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Four New Training Strategies to Try in 2015

As someone who helps athletes get bigger, faster, and stronger, there are any number of approaches and concepts to get the job done.

Of these methods, there are four that have a large carryover to most (not all) intermediate to advanced guys looking to improve performance in the gymTry these four training tweaks to build strength, pack on muscle, and become a better athlete. 

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Rest-Pause Cluster Training for Mass Gains

Compared with the traditional approach of performing straight sets, utilizing cluster sets—where you implement the rest-pause method—can be a more efficient way to perform more work in the same time frame.

Let’s say your best set of five repetitions on the bench press is 200 pounds. Using cluster sets allows you to use more weight and helps to reduce fatigue as a limiting factor.

Here’s a quick example:
200 lbs x 2 reps. Rack barbell, rest 15-20 sec.
200 lbs x 2 reps. Rack barbell, rest 15-20 sec.
200 lbs x 2 reps. Rack barbell, rest 2-3 min.

That’s one cluster, which has six total reps, instead of five. The slight pause in between each cluster allows a little recovery so that you’re able to  crank out more repetitions with the same amount of weight. You’re doing more work!

You can then repeat the same process for a total of 3-5 total clusters.

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Stage System

The stage system uses a few sets of heavier loads to help stimulate or “potentiate” your nervous system and high-threshold motor units. As a result, on subsequent lighter sets you’ll be able to use heavier loads compared with if you had only performed those same sets on their own.

Here’s how it works. Instead of a standard 5x5 approach, you’ll perform the following rep scheme:

Set 1: 2 reps
Set 2: 2 reps
Set 3: 2 reps
Set 4: 5 reps
Set 5: 5 reps

You’re still performing five total work sets,  but it’s a few sets with heavier weight, then on the last two sets, you’ll back off, drop the weight, and perform sets of five. Try it the next time you perform one of the “big 3” (squat, deadlift, bench press). 

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Offset Loading for Better Gains

Unilateral training allows people to address any imbalances that may exist between one limb and the other, has a lot of carryover to athletic activities, in addition to helping build overall strength. Offset loading occurs when you literally perform a single limb movement holding only one dumbbell.

Try this. Lie on a flat bench and perform a dumbbell press with either your left or right arm (your free arm can either be at your side or you hold it straight up in the air and make a fist). Do so without allowing your butt or opposite side of your body to come off the bench.

You can do the same thing with lower-body training. Hold a dumbbell on your right or left side as if you’re holding a suitcase. Now, without leaning to any one side and while keeping your torso as rigid and upright as possible, perform a reverse lunge.

The offset load hammers the core and forces the body to learn how to stabilize itself to a higher degree. The more core strength you gain and the more you’re able to stabilize your own body, the better progress you’ll make down the road with lifts like squats and deadlifts .

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Pin/Deadstop Squats For a Stronger Squat

Aside from squatting, the best way to improve performance in the squat is to pick the right accessory movements to help address a weakness in your squat technique.

Pin or deadstop squats are where you unrack a barbell, squat down, pause on the pins in a power rack, and then explode back up. These are effective because the deadstop reduces the stretch shortening cycle (the elastic component of our muscles) which helps serve as a “spring” out of the hole. They’re also a fantastic way to help people learn what it actually feels like to squat to or past parallel.

Once at the pins, you don’t just relax and hang out. You still need to maintain maximal tension (bracing abs, squeeze glutes) in order to reverse the action back up to the standing position.

Pin squats can be performed as their own stand-alone squat variation, but as noted above, they’re best when used as an accessory (second) movement. After your normal squat session do this:

Sets: 10
Reps: 1
Weight: 65% 1RM
Rest: 30- to 45-sec. rest between each set

Sets: 12
Reps: 1
Weight: 65% 1RM
Rest: 30- to 45-sec. rest between each set

Sets: 8
Reps: 1
Weight: 70% 1RM
Rest: 30- to 45-sec. rest between each set

Sets: 10
Reps: 1
Weight: 70% 1RM
Rest: 30- to 45-sec. between each set

The objective is to use a submaximal load to 1) work on perfecting technique and 2) work on being explosive with the weight.

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