A few weeks ago I reached a plateau.
I looked in the mirror and thought, “Why aren’t I getting bigger?”
My workouts were tough… very tough.
I have never been adverse to hard workouts. I remember when I used to work out at the local YMCA. I set up my station with all of the weights and equipment I needed. Then for the next 30 minutes I killed it…
Several times people would come up to me afterward and say, “Dang, that workout looked tough.”
Now that I workout at home I don’t have people coming up to me, though my workouts are just as extreme.
So why was I not getting bigger?
Simple. I wasn’t incorporating progressive overload.
Why We Need Progressive Overload To Change The Structure Of Our Muscles…
Some people say our bodies are like machines. I disagree. Our bodies are far more sophisticated than any machine. And they have one distinct principle that makes them unique… adaptation.
Our bodies adapt to the conditions around us. If we do the same workout in the same way at the same time over and over and over again… no physical change will occur.
This built in mechanism is great for reaching a state of homeostasis with our environment, HOWEVER, it sucks when it comes to building bigger muscles. That’s why we need to incorporate several strategies to force our bodies to adapt in a new way. We must tell our muscles, “You need to adapt to these new demands.” After they adapt and we get bigger.
How Do Our Muscles Grow?
As I said before, we must progressively overload our muscles with increased weight and demands in order to cause our muscles to grow.
In the simplest terms our muscles grow when we tear the muscle tissue as a result of strength training. This is known as hypertrophy. When we push our muscles to the point of complete fatigue we cause micro tears and they are forced to adapt or get bigger and stronger. This is our goal.
*Remember our bodies are extremely efficient at adapting to changes in our environment… including strength training techniques. That’s why we must overload it with different techniques frequently in our workouts so they never get a chance to adapt to the type of exercise we are doing. This is when we reap the benefits of increased size and strength.
Below I will outline six of the most effective techniques for fatiguing your muscles to the point of exhaustion. If you use these techniques regularly in your workouts you WILL grow faster. Remember also to eat the right foods for muscle growth. This is critical too.
6 Techniques to Blast Your Muscles Faster & Cause Massive Growth
1. Drop Sets
A drop set is a technique that is extremely effective at tearing muscle tissue. Start off an exercise that you can perform only 8-12 reps. For example, say you were doing bench press. Perform one set of bench presses until you reach total fatigue. Then immediately decrease the weight and perform another set using this lighter weight. You should find a weight that allows you to perform about 8-12 reps (the best rep range for hypertrophy). After you fatigue with this set immediately decrease the amount of weight a third time and perform one more set in the 8-12 rep range.
*Body weight modification: I rarely use dumbbells and barbells in my workouts but I still like to incorporate this technique. Here’s how I do it. Let’s use the push up as an example. I will perform normal pushups (with my 50lb body weight vest on) until I reach maximum fatigue (usually about 12 reps). I will then immediately go to my knees and perform push ups on my knees until I reach fatigue. This will allow me to tear more muscle fiber than the normal push up.
**Add this technique to at least the last 2 sets of each exercise for maximum benefit.
2. Extended Sets
Extended sets rely on the fact that different positions will be harder than others. We use this to our benefit to blast the muscle. For example, when doing bench press the incline bench press will typically be the hardest compared to regular bench press and decline bench press. So when doing extended sets, start off with the incline bench press. Again, use a weight that makes you fatigue at the 8-12 rep range. Once you can’t do a single rep more switch to regular bench press. Perform as many reps as you can. Once you can’t do any more immediately switch to decline.
*Body weight modification: Yes, you can use extended sets even if you only use body weight exercises. I like to use extended sets for push ups. Start off in your hardest push up, the stretch pushup. I will perform as many as I can with this exercise and then put my hands about a foot closer to the normal push up position (this will be in between the normal and stretch push up position). After you perform as many as you can in this position, place your hands in the normal push up position and crank out as many push ups as you can.
**Try this technique at least 2-3 times per workout and 3-4 positions each set.
3. Forced Reps
“Can you give me a spot?” Many of you have used this phrase without even realizing that you were incorporating a very effective workout technique to shred your muscle. When you allow a spotter to help you with the last few reps it forces the muscle to recruit every fiber to get the weight up.
*Important- the spotter needs to remember that the point isn’t to pull the weight up for you OR make you struggle so much that you can’t do any reps. They should allow you to struggle through 2-3 supported reps to cause that final tear in the muscle.
**Body weight modification: Most body weight advocates work out at home without the advantage of having a spotter. Though with a little imagination you can get the same effect. For example, say you were doing pull ups. Before you begin your set place a chair about 2-3 feet away from you. When you totally fatigue your muscle doing normal pull ups place your feet on the chair and you’ll be able to crank out a few more. This technique could also be considered a type of “extended set”.
***If you have a spotter, try to incorporate this technique at least in the last 1-2 exercises of each set.
4. Negative Reps
When you are performing any type of movement there are two phases; the concentric and the eccentric. The concentric position is when the muscle is shortening. The eccentric is when the muscle is lengthening. For example, say you were performing a bicep curl. When you bring the weight up, this is the concentric part of the movement. When you bring the weight back down, this is the eccentric. There is a TON of research that shows that the eccentric position of the movement tears muscle tissue more effectively than the concentric. Negative Reps is a technique where we only stress the muscle on this eccentric phase of the movement. Here’s an example, say you were performing a bench press. You would first load more weight than you could normally handle. For safety, I recommend having a spotter on each side of the bar. They then help you raise the bar of the rack and you SLOWLY lower the bar down to your chest (eccentric). They then help you raise the bar up (concentric). Repeat. You can do this technique with any exercise not just the bench press.
*Body weight modification: For us body weight enthusiasts we are not doomed because we don’t use the gym. There are many effective ways of incorporating this technique into our arsenal. One way is through pre-fatigue. For example, say one of your exercises was the normal push up. After your crank out as many as you can get back into the upper position and SLOWLY lower yourself to the ground (should take at least 5 seconds). Then drop to your knees and pop back into starting position and repeat.
**Try to do this technique on the last 2-3 reps of 1-2 sets of 2-3 exercises.
5. Partial Reps
I used to think that I needed to go through a full range of motion to effectively tear the muscle and get benefit from working out. Boy was I wrong. Using a short range of motion can be extremely effective when it comes to tearing muscle tissue and causing massive muscle growth.
Here’s how to do this technique: Once you reach total fatigue with a particular exercise dramatically shorten the range of motion. This will allow you to continue with the set past the point that you would if you were bringing it through a full range of motion. For example, say you were doing bench press (yes, the classic exercise again). After you do several reps and reach fatigue keep the bar up high (next to the rack) and move the bar only 2-3 inches. Normally you would have had to put the bar back on the rack but this technique allows you to push your chest muscle a bit further than it normally could have gone. Perform the partial reps until you reach total fatigue.
*Body weight modification: This is one of the EASIEST techniques to apply to body weight exercises. You can do it with push ups, pull ups or any other type of exercise. Once you reach total fatigue, shorten up the movement and bring yourself just a little further.
**Incorporate this technique for at least 1-2 sets of most exercises.
This is one of my favorite techniques to tear muscle tissue. It uses the principle of allowing your muscle to recover just a bit before you blast it again. Here’s how to do it: perform your normal set until you reach full fatigue. Once you can’t do any more, rest for 15 seconds. Once the 15 seconds are up continue on with the movement. Do this a total of 2 times with each set and you’ll see exactly why this works so well. The 15 seconds is enough time for the lactic acid that we just built up to decrease enough for us to continue on with the movement.
*Body weight modification: No need to modify this technique for body weight exercises as it can immediately be applied to any exercise… weight or no weight.
**You can incorporate this technique with every set if you want but I recommend at least 2-3 sets per exercise.
How Do I Incorporate These Techniques Into My Workouts?
Here’s how I like to incorporate these techniques into my workouts. When I create my workout schedule I will write out my exercises, days, etc. However, I will also add a little number in the box where I will put how many reps that I performed. I also create a little index at the bottom of my workout sheet so I know what the corresponding numbers mean. Then before I do the set I look at the number and think, “Ah, this is a drop set.” or “Ok, I will have to do partial reps at the end of this set.”
Remember that if you are not pushing your muscles to the limit with progressive overload and tearing the muscle tissue you will NOT experience growth.
Doing the same thing over and over again will not give you the results you are looking for. The body adapts so effectively. We must utilize techniques like the ones above in order to shred the muscle tissue and cause growth.
Do you know any other techniques like the ones above? Please share!
King Shot Administer
I don’t understand how partial reps would help wouldn’t it limit your range of motion? Or would static stretching after doing this help range of motion. Some people do half chin ups and then they wonder why they aren’t flexible and its because they aren’t using proper form is this true?
Partial reps certainly aren’t used for gaining ROM. The reason they work well for increasing strength is because you are concentrated the force on a particular area of the muscle fibers so they fatigue faster. That’s why they work well.
You do want to mix things up. Don’t just do partial reps. Also incorporate full reps too.