The law of diminishing returns shows that when you train for a long time, eventually, your results will flatten completely. When you’re not at the end and want to make fast gains, you should know how to keep stimulating your body each workout to improve your muscle strength and size as well as your global conditioning.
For most, I recommend that, as soon as you reach the top of your ideal bandwidth of repetitions or time under load (TUL), you should first increase the weight by 2.5 kilos for compound exercises. However, this weight can quickly become a big step for someone training close to their maximum. If that seems to be the case for you, you should try and make progress in smaller steps. This is also called micro progression, which is realized through micro loading.
The latter means increasing weight by (for instance) 0.5 or 1 kilo. The moment you should consider starting with micro loading, is when muscular failure constantly kicks in before you have exceeded the top of your ideal bandwidth – assuming there are no other negative factors at play, such as lack of sleep or illness.
There are several reasons why micro loading can be a good method. A very small increase in resistance is hardly noticeable and makes it easier to stay within your bandwidth. These small improvements can also be motivating. However, if you don’t see any progress, you might consider some advanced training techniques. In the following text, I will explain the most used advanced training techniques.
Advanced training techniques: general remarks
As soon as you’re close to your genetic limits with the use of basic techniques, you can consider advanced training techniques. But, before we dive deeper into the different techniques, some general remarks. First off, it is important not to underestimate the extra concentration you need for most of the techniques. Secondly, the advanced techniques may well require more from your recovery capacity. Thirdly, for safety reasons, warming up the muscles you target, is a definite must. Finally, you must understand that when you already train intensively on a high level (with regular techniques), you probably won’t see staggering results once you turn to advanced training techniques. Nonetheless, research shows that advanced training techniques stimulate the production of muscle growth promoting hormones more than traditional techniques.¹¹⁸
1. Forced reps: train beyond muscular failure
The first advanced training technique is one that was used by world-famous Joe Weider, bodybuilder and entrepreneur in the fitness industry. According to a study, this technique led to three times more growth hormones than normal training techniques.¹¹⁹ But what is this ‘forced reps’ technique?
This advanced training technique comes in right after the point of muscular failure (in the concentric phase) during an exercise (which has a concentric and eccentric phase) and includes the help of someone else – preferably, a trainer. At this point – where you cannot go any further – the other person helps just enough to complete the concentric phase of the repetition. The eccentric phase is in turn finished alone, since this is the ‘easier’ part of the repetition.
Usually, I recommend doing one to a maximum of three forced reps. If you want to increase average intensity, you can also work with forced reps every repetition of the set. This is called ‘hyper training’. This may sound like ‘taking your training to the next level’, but keep in mind that it also requires more of your recovery capacity.
2. Forced negatives: making the easy phase harder
Just like the first advanced training technique, this one requires the help of another person – again, preferably a trainer. When doing a repetition (which includes a concentric and eccentric phase), the other person increases the resistance during the eccentric phase. –>, the trainer increases the resistance until there is movement in the eccentric phase. You’ll try to offer maximum resistance during this eccentric phase.
For securing safety, clear communication before and during the exercise is key. Agree on the motion result and be clear about the turning point (between the eccentric and concentric phases) – every single time.
3. Negatives only: only the most important phase of a rep for muscle growth
Dorian Yates, who has been proclaimed Mister Olympia six times, emphasized time and time again that in order to get the most out of your repetitions, you must not only train concentrically to failure, but also eccentrically. And that is where negatives only come in.
Negatives only are repetitions where only the negative (eccentric) phase is executed. The logic behind this: in the eccentric phase you can handle up to 50 percent more weight than in the concentric phase. So, if you perform only the eccentric phase, you can increase the weight. Consequentially, muscle tension increases. It has been shown by various studies, that this advanced training technique can stimulate enormous muscle growth.¹²⁰
When using this advanced training technique, you will need some help from someone else to get you through the (brief!) concentric phase. Furthermore, be careful with the amount of negative repetitions, ‘cause these repetitions demand more from your recovery capacity than regular repetitions.
4. Negative-accentuated: negative only’s little brother
If you would want to train your arms or legs (with an exercise where balance is not a factor!) by using the former technique, but can’t, because you don’t have a training partner, then the next technique might be the solution for you.
First off, select a weight that is about 20 to 40 percent less than what you’d do regularly (when training one arm or leg using no advanced techniques). Then, you start, normally, with the concentric phase, using both limbs. At the turning point, you carefully shift all the weight onto one arm or leg. Next, you complete the eccentric phase in a very controlled manner with this one arm or leg.
For example, when you’re ‘working the leg press’, you first push out with both legs, then on the turning point, you shift the weight to the one leg you want to perform the eccentric phase with.
5. Drop sets: a favorite of Arnold Schwarzenegger
Yes, the fifth advanced training technique was a favorite of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Drop sets. In essence, drop sets are consecutive sets, which are performed immediately after each other – right after the point of muscular failure has been reached. Think this is one of the easier techniques? Read, and think again.
You start with a first set, choosing a weight about 10 percent heavier than your regular set. Ideally, the total time of your first set and drop set should be within your ideal bandwith. For instance, if your ideal bandwidth is 60-90 seconds, you should have reached muscular failure within before you get to 90 seconds. This means your first set can end before you’ve reached 60 seconds, as long as your drop set makes up for it.
Once you have finished the first set, you go as quickly as possible to the second set. But not before you lose 20 percent of the weight used for the first set. If again, during the second set, you reach muscular failure before your ideal range of time, then follow up with another set where you (again) lose 20 percent of the weight of the second set. Repeat the procedure, until you end up reaching muscular failure within your ideal range of time. It is custom to do just one drop set.
6. Rest-pause: only do the most productive repetitions for muscle growth
Mike Mentzer, one of the pioneers in the field of HIT, was a strong proponent of this rest-pause technique. He once said, that when he started using it, he won at least nine kilos at each exercise.
With rest-pause repetitions you skip the foreplay and you immediately start the muscle growth stimulating repetitions. The technique is fairly easy to explain: instead of using the weight you regularly use, you aim for a weight that makes even one repetition hard to manage. Usually, you would have to increase the normal weight by 10 to 25 percent. Then, when starting the exercise, you complete one repetition and put the weight back to give your muscles complete rest. Take that rest for about 5 to 10 seconds, then go for a second repetition. Continue this routine, until you simply cannot finish one more repetitions.
You want to go for higher intenstity? That’s possible using a rest-pause-hyper-variant where you start with a weight that you can only perform one repetition and can’t complete a second repetition even after 10 seconds of rest. You reduce the weight by approximately 5 to 10 percent per repetition. The goal here is to make every repetition of the rest pause set as heavy as possible. In other words, you should barely finish every rep. Do no more than eight repetitions of this.
7. Negative emphasized: focus on the eccentric phase
The seventh advanced training technique should not be confused with the fourth. This negative emphasized technique differs from a normal technique in cadence only. With this technique, the eccentric phase is preferably performed at least twice as slow as the concentric phase. My advice, building on the ‘normal’ cadence of 4/4, would be to take at least 3 seconds for the concentric phase (and correspondingly, when going for these 3 seconds, at least 6 seconds for the eccentric phase). In sum, if you would perform the exercise in one minute, you’d spend 20 seconds (one-third) on the concentric phases and 40 seconds (two-third) on the eccentric phases.
Since your muscles are stronger when performing the eccentric than at the concentric phases, you can manage more weight during the first than the latter. Now, if you use this technique for an exercise, the larger part of the exercise you’re performing the ‘easier’ stage: the eccentric phase. Therefore, you can do the exercise either longer (than when doing a regular technique) or you can add weight to the exercise (and finish around the same time you would when using a normal technique). The latter leads to more muscle tension, the former to a longer time under tension.
8. Concentric emphasized: focus on metabolic conditioning
Similar to the previous technique, this advanced training technique differs from a normal technique in cadence only. This time, however, the concentric phase is longer than the eccentric phase – so, exactly the other way around. My advice concerning the cadence for the former technique, applies to this exercise as well.
As said, this exercise emphasizes on the concentric phase instead of the eccentric phase. This exercise leads to lower muscle tension, but a higher metabolic demand. If you’ve figured out for yourself that you respond better with more metabolic stress or it suits your goal this could be a useful technique for you.
9. Partial repetitions: use them to make it harder, not easier
It was when Dorian Yates met Mike Mentzer that he started using advanced training techniques such as partial range reps (partials) a lot more. Partials are repetitions done in a specific range of motion. This technique has one huge advantage over full range repetitions in certain exercises: by adjusting the range of motion, you can make sure the resistance curve of the exercise is more aligned with the strength curve of your muscles.
Do not make the mistake of solely focusing on the part of the range of motion where you can use the most weight. More important than the weight, is the relative effort you put in the exercise. So, don’t stress your joints unnecessary with huge amounts of weights (for the sake of egolifting or some other counterproductive reason). Also, don’t fall for the myth that tells you that partial repetitions help you gain more strength in that particular range of motion. You’ll only make neurological improvements and that’s why you might be able to use mre weight in that particular range of motion. The strength gains from these partials would just as easily be achieved through a normal range of motion.
You can use partials at the end of your set. You would choose to perform one or a couple more partials in the easiest part of the range of motion.
You could also perform two sets of partials, where you perform the first set in the part of the motion where you are weakest, followed by a set in the part of the motion where you are strongest.
10. Timed Static Contraction
Timed Static Contraction (TSC) is a training method where you push or pull on immovable material (an object or part of a building) for one certain period of time. And while you may not see any movement during the duration of performing the exercise, it sure as heck is an intense technique.
Normally, a TSC set consists of 3 phases that follow each other directly without rest in between. For pushing exercises, you need no extra instruments besides the immovable material. For pulling exercises however, you need a non-elastic, long cord or rope or anything of that nature.
The three phases, each lasting for about 30 seconds, are to increase your effort step-by-step from 50% to 100%. In an outline, a TSC set looks like this:
Phase 1 During the first 30 secods, you put in 50% of your strength;
Phase 2 The second 30 seconds you put 75% strength;
Phase 3 The third 30 seconds you put 100% strength.
A major advantage of TSC, is that it is probably the safest technique of all. Whenever you have joint issues, I would recommend TSC. Whenever you feel you need to fatigue one muscle before doing a bigger compound exercise, use a TSC for this. Compared to other attributes used to isolate your muscles TSC (using a cord for instance) allows you to isolate the targeted more easy. Besides that, I most cases you can also move on to your compound exercise more quickly.
The microtrauma is very low with TSC, where the metabolic stress is high and your neurotransmitters are relatively more exhausted. Depending on your goal and how you respond to different stresses, you can use this information to implement or not to implement TSC in your workouts.
Break-downs were used to work around poorly developed machines, where the resistance curve didn’t match the strength curve of the muscles. For instance, a leg extension which started out light and became exponentially heavier towards the end of the range of motion. What one would do here, was a break-down technique: continu to make repetitions in the range in which you could still move the weight up and down.
In a way break-downs might look like partials, but the clear difference is that partials have one particular range of motion, where the one of break-downs becomes smaller and smaller.
12. Pre-exhaustion method
This method is aimed at wearing out one muscle with a set of simple exercise before you do a compound exercise. An example of this is doing a triceps push down first and then a chest press. With a triceps push down you only train the triceps. With a chest press you train the chest muscles, shoulders and triceps. But why exactly would you opt for this technique?
First off, with a compound exercise, you save time: you’re training multiple muscles at once, rather than one muscle at a time. The downside of a compound exercise may be that a particular involved muscle is not optimally stimulated. Adding a simple exercise for that particular muscle, solves that problem. But why do the simple exercise before the compound exercise?
Proponents of pre-exhaustion method claim that this technique gives the particular targeted muscle a stronger incentive than if you first do a compound exercise (e.g. training the triceps first with a push down before doing a chest press). However, research clearly shows that the order does not matter.¹¹⁷ I therefore usually recommend that you do the compounded exercises first and then the simple exercises, since the compounded exercises require more energy.
However, there is another reason for using this pre-exhaustion technique.
Pre-exhaustion can be used the way it was originally intended. When one were to perform a compound exercise, but the targeted muscles wouldn’t be fatigued enough during the exercise, a pre-exhaustion exercise would be used. For example: a leg extension is a pre-exhaustion exercise when performed before doing a squat. With the squat, the lower back is the bottleneck for most, not the muscles in their lower body. That’s why pre-exhausting the quads with a leg extension is a way to work around this. In short, pre-exhaustion – used right – is used to work around a bottleneck in a compound exercise.
All these forms of advanced training techniques and more (static holds, max contractions and 1RM) you can record in our High Intensity Training app called Joeri HIT. If you are a trainer you can use our Joeri Pro app, with even more features specifically designed for HIT-trainers.
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