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From the 3 x 10 to 6 x 10 for Muscle Mass

by Mark Cammack, MS    December 16, 2020

The questions and comments from around the world are appreciated.
Ivan from Saransk, Russia writes:

Hi, I read your article on 6x10. It is very interesting and a good program to study. Please tell me if such a program is right for me? I really want to gain muscle mass. My weight is now 58kg and my height is 170cm.

Thank you Ivan for your question. You mention weighing 58 kg or 128 lb. I was in the 50 kg or 110 lb range initially. The desire to build-up is understandable. This article is for those who need to gain muscle mass while starting from a lighter body weight. Consider it an informational guide to be read and then referred to during the journey.

It is important to acquire muscle and ability in a healthy way. The body weight in itself is not what counts, but rather the composition and functioning of the body's physiology - including the muscle to fat ratio. It is good that you have one clear goal to work toward. We can use adaptive planning - the program adapts to you and your needs.

I would not recommend the 6 x 10 Routine for beginners. It is an advanced method. I will explain how to start now and then arrive at the 6 x 10 later. We will consider the 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps routine first, hereafter referred to as the 3 x 10, with one exercise per body part. This lets us accomplish a few things:

1. We can see how each person's individual body responds to exercise.

2. Soreness is minimal. We do not want sore muscles. Tissue needs to be built, not damaged. Antioxidants such as Vitamins C & E can help with muscle aches, especially if taken prior to exercise.

3. Energy is wisely used. We only want to do enough training to stimulate growth and build a foundation. More exercise is not better as it can slow down results. Activities other than weight training such as aerobics, running, cycling, and too much sport in general, are on the do not overdo list.

4. We can make the contractile proteins actin and myosin. That helps with becoming stronger and with building muscle. Capillary development is promoted. This is needed for nutrition to get to, and waste products to be taken away from, the muscle fibers.

5. The brain and body can focus on building healthy tissue. This means we need to eat quality food. Stay away from sugary or highly processed junk foods, alcohol, and smoking. Fresh raw vegetables and salads, good meats, whole eggs, and milk are the standard. Whole grains and fruits in moderation are acceptable but not fruit juice which has sugar but no fiber.

Everyone has to have a beginning. Focusing on technique and feel rather than the amount of weight lifted is smart. We can use the 3 x 10 for several weeks to months. In the future when it is needed, we can gradually add sets and weight progressing to the 4 x 10, 5 x 10, and ultimately 6 x 10. The 4 x 10 or 5 x 10 may be enough for a period of time, and some persons might find that it is all they need. Working up to the 6 x 10 could take many months to over a year depending upon the individual's rate of adaptation. That in turn can rely on how many goal supporting factors are in the environment.

An example starting routine follows. For the chest, back, and thighs, we are focusing on compound activities that build size. A few exercises performed well are ideal. Let's choose six basic movements that work:

Chest: Medium to wide grip dips. If the dips are challenging at first, use two sturdy chairs with backrests or top rails that are waist high. Put a folded towel over the top of each chair, grasp it in the center, and do dips with your legs supporting you. When you are strong enough to perform full dips, curl and hold your legs behind you and let all of the upper body do the dip work.

Upper Back: Seated cable machine rows or parallel grip dumbbell high bench rows. I would not suggest the regular barbell bent over row movement. It can be effective but is notorious for causing lower back injuries.

I will describe the high bench row which is superb: The cushioned bench is parallel or slightly angled by a few degrees. A dumbbell is placed on the floor on each side of the bench. The chest is on the pad. This places all the work on the upper back and arms. Use a parallel grip when picking up the dumbbells. Pull the weights up in line with the shoulders, let them back down in a controlled manner without touching the floor, and repeat to do reps.

When traveling, I use special long, solid steel, plate loaded dumbbell handles I made. A tough hard shell suitcase is placed tall side up with a folded towel and pillow on top. There are many possibilities for a stout high bench. Whatever you do, make sure what you are using is stable and safe.

Thighs: Upright squats in good form no lower than parallel, or the 45 degree or vertical leg press. Stay away from forward leaning squats that can strain the lower back or widen the hips.

Shoulders: Bent arm dumbbell laterals for the deltoids are easy to perform and get results. A tip for good technique is to imagine holding a water pitcher in each hand while pouring out the water.

Abs: Frog crunch. Do not add weight to abdominal work, do full sit-ups, or do high reps.

Calves: Standing calf machine or seated calf machine. If no machine is available, begin with body weight two-leg standing calf raises and gradually work up to one-leg calf raises. The reps on this exercise can be increased from 12 to 15 depending on your results.

These exercises may be tested with the following workout patterns based on your needs:

1. The whole body workout on three alternate days per week is common initially (Monday-Wednesday-Friday). Normally this is changed to a split routine as a person becomes stronger, uses additional energy, and needs more recovery time.

2. The upper and lower body split routine allows for one rest day in between workouts. It goes like this: Upper body, Rest day, Lower body, Rest day, Repeat.

3. The three days on, one day off split routine has upper body workouts that are relatively abbreviated. This is the pattern: Day 1: Chest-Shoulders-Triceps, Day 2: Legs-Lower Back-Abs, Day 3: Back-Biceps-Forearms, Day 4: Rest. Repeat.

After a month or two add from the following if required:

Lower back: Dumbbell good morning "V" exercise. For the first month train for technique with a pair of light to medium-light dumbbells. While standing, the dumbbells are held in the hands with arms in front of the body. The knees are slightly bent. Do not round or hunch the back. Lean forward but keep the upper body above parallel to the floor. The hands brush past the knees at the bottom of the movement. When coming up, do not stand fully upright. The range of motion is like the letter "V" turned to the right. You should concentrate on and feel the lower back (spinal erectors) comfortably working. If you feel the hips doing the work, check the technique.

Back of thigh (biceps femoris): Leg curls.

Biceps: Two-arm dumbbell curl or parallel grip dumbbell hammer curls. Avoid overworking the biceps brachii as this can prevent size.

Triceps: An exercise for the triceps may not be needed due to doing dips. If desired, the lat machine cable triceps extension is one of the easiest to begin with. If you do not have a lat machine, an exercise band can be substituted if you have a sturdy overhead place to hang it from.

Forearms: Two-arm wrist curl or grip machine. The reps can be increased from 12 to 15 if it improves results.

Those are plenty of exercises. Do a general brief warm-up when starting each workout, and a specific brief warm-up for each movement.

A practical way of increasing sets is over time. My suggestion is to stay with the 3 x 10 as long as you are benefiting from it. When it is needed, and only then, we add another set. This is the 4 x 10. Gradually we progress to the 5 x 10 and then the 6 x 10. When doing the 6 x 10, it is customary to warm-up with a 3 x 8 at 45% to 50% of the working weight. The 6 x 10 has 9 sets total counting the first warm-up sets.

Here is an example of starting with the 3 x 10 and progressing to the 6 x 10:

Beginning: 3 x 10. A general warm-up is used. The first working set should feel light, the second medium-light, and the third medium to medium-heavy but not heavy. These are about 50%, 60%, and 70 to 80% of 8 to 10 rep ability. For the first two weeks to a month it is fine to stay in the 50% to 60% range. After you get stronger over weeks to months, it can be possible to go up to 85% on the third set, but no more.

Intermediate: A general warm-up is done at the start of the workout. The exercise specific warm-up sets are a 2 x 8 or 3 x 8 at 45% to 50% of 10 rep ability. The 4 x 10 working sets are with the same weight at 70% to 85% of 10 rep ability. Start at 70% and gradually increase as needed. When this workout becomes easier, we can add one set which is the 5 x 10.

Advanced: Do a general warm-up. With each exercise do 3 x 8 specific warm-up sets at 50% of 10 rep ability. The 6 x 10 working sets are with the same weight at 70% to 90% of 10 rep ability. These are called Straight Sets or Same Sets because we use the same amount of weight for each set of the 6 x 10.

There is another form of the 6 x 10 using progressively heavier weights each set, which is beyond the scope of this article. The program given here should keep you busy and getting results for a long time.

There you have it - an outline of basic exercises for building muscle from the 3 x 10 beginner to 6 x 10 advanced levels. I hope it is helpful and wish you the best of training and positive results.

These are related articles:

The 3 x 8 Routine

The 6 x 10 Routine


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