Let’s say you have been doing strength training / body-building for a while now, you have a nice and well-rounded routine, you got your diet right and had some nice muscle gain especially in the first couple of years, but now it’s getting very challenging to get even just a little more development.
Getting stronger and bigger is not only about eating more calories as you can read in magazines; at that point if you eat more, you might just gain more fat as a result. The thing is, you need now to use more advanced strategies to increase the intensity of your trainings. Basically, your body has adapted to your basic routine, and it is time for a change.
Now, it’s time to bring it to the next level.
Here are 3 powerful techniques that can be combined together in order to give you more years of hypertrophic progress -increase in muscle size- in the gym.
Drop-sets, also commonly known as strip-sets or striping-sets, are one of my favorite advanced techniques to inflict maximum damage to the muscles. Believe me; if it has been a while since you felt this deep burning feeling from your training, this one should do the trick.
It is very simple: you start your set as you would normally do, but once you reach failure, you just, as fast as you can, reduce the weight by roughly 20%.What this means is that, in most cases, you drop a plate, and then you continue your set again until failure, only to repeat the same process.
Usually dropping the weight and carry on with the set until failure would be done 3 consecutive times. It is sufficient in most cases, but nothing prevents you from finishing your muscle with a last drop to an ultra-light weight for more reps if you still don’t feel the pump.
One set could look a little like this: 8x100lbs -> 5x80lbs -> 3x60lbs and you do 8 sets or whatever is prescribed by your current program .
In a single normal fix set, you will never activate every fiber in the targeted muscles, but by doing drop-sets, you will not only inflict more damage but also affect a larger amount of muscle fibers, which will result in an increased muscle growth that would not normally be possible without drop-sets.
This is a great way to add more muscle mass.
Cluster-set is another very effective strategy that is a little similar to drop-sets but with a variation that produces a different effect. It also allows great hypertrophic effect, but also helps with pure strength if you lift heavy weight in the 5-7-rep range.
In this one, you don’t have to change the weight; all you do is go on with your set and stop 1 rep before the failure-rep; then you rest for 15 second and resume the set. This is what we call a cluster.
You usually do 3 clusters in a set, but you can do more if you’re not fully burned out yet. The last cluster of repetitions must be, of course, done until failure.
Again, done properly, this should give you enough pain and the guarantee of a good pump!
A cluster-set could look like this: 8x100lbs -> 15 seconds rest -> 5x100lbs -> 15 seconds rest -> 4x100lbs.
Heavy and slow eccentrics
We usually tend to focus on concentric muscle contractions and develop a general tendency to let the gravity help us with the eccentric part of the movement. I’m talking about the second part of the movement when you let the weight go after the initial contraction, just to be clear.
This is a big mistake because working on the eccentric part of the movement actually causes more hypertrophy than working on the concentric one. Switching your focus on that portion of the rep will trigger a bigger anabolic response, increased muscle damage and a more sophisticated activation of new muscle cells.
Furthermore, focusing on the eccentric will consequently increase your concentric power as a result.
The way to do it is to keep the weight heavy and you go with a slow tempo while you’re going down in the eccentric part. Keep the weight under great control. You can even stop the motion slightly for a second or two when you reach the most difficult point in the motion.
Combining your new focus on eccentrics while using drop or cluster sets, alternating from one to another, will trigger new muscle growth, and thus rejuvenate your training routine.
Those are advanced techniques and should not be used if you don’t have at least 2 or 3 years of strength training under your belt. If you’re still in your first years or so, not only you don’t need those to have good gain but it should be wise to keep them in your back pocket for when you’re going to hit a plateau in the near future. Read : How to build muscle mass if you need to learn the basics.
On that note, have a good training.
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