Lifting hard in the gym is a given!
BUT, we are much more than the stereotyped guy in the commercial –“I lift things up and put them down.” Sometimes, it is a matter of training smarter, not just heavier. The reason we change up workout programs, exercises, rep schemes, etc. is so that we will continue to make progress and build a complete all around physique. We cannot simply expect to throw more weight on an exercise time after time and expect to not only continue to progress, but to also build a well-rounded physique. Change is good and sometimes it is not a matter of how much you are lifting, but how you are lifting it.
Lifting smarter, not heavier means utilizing a variety of techniques geared at increasing your intensity level in the gym to blow past plateaus, sticking points and take your workouts and physique to the next level. What follows are some intensity techniques that my training partner and I keep in our arsenal and pull out as necessary. There are many others, but these are some of my favorites.
This technique is one we use either to finish off the last set of an exercise or sometimes as the only set of one exercise. The premise is that once muscle failure is reached in a given set –meaning you can no longer complete a full rep with the weight you are using in good form, then immediately use a lower weight and work to get as many reps as possible until muscle failure is reached again. You may opt to do one more drop – again picking up a lighter weight and continuing to failure. This final set is almost painstaking. You are using a much lighter weight now, but yet you are fighting with all you have to complete just a few reps. We are using this technique right now on incline dumbbell curls and by the end I can barely lift my arms. It is an incredible technique, which can also be used without a partner on certain exercises.
Compound sets are similar to super sets, except compound sets pair two exercises focused on the same muscle group. The goal here is to maximize the blood flow and keep the focus on one muscle group. Choose two exercises for the same muscle group, for example skull-crushers and dips for triceps. You will do one set of skull-crushers, using the weight and rep scheme you have chosen in your workout program. Then immediately upon finishing that set hop up and do a set of dips. Both of these combined would be considered one set. Take your usual rest period before moving on to the next set.
This is a great technique when you have a training partner. At the end of a set, have your training partner lightly assist you in cranking out another rep or two with good form. The idea here is that you are no longer able to get a full rep with good form on your own because you have fatigued the muscle through a full range of motion. Now your partner will offer as light a spot as possible just to get you through the sticking point. All the while you are squeezing that muscle throughout the rep and trying to lift the bar or weight off of your partners finger tips. Working beyond that sticking point, will force the muscle to continue to work and in time strengthen the weak point of that exercise by becoming stronger.
When lifting weights you want to make the most of each and every rep in order to maximize the work being done by the muscle. You want to get the most bang for your buck, so to speak, and not leave anything undone. With this said, there are two parts to every rep – the positive, or concentric, portion and the negative or eccentric. The positive part of a rep is where you are working to contract the muscle. The negative is when you are resisting that load as you stretch the muscle and prepare to do another rep. Classic example – the bench press – the positive portion occurs as you raise the bar from your chest and straighten your arms. Your chest muscles are contracting and attempting to move your arms across your body. The negative portion occurs as you lower the weight back down thus stretching the chest muscles. Now how many times have you seen people almost drop the weight on themselves just so they can push it back up? In doing so, you are wasting half the rep. Exploding the weight up while controlling it on the way down, will ensure the most effective work being done. The positive portion of a rep will always fail before the negative. This technique requires that a training partner lift the weight up back to the top of the positive part of the rep and then you fight the negative as much as possible as you lower the weight. Your partner would then pick it back up and you would again resist the negative as much as possible.
As mentioned earlier, supersets work to target opposing muscle groups. For example, you may superset exercises for chest and back, abs and lower back, biceps and triceps, or hamstrings and quads. Much like compound sets you would choose an exercise for each muscle group and then proceed to do a set of each with little rest in between. That would then count as one set.
Here is another great technique that can be used when working out alone. Rest-pause is a good way to force out another rep or a few reps when you don’t have a training partner or just to completely exhaust the muscle. With the rest-pause technique you would complete one set until you can no longer do a full rep with good form. Then put the weight down or re-grip the bar, but give yourself no more than 15 seconds rest. Complete another rep or however many you can with the same weight. If so inclined, rest for another 15 seconds and then do as many reps as you can, still using the same weight.
Now these are tools in your arsenal when you want to push your workouts and intensity to a new level. They are not designed to be used in every workout, or on every set of every exercise. Each technique has its place and should be used strategically to help blast through sticking points, plateaus, overcome working out alone, and ultimately to make further gains in a variety of ways.
Add these techniques to your workouts and be ready to push yourself harder than you thought possible!