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Muscle Tricks

Use these little-known trainer tips to bust plateaus and make instant progress

Density Training

It can be difficult to train hard when time is short. One solution is to grit your teeth and aim to complete as much work in the given time frame as possible, and that's where density training comes in.

How it Works: "Pick a target time period in which to complete each exercise in your workout," says Jim Smith, C.S.C.S., a strength and conditioning coach in Sayre, Pa. (visit him at You won't need many exercises with this protocol, so you'll save time right off the bat. "Now choose a weight that you can successfully execute 10-12 reps with, and perform as many reps as you can in 30 seconds." Rest 30 seconds and repeat—continue in this fashion until your chosen time period is complete. For instance, if you chose five minutes and you're training squats, you would squat for 30 seconds, rest 30, squat again, and so on until five minutes was up. The workout will be brutal, but in the end you'll have completed a massive number of reps in a relatively short time (much shorter than you would doing normal sets), providing more than enough volume for muscle growth. Density training is also good for enhancing your muscular endurance and your lactate threshold, which will allow you to bull through other high-rep sets in the future.

Post-Exhaustion Training

You've probably tried the pre-exhaustion method before, which involves performing a set of an isolation exercise followed immediately by a compound movement. The goal here is to work one target muscle group in an area of the body first and then tax it some more with a compound movement in which the other muscles in that area can assist you in getting more reps. For instance, you could do a set of biceps curls prior to chinups. The challenge, however, is that isolation lifts don't permit heavy loading (you can chinup with a lot more weight than you can curl), so you're cheating your- self out of the chance to lift big, muscle-building weights when you're fresh. Post-exhaustion training is just the opposite.

How it Works: "Work the muscles with a compound lift first, and then follow it with an isolation exercise that involves the prime movers," says Smith. That means you can do chin-ups paired with curls, close-grip bench presses with triceps extensions, and shoulder presses with lateral raises. Now you can thoroughly stimulate your target muscles with a heavy weight first and then finish off with a move that provides a more direct hit afterward.

Diminished-Rest Intervals

You can break a plateau in a matter of seconds. In fact, you don't even have to lift more weight or adjust your sets and reps. "By gradually reducing the time you take between sets," says Rachel Cosgrove, C.S.C.S., a performance-enhancement coach in Santa Clarita, Calif., "you can force your muscles to recover more quickly, and that leads to faster growth."

How it Works: Reduce the amount of time you rest between sets by 5-10 seconds every week—but make sure you don't have to decrease the weight you're using to allow for it. In other words, if you're currently resting 60 seconds between sets, try going for 55 or 50 seconds next week, and 50 or 45 seconds the week after. Continue in this manner for four weeks. At that point, you'll be recovering in approximately half the time you used to, and you'll need to use heavier weights to return to your old rest periods again.

Back-Off Sets

Your body is capable of lifting some badass weights—you just don't always have the confidence to try. One great way of reducing your inhibitions toward heaving big loads is to use back-off sets, which allow you to use heavier weights than normal for a higher-rep set.

How it Works: Choose a weight that allows you to get about six reps, and perform two sets with it. Now reduce the weight by 40%, and do as many reps as possible—however many you complete, it's sure to be more than you could have gotten if you'd just done a normal warm-up and then tried to rep out with that load. "Your nervous system is already excited from your heavy sets," says Cosgrove (, "so when you do the back-off set, it's primed to make your muscles do more work than usual."



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