When you begin lifting weights, chances are high that in the first few weeks you will see some serious results. Body fat % will be dropping, muscle growth will begin and the momentum will be at a high! Because even when you are starting off at the gym, generally simple workouts will trigger noticeable muscle growth and body transformations.
However, as the weeks turn into months, those initial novel and productive workouts will become a lot more matter-of-fact, and potentially no longer deliver the same results. When this happens, doing more of the same is not necessarily the answer. Before you settle for mediocre, it is time to mix up your training program!
Instead of working yourself into a training rut, use some of these training variations to get your progress back on track! Warning, this will be upgrading your workout, and muscle soreness will be inevitable! Introduce them gradually and only after you’ve been training consistently for a few months. Also, be prepared with your post-workout recovery support, BCAA’S!
To build muscle, you need to train to or very close to failure. In other words, you should get to a point where you are unable or unwilling to do more reps. Reaching failure doesn’t mean your muscles are completely exhausted, they are just too tired to lift the weight you are currently using. You still have untapped muscle fibres available for use.
Drop sets allow you to work these untapped fibres by lowering the weight so you can pump out a few more reps. This will fatigue more muscle fibres leading to greater workout intensity and muscle gain.
10 reps 40kg (can’t to 11th rep)
Reduce weight to 32.5kg
6 reps (can’t do 7th rep)
Reduce weight to 25kg
5 reps (can’t do 6th)
The size of the drop depends on the increments available, so your choices may be limited but ideally you should reduce the load by 10-20% each time. Do not rest between drops or your muscles will recover, undoing the benefit of this training variation.
2. SUPER-SETS AND TRI-SETS
Supersets and tri-sets involve doing two or more exercises back to back. This can be for the same muscle group or opposing muscle groups. For building muscle, same muscle supersets and tri-sets are best. This variation increases training volume.
By switching exercises as you reach failure, you should find you can work your muscles harder and longer than normal. Make sure you always do the hardest exercise first to allow for accumulated fatigue. Move quickly from one exercise to the next to maintain your intensity level. Rest only after completing the final exercise in your superset or triset.
- Squats -> lunges
- Deadlifts -> leg curls
- Bench press -> push-ups
- Pull-ups -> pulldowns
- Shoulder press -> upright rows -> lateral raises
- Ab wheel rollouts -> planks -> crunches
Supersets for opposing muscle groups also tend to make better use of your training time and speed up recovery, as opposed to increasing intensity e.g. leg extensions -> leg curls.
3. MID-REP PAUSES
It’s easy to use momentum to help you complete your reps. While this might allow you to use more weight than normal, momentum takes tension off your target muscles which may reduce the effectiveness of your workout.
Adding mid-rep pauses reduce momentum, increase time under tension, and make your workouts much harder.
- Paused squats – pause at the bottom of the movement
- Paused bench presses – pause at knee-height on the ascent or descent
- Paused bench press – pause with the bar just above your chest
- Paused leg extensions – pause with your knees straight
- Paused leg curls – pause with your knees bent
- Paused biceps curls – pause with your arms bent
- Paused triceps pushdowns – pause with your arms straight
Make sure you maintain tension during each pause – do not relax! Hold the pause for 1-3 seconds per rep or, if you prefer, use different length pauses over the course of your set. For example, paused squats:
1st rep – pause for 5 seconds
2nd rep – pause for 4 seconds
3rd rep – pause for 3 seconds
4th rep – pause for 2 seconds
5th rep – pause for 1 second
6th rep to failure – no pauses
4. COMPENSATORY ACCELERATION TRAINING
While momentum is generally best avoided, used purposely may actually enhance muscle building. The action of generating momentum can recruit an increased number of motor units and muscle fibers. However, this also means your muscles will not be under tension for as long.
Compensatory acceleration training, ‘CAT’ for short, makes the most of momentum while also exposing your muscles to sufficient muscle-building tension.
To perform a CAT rep, lower the weight under control, taking 2-3 seconds to do so. Then pause for another 1-2 seconds while maintaining muscle tension. Finally, you then lift the weight as fast as you can. That’s one rep – keep going! As an added benefit, CAT increases muscle power as well as muscle size.
5. THE REST/PAUSE METHOD
As mentioned earlier, just because you cannot complete another rep does not mean your muscles are fully exhausted. It is likely the muscle still has more to give! The rest/pause method allows you to recover just enough energy to pump out a couple more reps, working additional muscle fibers in the process.
To use this method, rep out to failure as normal and then rest for 10-15 seconds. Pump out a few more reps to failure and then rest again. One to three rest/pause mini-sets is enough – this is a powerful tool. Use rest/pause for the last set of an exercise, or after every set for a super-intense workout.
When it comes to building muscle, consistency and adding variation is important. If you keep doing the same thing over and over, your progress will be limited. Use these training variations to breathe new life into your workouts, and make sure they are as productive as possible. If you are also looking to get some more energy, pump and focus in your sessions try having some EHP Oxyshred before the session! Guaranteed to take your session to the next level!