Training with the same weight, reps, and sets for too long gets old; and it isn’t enough to help you continue to get results week after week.
If you’re looking to break new strength records, you need to shock your muscles with advanced training techniques. When you tweak your workouts (by doing things like adding reps, subtracting rest time, or switching to a different exercise variation), the intensity level will instantly increase. It's seemingly small things like this that help to exhaust the muscles and trigger the fibers to develop serious strength. Pushing past plateaus isn’t just about lifting heavier—it’s also about the strategies (plural!) you use to get there.
Add the following five training methods into your workout arsenal to pack on muscle mass.
1) Eccentric Overload
The eccentric part of the lift is when your muscles lengthen (rather than contract)—and according to Brad Schoenfield, PhD, CSCS-D and Assistant Editor-in-Chief of NSCA Strength and Conditioning Journal, your eccentric strength is up to 40 percent greater than concentric strength (concentric is the part of the lift when your muscles contract.) So to make your routine more difficult, Schoenfield suggests implementing accentuated negatives (or eccentric overloads.)
Start by loading the bar with a weight greater than your one rep max. Then, when performing an exercise (like the bench press, for example), slowly lower the weight for about 5 seconds (this is the eccentric phase), and then have a spotter help you raise the weight back up. “There is a greater demand on a fewer number of fibers, thus increasing the tension on these fibers and enhancing developing,” says Schoenfeld.
2) Unilateral Movements
When you break down the movements in an exercise one at a time (i.e. using dumbbells with one arm at a time during a bench press rather than using a barbell) Schoenfeld says “it forces the individual limbs to work equally hard.” He also adds, “Most people have a weaker side, and this ensures that both sides perform their share of the work.” When you devote more time to one side, you drive more focus to those muscles and can pick up on any weaknesses or disproportions between each side, “so performing these will help improve strength imbalances and help to create a more symmetrical physique,” says Schoenfeld.
3) Partial Range of Motion
Here, you divide up the exercise into partial ranges of movement (i.e. performing a curl half way then returning back to the starting point for one rep.) Since you’re not extending for the full repetition, you can increase the weight and make any weak spots stronger. Just don't use this method every time you exercise. It's important to go through the full range of motion during exercises, too.
4) Drop Sets
Drop sets and super sets are rigorous training methods, with zero rest periods, which will exhaust your muscles and make them grow faster. A drop set is when you do one set of reps with weight, and then immediately go into the next set with no weight and maximum reps. “Drop sets allow you to fatigue the muscle to a greater degree,” says Schoenfeld.
A super set is when you go from one exercise to the next with minimal rest in between, then repeat until you've completed all prescribed sets. “Supersets increase density of training, which may drive a hypertrophic response,” says Schoenfeld. Be sure to execute these moves in a fast, explosive manner for max benefits.
5) Chains and Resistance Bands
When you add heavy chains to an exercise (like a deadlift), it creates instability and forces your entire body to execute tension to remain stable. “Resistance bands and chains help to even out the strength curve,” says Schoenfeld, “so that tension is better applied through the full range of movement.” Adding resistance bands actually assists in stability because you have the same amount of force on both ends. You can attach the bands at different angles to work a specific group of muscles.