Advanced Resistance Training Techniques
It is no surprise that the more you strength train the slower the growth will occur over time. It has happened to me and many other lifters I know. It is fairly common. But what if we can manipulate our body's to grow even after the majority of muscle and strength gains have stopped? This is the real challenge among strength athletes. Anyone can see massive improvements when they are first starting out but it is the determined few who go that extra mile and push themselves to a different level that further their results. In order to do so you need to start activating the neuromuscular system differently to see new forms of growth. These advanced techniques that I am about to show you will get you over that plateau and turn you into a stronger and more developed strength, muscle building and endurance athlete. Not to mention the fact that you will be able to push your body to take on different adaptations and learn new things about your training program as well. Without getting deep into human physiology, Muscle growth and strength slows down drastically because the nervous system is adapting to the stress that you have been placing on your body. Thus the newer the stimuli the more the body is going to have to adapt to the changes that are being done to it. Simply put, your body grows when new stresses are placed on it. Essentially we are trying to constantly keep the body guessing our training regimens and these techniques will keep it guessing. I have tried all these advanced techniques and had great success with each of them. I didn't include techniques that can potentially harm the body or put you and/or your partner in danger. Remember we want our bodies functioning for a very long time.
Drop Sets The way these bad boys work is that after you are done with one set of lifting you reduce the weight and perform another set with little to no rest. The idea behind this is that the muscle can still be pushed even after fatigue sets in. Basically you are exhausting the muscle by making it work to it's full potential. I found the greatest success when using this technique for isolation exercises and smaller muscle groups such as biceps and triceps. I find it harder to perform these with compound movements, multiple joints and muscle groups moving at the same time, such as the bench press because it is those smaller muscles that will fatigue faster than the larger muscles. Drop sets work the best for hypertrophy (muscle building) and endurance, but if you want to utilize it for strength you can drop the weight by 10% and get in one or two reps.
Quality Training This is my favorite advanced technique. The only thing that you are going to change here are the rest intervals between sets. For example, if you are taking 90 seconds rests in between sets decrease the rest time by 10 seconds and do this over a course of a week. Keep repeating this cycle until you get down to a certain rest time such as 30 seconds. The key here is to reduce time while maintaining performance. When you get down to the rest time you want increase the weight and/or volume and start the whole process over again. This method works great for all aspects in strength training.
Partial Reps The concept is as obvious as it sounds, you are only going to be performing lifts with partial range of motion. Because it takes more force to do full ROM exercises, partial reps allow you to increase the weight which can eventually improve full ROM strength. So don't be afraid to add some weight. You should focus the limited movement where maximal force is needed the most or at a sticking point. The point in which the greatest strength is needed to get the weight up. As a rule of thumb any pressing exercise will require most force at the end of the movement. Any pulling exercise requires most force during the beginning of the movement. Since I talked about the bench press before let's talk about it again. The maximal force needed during a bench is close to the lock out phase because it is a pushing exercise. So that area is where you would want to perform these partials. A row is pulling exercise so the partial should be performed in the beginning of the movement. This method usually works best after doing regular full ROM sets and should act only as a supplement to your workout. Don't forget to increase the weight or else you will be defeating the purpose. This method is primarily used to increase strength. It is possible to increase muscle size and endurance when you perform these right after you are tiring from full ROM lifting.
Variable Resistance Training VRT includes the use of altering the amount of weight throughout the full range of motion. There are machine that are designed for this type of training, but in our case the use of elastic bands and chains work just fine with free weights. Take the bench press for instance. If you load chains on a bench press the amount of weight will lessen as you descend the bar because the chains will be supported by the floor. But when you press the weight up you are gradually increasing weight because the chains are coming off the ground. Just to recap and make sure you understand the whole concept, when the bar is lowered the lighter the weight becomes and when the bar is pressed up it gradually becomes heavier. I feel that this is a little tricky so I will give another example with an elastic band. Let's say you are doing overhead presses on a rack. You tie elastic bands to the bar and the bottom of the rack. Since there is more resistance when the bands gets stretched, the higher you press the bar overhead the farther the bands will get stretched, thus increasing resistance. This type of technique is easier to understand when seeing it. If you are looking to increase strength and power then this is for you.
Static Contractions This technique is great if you want to develop strength. You are going to be holding whatever movement you are performing in a fixed position. The position should be held for 5 – 10 seconds where the muscle is at maximum contraction. Don't let this word scare you. It just means when the muscle is under most tension. If you are performing triceps extensions the place where you should hold the weight is right before locking out your elbows. This where the muscle is “maximally contracted.” Since you are not using full range of motion for this one increasing the weight is crucial if you want to see results by overloading the neuro muscular system. Progressively overloading more weight forces the body to try to adapt to new stimuli. And as you know from earlier, when the body is trying to adapt is when you will be growing stronger and muscular.
Contrast Loading This method is to primarily increase muscle growth or hypertrophy. It uses low, moderate and high reps over a series of sets while changing the amount of weight for each. Let's say you are doing a squat. The first set will be low reps (~5) and heavy weight, the second set will be higher reps (~8-12) and lighter weight, and the third set will be the highest reps (~15+) and the lightest of weight. This type of technique is designed to recruit most of the muscle fibers with the heaviest weights and create metabolic growth with the lighter weights and higher reps. This is a great method to use. It makes workouts interesting and is highly efficient.
Negatives Negatives are performed by slowing down the eccentric part of the movement. The eccentric part of the movement is an active muscle that is lengthening. If I am doing a bench press the eccentric phase is when the bar is being lowered or descending. The muscle is still being activated under these conditions. In order to perform negatives increase the amount of time in this phase. Stay anywhere within 4 – 8 seconds during this phase instead of the traditional 2 seconds. There is also a variation to this method where you perform heavy negatives, where you load up weight to more than what you can normally handle and perform the movement. The only problem with heavy negatives is that you most likely need a partner to help you with getting the weight back up when you are moving it in the concentric phase. I do not recommend heavy negatives because it could put you and your partner at risk of injury and damage muscle. Negatives focus on increasing strength and muscle growth.
Forced Reps This technique works well with a partner because you will need their assistance to get in 1 to 3 extra reps beyond your own physical ability. The theory is that if you can perform more reps after failure you will be able to increase strength, endurance and hypertrophy. You can even perform these by yourself if you have an extra hand (or two) free. Right off the top of my head I can think of the leg press and one arm tricep pushdowns that you can perform a forced rep by yourself. Be CAREFUL because this type of training takes a major toll on the muscles and you fatigue quicker which can leave you prone to injury.
Discontinuous Sets This type of advanced technique is when you take a quick rest(s) in between reps. The theory behind this is that you can increase the quality of each rep by increasing the number performed and increasing power. For discontinuous sets you can customize the volume, weight, and rest intervals to suite your needs. Below are just examples, they are not written in stone. These techniques work great for power and strength. There are three common methods to this technique.
1. Rest – Pause This type of training helps you pump out more reps than you could if you were doing a normal set. Let's say you can only push up 8 reps with a certain weight. But now, with rest – pause training, we can try 10 reps with the same weight. Perform your 8 reps then rest for 10 -15 seconds. Now get in one more rep and rest for 15 – 20 seconds. Finally get that last rep. In total you will have performed 10 reps.
2. Dynamic Method The way this works is by performing 8 - 10 sets of the same exercise with 2 – 3 explosive reps. The rest time between the sets should be 45 seconds with around 60% of weight from your one rep max. If this sounds advanced that's because it is. This is performed by elite power athletes.
3. Cluster Training This type of training is mostly used by Olympic lifters who want to improve on more explosive and powerful lifts. If you are doing powerful and explosive movements, between each rep you take 10 – 45 second rests. Simple but highly efficient.
Combining Exercises Combining two or more exercises forms a much longer and intense set. This works best for athletes trying to enhance hypertrophy (muscle growth) and endurance. Because the duration of the set is usually longer than traditional sets, metabolic rate increases with this type of training. An increase in metabolic rate improves your body's ability burn fat. Theoretically you can create any combination of exercises that you want, but there are three kinds of combinations that are widely practiced.
1. Supersets This method consists of performing two exercises with no rest between the both of them until the full set is over. If you are superseting biceps and triceps you would do 8 reps of bicep curls then, without taking a break, right into triceps extensions for 8 reps. Supersets work best when pairing antagonistic muscles together so both are balanced and function equally. Opposing muscles means one contracts while the other relaxes. The common opposing muscle pairings are biceps and triceps, hamstrings and quads, abs and lower back, lats and shoulders, and chest and upper back. It is also common to combine exercises within the same group that contains two or muscles, such as the biceps. This ensures that all fibers throughout the muscle is being activated. So if I was supersetting biceps I would do incline dumbbell curls to activate the long head portion of the bicep muscle fibers and then preacher curls to activate the short head of the bicep muscle fibers. I recommend performing supersets with antagonistic muscles because a muscle within the same group usually works together. But it can't hurt to accentuate certain areas of the muscle.
2. Tri-Sets This is similar to supersetting but the only difference is that you combine exercises within the same group that contains three or more muscles such as the deltoids and triceps. Both these muscles groups contain three muscles. For example the deltoids are comprised of anterior, medial, and posterior muscles. So if I was tri-setting the delts it would look like 8 reps of front raises (anterior), then 8 reps of lateral raises (medial), then 8 reps of reverse flys (posterior). That would be one full set and hitting all three muscles that make up the deltoids.
3. Giant Sets If you couldn't guess what these were already, they are combining exercises within a group that contains 4 muscles or more. Giant sets are used primarily for large muscle groups such as quads, upper back, lower back and abdominals. The sets are performed the same way as the previous two methods but you will be incorporating at least 4 exercises into this one, hence “giant” set.
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