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SCAM OR NOT? THE X3 SYSTEM

Articles Miscellaneous / 13 February, 2018 /

By Christian Thibaudeau

It seems like a new training gadget or supplement promising gains beyond your wildest dream pops out every month or so, utilizing all the possible marketing ploys to seduce and convince you of the superiority of their product. If you believe that it is important to unveil scams and dishonest marketing strategies, please share this article!

It ranges from downright stupid (Shakeweight anybody?) to actually pretty effective when used properly (Compex EMS unit for example).

But some are harder to evaluate and do present what seems like valid science to back their claims. This makes it hard for the potential customer to know if he is being scammed or not. One such device, that has been surfacing on social medias, is the X3 System. It’s essentially a bar to which you attach various bands to add resistance. It also includes a platform to which you can attach the bands, allowing you to do a lot of different exercises. They claim that this system will give you three times as much muscle gain than traditional weight training, in only 10 minutes per day.

Is it worth it? Are the claims supported by science or are they based on improper appropriation of studies? Let’s find out!

WHAT IS THE X3 SYSTEM?

The X3 is a very simple concept. It includes three elements: a set of resistance bands (like the Westside guys and tons of strength coaches have been using for over 15 years, so nothing new here), a bar to which you can attach the bands and a small platform that you can use to step on the bands, allowing you to do standing exercises with a downward resistance (deadlift, squat, curl, overhead press, etc.).

On the surface it looks great. It was developed by a Ph.D. who himself has a good physique. The inventor was featured on some TV shows and on good podcasts. They have an active facebook community and present a lot of science on their web page.

But is that just smokes and mirrors?

By the way It sells for $499.

THE CLAIMS

On the website they claim that this system will give you three times as much muscle growth as regular weight training.

It claims that over 140 strength records where beaten using the X3 technology.

It also uses the transformation of the developer of the equipment to illustrate the power of the product.

Are these claims real?

Yes and no.

They do include studies to “back up” their claims. This looks very impressive to the person who doesn’t actually do the effort of reading the studies or someone who doesn’t know how to analyze them.

For example the study they used to claim that X3 gives three times more muscle growth  than regular training did not look at muscle growth! Not only that, they didn’t use the X3 system or another band-only tool: they used bands added to a barbell loaded with weights compared to a loaded barbell without added bands.

If you’ve been passionate about training for some time, especially from the performance side of things, you are well aware of the use of bands alongside weight, and probably used or use it yourself. It’s nothing new and has been used by Westside barbell for around 15 years and has been really popular in the strength community for almost as long. I’ve been using bands myself for 13 years.

Anyway, the point is that they are using a study that didn’t look at muscle growth (they looked at power production and strength gains) to claim superior muscle growth and they used a barbell + bands method to claim the superiority of band-only training. Right off the bat it totally discredit that claim to me. As we will see there is a huge difference between band-only and band + weight.

Another important thing is that they used competitive college athletes for the study. So people with at least 3-5 years of performance training under their belt.

This is actually great in most cases because beginners will respond much more to any training protocols making it hard to make applicable conclusions for more advanced individuals.

But in our case it raises a question. The athletes likely had been doing regular barbell lifting (including squats and bench which are the test lifts in the study) for years. When you do the same type of training for a long time, adaptation to that same type of stimulus become slower. In other words if you’ve been doing squats and bench press with only weights, your body is well adapted to that type of training and gains are slower.

When you introduce a completely new form of stimulus you are bound to have rapid progression for 4-6 weeks, maybe more. So this begs the question: did the athletes in the study progress faster with bands + bar/weight (not bands-only like the X3, it’s worth repeating) because it was a brand new stimulus for them?

Even if it did, that doesn’t discredit the method. But I know from experience that when I started using bands I got a spike in strength and power initially but once I got used to it, it slowed down a bit.

That having been said I DO believe in the effectiveness of bands + weight. It allows you to overload the whole range of motion (which bands-only cannot do, we will see that later). But using bands + weight to “prove” the superiority of “bands-only” is ludicrous.

And do I need to remind you that they used a study talking about strength and power gains to claim superior muscle growth. Which is not the same thing at all. Neural adaptations can give a lot of strength and power gains without adding any muscle. So right off the bat I tend not to trust the company that sells X3 because it is obvious that they are making false claims.

Then they claim that their technology (band-only resistance) produced more than 140 strength (read powerlifting) records.

From their website:

X3 is the research proven key to extremely rapid physique transformations.  X3 is the result of little known clinical research performed at Cornell University, and empowers you with the secret training methodology that has broken more than 140 strength world records in the past few years”

Impressive isn’t it… especially for a tool that has been around for less than a year!

Oh but wait… here is a quote from the Westside Barbell Club page:

The lineage and achievements of all Westside Barbell athletes who have walked through our chalky doors is of legends. Our gym has broke over 140 world records, won olympic gold, heavyweight world championships, to name but a few of our achievements.”

Wow! If the X3 technology led to 140 powerlifting world records and Westside also got 140 powerlifting world records, then there is not many records left for everybody else.. right?

Or wouldn’t it be more believable that X3 used Westside world records to claim the superiority of their product?

Here’s the thing though. You sell a product (X3) claiming that it produce three times as many gains as barbell work. To prove your point you quote a study that doesn’t use band-only and then you use the accomplishment of a group of powerlifters that indeed uses a combination of barbell/weight and bands, but also a lot of barbell, dumbbell and machine work too

They aren’t using your technology (they use bands + weight not bands-only) and only use added bands as one element of a more complex program and you claim that the technology behind band-only is what led to world records? Amazing! Even the shakeweight would not dare make such claims.

In the literal sense it’s not a lie. If you claim that the “technology” is the resistance bands, then yeah, Westside Barbell lifters did set 140 world records using that same technology since they use bands in training. But that is like selling a barbell and saying that “our technology is behind every single powerlifting and olympic lifting record ever established”. It wouldn’t be a lie, but it certainly is intellectually dishonest.

Yes Westside uses bands. But they don’t use “band-only” work (except for injury prevention and extra work). They use bands added to heavy barbells. So the approach sold by the X3 guys (band-only) is not responsible for Westside’s world records.

They then post a transformation series of one person (the developer of the product) to show how great the X3 is. And I will say that the results are impressive.

However the fact that they were so crooked with the misrepresentations of the study they quoted and used Westside’s accomplishments to sell their product begs the question: are they being honest with this transformation?

  1. Did the subject only do X3 training (no weight lifting at all) for one year like he claims?
  2. Did the subject regain lost muscle rather than gain new muscle? Maybe he was a muscular person who stopped training for a while then got back in shape. Heck, maybe he let himself go on purpose to make the transformation picture look more impressive.
  3. Did the subject used performance-enhancing drugs? I’m not saying that he did. I’ve been accused of that myself several times and it sucks. But the fact that they were so dishonest with the other stuff on their website legitimize this question.

I don’t believe in a n=1 transformation example (only giving one example) anyway, you need to validate it across the board. It is especially doubtful when you have no idea what the subject actually did and when you consider the rest of the ‘info” on the site.

If we simply look at the marketing strategy I would say that the product is a scam. A company that uses misrepresentation (and possibly lies) to show how good a product is, is normally the modus operanti of scams.

But I will admit that the product will work to some extent. Any type of added resistance can potentially work. The question is: will it really be more effective than weight training?

WHAT TRIGGERS MUSCLE GROWTH

X3 is just another source of resistance. It cannot in anyway shape or form be three times more effective than regular training. Training tools do not create gains. Programming and training intensity do.

Tools can potentiate some methods and enhance your gains when properly used, but they cannot change how the body adapts to training.

Bands are good, no question. The success story of Westside lifters and all of those they influenced are a testament to that. But we are taking about an “add on” to barbell weight, as I explained earlier.

That having been said, I would personally consider that X3 might have some benefits for someone like me who travels 30+ weeks per year and who can’t always find a decent gym.

If it can indeed provide as much resistance as is claimed, it could be a decent tool if I have to train in a hotel room or gym that only has a treadmill, a bench and dumbbells up to 25lbs. But it could never replace a training program with an emphasis on the big basics. As an assistance tool maybe, but it will not  stimulate more growth than regular lifting.

Let’s examine what can trigger growth.

  1. Progressive overload: Muscles can grow in size and get stronger if you are imposing a load that they are not used to handling; and the corollary is that if you try to increase the load (weight) lifted over time, you will continue to get stronger and gain muscle (especially if you are lifting more weight for 5 reps or more per set).
  2. mTor activation: When you activate mTor you trigger protein synthesis/muscle growth. While every type of muscle action performed under load will activate mTor to some extent, the two types of action that have the greatest impact are emphasizing the eccentric and having a load in the stretch position.
  3. Growth factor accumulation: Growth factors (igf-1 splice variant mgf) are released when training, mostly when two things occur: accumulation of lactate inside the muscle and oxygen deprivation in that muscle.
  4. Muscle fiber fatigue: According to the fatigue theory of hypertrophy stimulation the more you fatigue a high number of muscle fibers, the more growth you will trigger. And the more you fatigue a certain fiber the more that fiber will grow. To quote Zatsiorsky: “A muscle fiber that has been recruited but not fatigued, is not being trained”.

Let’s look at X3 in relation to the 4 ways of stimulating growth shall we?

If it claims three times more results then we should expect that it impacts at least a few of the factors mentioned above to a much greater extent than regular lifting work.

Progressive overload: There is no question that as long as the band(s) can provide enough resistance to constitute an overload and that you can increase the resistance then you can progressively overload the muscles. So you can indeed provide progressive overload with this tool.

But is it greater than barbell work? No, a greater overload would mean that your muscles can, for some reason, provide more force with the bands vs. with free-weights. That is impossible since how much force your muscles can produce is due to the muscles themselves and the CNS, not the tool.

The bands might allow you to overload the top portion more than a barbell but on the other hand it will underloads the bottom half, so the total amount of mechanical loading will not be greater. So it simply cannot be “three times more effective”. Furthermore it is my belief that overloading the portion of the range of motion when the muscles are stretched is a stronger hypertrophy stimulus, and with the bands that portion of the ROM will in fact be underloaded.

Another important element of progressive overload is the possibility to make small increases in loading, that is possible with free weight on which you can go up in 5lbs increments, or even smaller jumps if you use micro-plates. With bands it is very hard to make small, and measurable increase in resistance (especially with the type of bands provided). So it might make it hard to apply the progressive overload method, especially past the beginner stage.

mTor activation: Once again all forms of resistance training will activate mTor. The two types having the greatest impact are accentuating the eccentric and loading the stretched position. The X3 might help you overload the eccentric more than regular lifting because it provides a “downward acceleration” that you are trying to fight. but it underloads the stretched posiiton.

Because of that the mTor activation is likely no higher than with regular training, and it is likely lower.

Growth factor accumulation: Here the key is mostly how you do your reps. To create the conditions that will lead to growth factor accumulation constant tension works best. This means never releasing tension at any point in the range of motion. So it’s more about voluntarily contracting the muscles as hard as you can than the tool used. Lifting against bands will help you maintain tension at the end of the range of motion because the resistance is increased but it will make it harder to maintain tension in the bottom because a lot less resistance is provided.

On the other hand with free weights it is often harder to maintain tension in the end of the range of motion (that’s why bodybuilders who focus on constant tension cut the last portion of the range of motion by a few inches) but  it’s easier to maintain tension in the bottom position and load the stretched portion. So once again, best case scenario the bands are just as effective as free-weights; but certainly not more effective.

Muscle fiber fatigue: Muscle fiber fatigue is not dependent on the tool used. You can hit failure with any training tool. And if anything, the band tool will limit your capacity to do drop sets, which can be an effective method when using the fatigue approach.

All and all there is no way that the tool you mentioned could be more effective than regular resistance work. But provided that it can give you enough resistance it can work and be useful when you don’t have access to a good gym.

I believe that bands-only training can help you build muscle. I’ve used it for exercises like triceps pressdowns, legs curls and pull-through for example. But it certainly is not more effective than regular weight training, let alone three times more effective.

SOME PROBLEMS WITH THE X3

Full disclosure: I did not try the X3 system. Honestly with what I saw on the website (false claims) I really cannot justify spending 500$ for something that is probably worth 100$. And I don’t like to give money to people who show intellectual dishonesty. I am thus basing my evaluation on my experience with band-only training as well as on the videos of the X3 in use.

The main issues that I have with it are:

  1. It’s hard to quantify the actual resistance and thus measure progress (useful to stay motivated and to use progressive overload). Also if the only way to add or remove resistance is to put more or less bands on, then it will be impossible to make small adjustments in weights, making it much harder to progress over the long run, bands do not provide only 5lbs of resistance. Even the smaller one will add 20-25lbs or so.
  2. Visually, band-only training makes it less of a challenge than a barbell. I’ve used bands a lot when traveling and it’s simply not as mentally stimulating or rewarding as deadlifting a big weight off of the floor, or benching/squatting heavy weights.
  3. It will undertrain the bottom part of the range of motion. This is especially true since bands exponentially increase resistance when stretched. This means that there will be a big difference in load between the bottom and top of the movement. When bands are added to a loaded barbell bands are great because with most barbell lifts, the top position is much stronger than the bottom. Adding bands allow you to increase resistance mostly at the top, making the exercise overloaded throughout the whole range of motion. But when bands are used alone at least half of the movement becomes underloaded (bottom half).
  4. Specifically about the X3, the bar is way too short. If you look at the picture I posted, the individual using it couldn’t even hold the bar with a shoulder-width grip. That will make it awkward for some lifts like the overhead press and squats, especially with people with shoulder issues.
  5. Same thing with the platform: if you are a bigger or taller guy would will not be able to use a proper stance when doing squats or deadlifts, especially if you lack hip and ankle mobility.
  6. The platform is essentially only a metal plate that you put over the band to step evenly on the bar. It doesn’t even have hook to attach bands on like actual band deadlift platforms.This can be done with a wooden plank that will cost you a few bucks. You can also use a regular bar (heck I’ve even used a broomstick when traveling) and it works fine, it is unlikely to slide. A good set of bands will cost you what? $100-125. I just don’t see the justification to spend $500 on something that can cost you four times less.

WHAT IS THE TARGET AUDIENCE?

I think that it’s fairly obvious that the X3 system targets beginners or people who are not passionate about training. And it shows in the marketing. People who are beginners or not passionate will not bother to look at the studies and try to understand if they are relevant or not; nor will they be aware that the 140 world record claimed are due to the whole conjugate system which includes heavy barbell lifting as well as machine work on top of using bands and chains to accommodate resistance. By the same token beginners who don’t know much about training will be thoroughly impressed by the developer’s progress even though a n=1 doesn’t mean anything and that we don’t know if the guy is being honest (after all he wants to sell his overpriced products).

Furthermore the beginner is often intimidated both by going to the gym and lifting “big” barbells. Deep down inside they want to believe that a non-threatening resistance band tool can give them even better results. As such they will be an easy sell. And within a month the X3 will collect dust besides the abs roller, P90X video and shake weight. But the company will have collected the 500$.

And of course claiming that you can get greater gains in 10 minutes is a great way to sell your products to people who don’t like to train or those who believe that they don’t have time to train (yet are watching Netflix 2-3 hours a day).

THE VERDICT

Is the X3 system a scam? Yes and no.

It’s not a scam considering that if you train hard enough on it you can build strength and muscle… just like with any type of resistance training. It can also have value for people travelling who don’t have access to a gym. But you can do the same thing at a fraction of the cost.

But it is “scammish” in that it makes false claims by using studies that are not related to the product and by being intellectually dishonest when they claim that their methodology led to 140 word records.

To recap:

  1. They make claims of three times more muscle growth while the study they use to back up that claim did not look at muscle growth.
  2. They claim that band-only training is three times more effective than regular training, quoting a study that used a combination of barbell/weight + bands. Note that the bands underload the bottom position while the barbell underloads the top position; combining both allows you to overload the whole range. But bands-only is not the same thing at all since it underloads half the range of motion. You could argue that the barbell underloads the top and that is true. But the difference in loading from top to bottom is much lower with a barbell than with bands. With bands you have a very high difference in loading due to the fact that bands exponentially increase resistance when stretched.
  3. They claim that their methodology led to 140 strength records. They are referring (without mentioning it) to Westside Barbell. And if it is true that they use variable resistance training as part of their system, they use bands in addition to barbell weight. The only band-only work they do is for super high reps on triceps pressdown, band leg curls and band pull through and that is mostly for injury prevention. The Westside system includes a lot of heavy free weight work, and machine exercises on top of chains and bands. So claiming that the X3 methodology led to 140 world record is incorrect.
  4. The “before-after” they use to show how effective their product is, is from a guy involved with the company and who makes money from X3. While I will not accuse someone of lying; considering the dishonest marketing strategies mentioned above is it such a stretch to believe that there is some manipulation there too?

The fact that they grossly overcharge for their product compared to what it’s really worth is also abusive even though it’s not technically a scam.

I want to make it clear: the product will work in that it can be used effectively to stimulate muscle growth and strength gains. I’m not disputing that. The problem I see is trying to make the product sound better than it really is by using research that is not about the tool and appropriating accomplishments that also were not done with the tool or its technology.

I actually like the concept for people who do not have access to a gym. I would even buy it myself if it were not overpriced. But claiming that it is more effective than other forms of training is simply not true.

So my recommendation would be to avoid the X3 system. At that price and for what it really can do, it’s not worth it.

— CT

Christian Thibaudeau

Written by Christian Thibaudeau

Christian Thibaudeau has been involved in the business of training for over the last 16 years. During this period, he worked with athletes from 28 different sports. He has been “Head Strength Coach” for the Central Institute for Human Performance (of…