up images of a nerdy looking dude in a lab coat who's hovering over a Petri dish that's filled with bacteria.

And when it comes to building muscle, we all know that science often falls short of giving us the best solutions. That's because there's very little funding for studies that elucidate the best methods to turn little Henry into the Hulk.

Computer technology has progressed at an astonishing pace because there's so much funding and because the potential financial rewards are enormous. Not so in the world of muscle building.

Yep, if you've got a burning desire to add muscle to a stubborn body part you'll have no luck finding your answer on Pubmed, even if you pull an all-nighter.

So Where's the Answer?

While I was in graduate school one of my professors made a profound statement that has stuck with me over the years. To quote the good doctor, "Science is about observing the world around you."

For example, if you want to cure Alzheimer's it makes sense to study cultures where the disease is virtually nonexistent. Then you try to figure out what they do that the rest of the world doesn't do.

And if you want bigger quadriceps, it makes perfect sense to look for a sport where the athletes have proportionally large quadriceps development and figure out what they're doing that you're not doing.

That's smart science.

Gut Check

Before I get to the details of how to add muscle where you need it most, it's important to understand what truly deserves the TITLE as a stubborn body part. Your proportionally challenged biceps might not be stubborn at all, and that's why you should first consider two points.

  1. Be honest with yourself. Is the muscle group in question too small simply because you haven't been training it more than once every week or two? Many guys have puny calves because they rarely train them. No big mystery there.
  2. Understand that muscle growth takes months. If you just started lifting weights three weeks ago and you're frustrated with your lack of upper arm development, join the club that every guy has been a member of. No one ever complains about building muscle too fast. You must be patient, even if you find the training method that's best for your body type.

Now that those two points are out of the way, if you've been training the stubborn body part consistently for a few months without noticing any results, it's time to do some problem solving.

30 Reps to Bigger Muscles

First, consider the training parameters you've been using. Three sets of 10 reps isn't an ideal way to build muscle, even for muscle groups that welcome growth. Therefore, the best initial approach is to train a stubborn muscle group with a less traditional method that works awesome to build muscle.

30 Rep Method

This is a more effective twist on the 10 sets of 3 reps method that I've been advocating for a decade. Instead of doing 10 sets of 3 reps, you'll start with a load you can lift no more than six times for the first set.

Next you'll perform a second set of as many reps as possible (usually it'll be less than six reps). Then you'll perform a third set of as many reps as possible.

You'll continue performing as many sets as it takes until you reach 30 total reps.

You'll use the same load for all sets and the reps will decrease with the sets. This is an ideal way to train since you'll never miss a rep, and it's the way I approach muscle building in my book, Huge in a Hurry.

Here's a sample exercise pairing for the upper arms:

  Exercise Weight Sets Reps Rest
1A Hammer curl * * * * * * 30 sec.
1B Lying dumbbell triceps extension * * * * * * 30 sec.

* a weight you can lift no more than 6 times for the first set
* * until you reach 30 total reps
* * * as many reps as possible

This is an example for one workout. You'll use only one exercise per muscle group and you'll put all your energy into that lift until you reach 30 total reps. Perform the 30-Rep Method three times per week with a different exercise in each workout throughout the week. You can use those same three exercise pairings for all four weeks.

Of course, the 30-Rep Method can be used for any muscle group that needs more mass without sacrificing maximal strength. You can perform straight sets with 60 seconds of rest between each set, but I've found that it's more effective and more efficient to alternate between exercises for different muscle groups.

You don't have to use an antagonist pairing. For example, if your calves and triceps need help, you could alternate a calf raise with a triceps exercise. The options are endless.

Here's an overview of the parameters for the 30 Rep Method.

  • Duration: 4 weeks
  • Frequency: 3 times per week
  • Number of exercises per muscle group for each workout: 1
  • Total reps per muscle group: 30 reps each workout
  • Exercise selection: use a different exercise for each workout throughout the week

The 30-Rep Method is my first line of attack to build a lagging muscle group. Try it for four weeks and I bet you'll like what you see. Importantly, you don't need to perform an entire workout with this method, even though it's an excellent way to train.

For example, you might be content with your current program, but you feel it's neglecting a muscle group that you want to make freaky enough to scare the neighbors. Use the 30-Rep Method three times per week for four weeks to fire things up.

Back to Real World Science

At this point you might be wondering what all my rambling was about in the beginning of this article when I talked about the relationship between science and real-world observations.

Let's look at the deltoids and quadriceps. They're two muscle groups that are sometimes outliers. They can be problematic for many good muscle building methods, even the 30-Rep Method. Yep, sometimes you've got to break the rules and look around for guidance. Sometimes multiple sets of heavy reps isn't the best approach.

Indeed, if there were ever a muscle group that thrives on high-rep training with lighter loads, it's the deltoids. You only need to look at the shoulders of professional boxers for proof.

The quadriceps can be tricky for a different reason: it's extremely draining to perform 30 total reps of a heavy multi-joint quadriceps exercise three times per week. Elite Olympic lifters might have the best quadriceps development of any power athlete but we all know how impractical and time-consuming it would be to work up to their frequency and volume while keeping your joints in tact.

So we need to keep looking around. Which other athletes have quadriceps development with proportions that even Tom Platz can envy? Professional cyclists.

When you think about professional boxers or cyclists, it's easy to hypothesize that any muscle group can grow if you stimulate it with enough volume and frequency. While that might be true sometimes, it doesn't appear accurate in all cases.

Take the biceps, for example. If the amount of volume from boxing or cycling could carryover to head-turning biceps proportions, elite rowers would have the best biceps on the planet. But they don't.

Gymnasts who perform the rings events hold the TITLE of best pound-for-pound biceps on earth. That's because the biceps need high-tension exercises for growth, unlike the deltoids or quadriceps which are made up of a higher proportion of fast fatigue resistant (FFR) motor units. Those FFR motor units love high-rep training like a fat kid loves cake.

If you need to add more muscle to your deltoids and quadriceps so you can finally hit the beach without ridicule, here's your solution.


5 Minutes of Hell

The two exercises I use to build the quadriceps or deltoids when traditional training doesn't work are the hill climb and boxer drill. Both of these exercises induce a lot of fatigue so perform them at the end of your workouts or on a day when you're not lifting heavy.

As an added bonus, the following two exercises will help you burn more fat!

Hill Climb

Adjust the seat on an exercise bike so your knee joint can only extend to 160 degrees as you pedal. Basically, just make sure your knees can't completely straighten during each revolution to keep tension on your quads. Next, crank up the resistance so you can't perform more than 60 revolutions per minute (RPM) when you're pedaling with maximum intensity.

Continue pedaling with the most effort possible for five minutes. As you fatigue you'll need to decrease the resistance on the exercise bike. The ideal range to stay within is 45-60 RPM. Don't let it drop below 45 or exceed 60 RPM throughout the five-minute climb from Hell.

Perform the hill climb exercise every other day or three times per week until you've added enough muscle to make the effort worthwhile.

Here are a few tips for the hill climb exercise.

  • Stay seated throughout the exercise! If you stand up and pedal it takes stress off your quadriceps (since your body weight can push the pedals down).
  • Don't grip the armrests or handles because it will accumulate unnecessary fatigue. Keep your hands relaxed. It's best to have your arms hanging down at your sides or interlock your fingers and place your hands behind your head.
  • Keep your chest held high throughout the exercise. It's easy to slouch while you're grimacing in pain but this can lead to disc problems.
  • If your cardiovascular system isn't accustomed to high intensity training, start with three minutes and add 30 seconds every other day until you reach five minutes.

Boxer Drill

The boxer drill is very straightforward and tough to screw up as long as you put out five minutes of continuous effort. Just grab a pair of 5-pound dumbbells and do your best to mimic Arturo Gatti against the ropes. Throw straight punches, hooks, and upper cuts for five minutes without resting.

Perform the boxer drill every other day or three times per week for as long as you desire.

Here are a few tips for the boxer drill:

  • Keep your hands up throughout the entire drill. You should never drop your hands in a fight and you should never drop your hands in this drill either, since it will take stress off the deltoids.
  • Move around as much as possible while you're throwing punches and switch your stance from right to southpaw every 30 seconds to keep your T-spine mobility in balance.
  • If 5-pound dumbbells are too heavy, start with three pounds.
  • To get the most out of this drill you should be able to throw decent punches. So if you're completely at a loss for how to throw a hook or uppercut, ask a qualified person for technique tips.
  • If your cardiovascular system isn't accustomed to high intensity training, start with three minutes and add 30 seconds every other day until you reach five minutes.

Final Words

One of the best ways to build up a lagging muscle group is with the 30-Rep Method. It can work for any muscle group. However, if you want to mix things up, or if a traditional approach hasn't worked for your quadriceps or deltoids, now you have a couple of solutions that will also help you burn more fat!