If you’re getting bored with the same old strength training routine, or keen to bust through a plateau, then here are three advanced methods that can be incorporated into your programme to maximally stimulate muscle strength and size:
- Drop Sets
Why it works: Drop sets involve taking the muscle ‘beyond failure’. They allow you to recruit and fatigue more muscle fibres in the working musculature than a typical set.
How to do it: Complete a set of repetitions on an exercise until failure (or close to failure), immediately drop the weight and perform reps until failure again without any rest, and then finally repeat this one last time. Basically, you’re performing three mini-sets at three different loads in one giant set. Use this sparingly as one drop set of a single exercise per muscle group should be sufficient per session.
Example: Perform a set of Lat Pull Downs to failure (e.g. x 10 reps @ 40kg), immediately drop the weight by 10kg and do the same (e.g. x 8 reps @ 30kg), finally drop the weight one last time and repeat (e.g. x 8 reps @ 20kg).
Why it works: Pre-exhaustion involves fatiguing a muscle using an isolation exercise before fatiguing it further with a compound exercise as a part of a superset (i.e. two paired exercises). As per drop sets, this method allows you to increase recruitment of the target muscle group within the compound movement.
How to do it: Complete a set of 8-12 repetitions on an isolation exercise, rest for 60 seconds and then complete a set of 8-12 repetitions on a compound exercise involving the same muscle group. Pre-exhaustion can be challenging but less difficult than the drop set, so 2-3 supersets per target muscle group will be appropriate.
Example: Perform a set of Dumbbell Chest Flys (e.g. x 10 reps @ 15kg), rest for 60 seconds a then perform a set on the Barbell Bench Press (e.g. x 10 reps @ 60kg), repeat these two exercises for 2-3 sets
- Accentuated Eccentric Training
Why it works: We are stronger on the lowering portion (i.e. eccentric phase) of an exercise than the lifting portion (i.e. concentric phase). Therefore, if we add extra weight on the eccentric phase we force the muscle to generate more tension than it normally would. This additional tension is a potent signal to stimulate muscle strength and size.
How to do it: There are a few ways to overload the eccentric phase of the movement, but the safest and easiest is called the “2-Up-1-Down” technique. Basically, you’ll lower a weight you normally couldn’t lift with one limb, and then use the other limb to assist in the lifting portion. This technique can result in a lot of muscle soreness, so start out with 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps of one exercise per target muscle group per session.
Example: Performing a Leg Press, select a weight slightly above what you could lift with one leg (e.g. 100kg) and perform the lowering phase with it (e.g. for 2-3 seconds), at the bottom immediately use the other leg to assist in performing the lifting phase and returning it to the top position. Complete for 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps