Increasing Muscular Density and Muscle Tone

For years I had a nice body…when at the gym. After loading my body up with NO boosters, creatine, and beta alanine, I was a beast.

Outside of the gym, once the pump went away, my body really wasn’t where it needed to be. (That changed once I went from fit to big.)

I lacked muscular density.

Muscular density refers to the hardness your muscles have when at rest. Muscular density is also referred to as muscle tone:

In physiology, medicine, and anatomy, muscle tone (residual muscle tension or tonus) is the continuous and passive partial contraction of the muscles, or the muscle’s resistance to passive stretch during resting state.

Everyone can have big muscles when the blood is pumped up with blood, nitric oxide, BCAAs, and creatine.

But unless you’re doing push-ups at the club, a body lacking muscular density isn’t going to do you much good. I needed to find a way to always look big and to have a body that women want.

There are two great ways to increase your muscular density.

You need to start doing static holds and 1 and 1/3 reps so that you can get a thick, dense look.

Static holds. When I first started training static holds, I changed my body over the summer. Although I didn’t gain any weight, I looked bigger. I immediately had my friend start doing static holds. His body changed in a couple of my months and he looked bigger at 168 pounds than most guys look at 200. (Most people assume I weigh 20 pounds more than I actually do.)

Here’s how to do static holds: During your last work set of a major muscle group (chins, bench, dips, etc.), hold the weight at the top of the movement. Fight the movement for 30-60 seconds. When training friends I actually countdown aloud 30, 29, 28…

Imagine you are doing a pull-up. At the top of the movement, hold it. Gravity is going to keep pulling on your body. Fight gravity for as long as possible.

Your muscles will continue contracting while you are holding yourself on the chin-up bar.

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 12.18.09 PM

At the top of the squat or deadlift , don’t just rack the bar when your set is complete. Slightly bend the knees and support the weight.

The takeaway is to get your muscle fibers contracting while sustaining a load, not just when moving a load through a range of motion. Today I did a hellacious static hold/ab workout.

Raise yourself to the top position of a chin-up. Do leg lifts while holding your chin over the bar. Brutal.

Unconscious nerve impulses maintain the muscles in a partially contracted state. If a sudden pull or stretch occurs, the body responds by automatically increasing the muscle’s tension, a reflex which helps guard against danger as well as helping to maintain balance. Such near-continuous innervation can be thought of as a “default” or “steady state” condition for muscles. There is, for the most part, no actual “rest state” insofar as activation is concerned.

1-and-1/3 reps.

Most reps are “down-up.” You lower the weight in the bench press. You press the weight. One rep. Down-up.

  • Bench press/pushing movements: To do a 1-and-1/3 rep, you will lower the weight in the bench press all the way to your chest. You will press the barbell 1/3 of the way up. Then you’ll lower it again. Then you will do one full range of motion repetition.

Each rep is thus more than one rep. It’s one-and-one-thirds of a rep. Do 5-7 of these reps.

  • Rows/pulling movements: The 1-and-1/3 rep works best for back. Do a cable row. At the top of the movement (your have the weight pulled back at your body), let the weight go 1/3 of the way back. Pull the weight back towards. Then let the weight go all the way down. Then pull the bar back towards your body.

Doing one-and-one-third reps will ensure that your back remains contracted throughout the entire movement.

I know guys who never got a pump in their rear lats whose back growth exploded after adding 1-and-1/3 reps.

Although this method works best for the back, you can do 1-and-1/3 reps for other exercises.

You can also vary where you add the 1/3 rep. Maybe you are stronger at the bottom of the bench press and weaker at the top of the movement. In that case, do not lower the weight all the way to your chest.

Instead you should lower the weight 1/3 of the way towards your chest. Then press the weight up. Then do your full repetition.

How to add static holds and 1-and-1/3 reps into your training.

Static holds can be hell on your joints, so use them with caution. Start off with 10 second holds and work your way up.

You don’t need to do static holds for every movement. Just pick one major movement for your large body parts. I do static holds for t-bar rows, pull-ups, and the hammer strength chest machine.

I don’t advise using static holds for free weight movements like the bench press or shoulder press. Your neural system may give out, causing you to dump the weight. Ask yourself, “If I dumped the weight, would it fall on my head?” If so, don’t do a static hold.

Avoid using static holds for smaller muscle groups, as they will wreck your biceps tendon.

1-and-1/3 reps are much easier on your joints. I even use a form of 1-and-1/3 reps for my biceps.

21s (biceps curls)

Start at the top of the movement and lower the bar 1/3 of the way. Do 7 reps.
Start at the bottom of the movement and raise the bar 1/3 of the way. Do 7 reps.
Do 7 full reps.

Start incorporating static holds and 1-and-1/3 reps and within eight weeks you will notice a major improvement in how your body looks while at rest.

Now read our Fat Gripz review.

  • ASF

    I’m guessing this is best for people who have already worked out for a while, not newbies, or am I wrong?

    • dangerandplay


  • atavisticman

    It’s also for people who have a certain level of leanness (i.e. body fat below a certain percentage). I don’t care how much muscle you have. If you are fat, the muscle won’t be that noticeable.

    • Jared

      I disagree with this. Building a better steady-state of your muscles will increase the amount of fuel you burn at rest, so being someone with a greater fat percentage will get benefits out of this too. In fact, I’d say it is something great to add for those people so they get that little extra fat burning throughout the day.

    • dangerandplay

      Never seen a powerlifter? There are plenty of guys with 25%+ bodyfat who are jacked. They just have big guts.

      • atavisticman

        I’ve seen a few. The ones I think you’re talking about are big and strong. I wouldn’t describe them as toned or jacked. Might just be a difference in terminology.

  • Nick

    Abs respond especially well to static holds, because they are primarily a stabilizer.

    A good exercise to do static holds on is the close grip pull-up (palms facing in towards you). This will contract your biceps and your back muscles simultaneously, giving you a good burn on both. Barbell Rows work well for static, too.

    I would disagree with trying a static hold on deadlift though, just because at the top of a deadlift your knees, hips, and shoulders are all locked, and a static hold would be very taxing on your joints.

    Also, you say that they can be performed on squats. Would this be better towards the bottom of a squat, so you would just squat down on the last rep and hold before coming up? Or would it be done like half way up or completely standing? I’m trying to envision the best part of a squat to hold…

    I’ve never tried 1 1/3 reps. May give that a shot today at the gym. I like the direction your blog is taking. Fitness/Health/Lifestyle game is incredibly useful.

    • Nick

      Ahh… just read through it again. Slightly bend the knees at the top. I gotcha. I’ll give this a shot too.

  • A Axe

    There is no such thing as ‘muscle’ density. There are two kinds of hypertrophy, and likely you just had your myofibrillar catch up.


    • dangerandplay

      Oh god, not that pointless debate. Arguing over terminology like that gets you nowhere – and it certainly doesn’t give you a denser physique. Debate/correct people less, lift more.

      • A Axe

        Well, it’s akin to people saying they want to ‘tone’ when all they need to do is lose fat.

        And yeah I lift. A lot.

        • dangerandplay

          No, it’s a difference of opinion. I have my copy of Supertraining, too, and was on Mel Siff’s listserve over a decade ago. It’s a pointless debate that has gone nowhere and no side has “won.” You could start that same debate today on a message board with sophisticated lifters. They would still be a difference of opinion.

  • Cesare

    Much appreciated, thanks. I try and do a kettle bell routine every couple of weeks, especially tossing them around…carefully. For pull ups I’ll just get negatives with a weight vest once a month or so. I used to set an absurd total number for a specific workout, even if it came down to doing 1’s and 2’s at the end. I use static holds mainly with a Plank position and handspring, one of the individual button jobs and keep it flexed for fixed periods of 4 sets every day. That has made a definite difference in the appearance of my arms.

  • finndistan

    I find it works well with the push up, at halfway, when the chest is around 10-15 cm above ground. I find that the fist pushup is easier on the shoulders for this exercise.

    What do you think about slow lifting, 2-2 or 3-3 seconds?

  • Basil Ransom

    What you’re describing is *less* density. More dense means more weight in a smaller package. You’re talking about looking bigger, which presumably means that your muscles have greater volume, while weighing less. That’s less dense. Unless you mean something entirely different…

    Not that that’s a bad thing. If you can weigh less while looking big, power to you – less stress on your joints, lower caloric needs, etc.

  • Peter Phoenix

    Any recommendations on lifting programs? Starting strength, stronglifts, visual impact, adonis index?

  • primallykosher

    This sounds sort of like the body by science/ slow burn approach of training. That used the machines and incredibly slow reps at 30-90 seconds to increase contraction time. Supposedly doing that once a week was all you need. But I like to work out more than that. I’d be nervous to do longer than 10 seconds holds with a barbell deadlift or squat since I’m still pretty new with them.

  • thor jackson

    Great advice danger….I do these with push ups…you basically take one to two minutes on the way down…and explode up once your chest touches the floor….me and my boy try to see who can do the longer pushup….two minutes is the record.

  • nfpsheppard

    So, this means that overhead squats are best as you’re constantly bearing weight throughout an entire set?

    • A Axe


  • t

    Just stumbled across this post, this is something i really need to incorporate into my workout. my muscles always are ‘loose’ and without tensing my muscles just look like fat

  • disqus_ZGBPs4apkU

    This only happens to me on the bench and dumbbell press’, but sometimes when I am lifting heavy I’ll be doing great and all of a sudden with zero notice I just smash into a wall halfway through a late set and my muscles completely give out. Is that my neural system shutting down?

    I’m just curious, I’ve always wondered what it was but maybe that explains it..

    • Danger & Play Blog

      Yes, use lighter weights and do an HIT style set.

  • Strength By Sonny

    Hey Mike:
    What do you think about heat?… such as training in layers.
    When I first started out that was the advice I got from the old timers at my first gym… Since I started in 2006 I’ve always trained in layers to build that density (genetics played a big part too).
    I’ve always operated with the belief that heat and high volume (supersets) will give the muscle that dense look… Any thoughts on this
    Do you train in layers/tried it out?

    • Danger & Play Blog

      You’ll notice that in most of my picture that get posed here, I am wearing a Henley and pants. It’s not because I’m ashamed to wear a tank top or have chicken legs.

      It’s because heat keeps blood circulating to the muscle (heat doesn’t escape when you’re wearing a longer shirt) and it’s also good for the joints.

      Jay wears gym pants and a Henley, too, when he trains.

      • Strength By Sonny

        Agreed… I train in long sleeve thermals year round. Gonna be interesting in this Texas heat haha

      • cascadecombo

        Would you say this also applies when training in martial arts as well? say grappling/wreslting.

  • DukeNuke

    Before even reading this post I began doin these static holds as a way to keep myself strong while I rehab my shoulder. Low and behold I put on more muscle doing this than I have with traditional dynamic volume training with countless sets. Reading this confirms what was going on!

  • C1263

    How advanced would you recommend someone be to start these? Advanced as in, after 1-3 years of traditional lifting? Or just not a total newbie.

  • Josh399

    So do u recommend the 1 1/3 style or hit training?

  • heraclesp

    I am gonna try this the first thing from today! Thank you so much for this tip!

  • Ironthumb

    statics on each thrid of the move is called “Omni Contractions” (popularized by Mentzer himself)

    Its indeed very VERY effective!

    To make it even more interesting have someone push it down while you resist it – that is now called “Omni Contractions” plus Inflitonics.

    I wrote a guide on how to use them Mike, hope that helps :)

    Anyways, great article!!