One of our favorite advanced training techniques serves as a great method of increasing intensity and adding variety as well as saving time: superset training. Superset training involves doing two or more successive exercises for a given muscle group without rest in between. For example, do a set of the Shoulder Presses (Db) and follow them immediately with a set of Lateral Raises (Db). This forces a lot more blood into the shoulders and provides a more intense and effective training stimulus for the shoulder muscles.
You can use the superset style of training for two different muscle groups, but only if they have an agonist/antagonist relationship with each other. In other words, on any given lift one muscle is contracting and the other muscle is relaxing (such as the biceps and triceps when performing a biceps curl). Choose muscle groups that are physically close together such as biceps and triceps, or chest and back, or quadriceps and hamstrings.
For example, do a set of Tricep Pushdowns and then immediately do a set of Cable Curls. Since these two muscle groups are close to each other and have the agonist/antagonist relationship, it’s easy to force blood into the arm region this way. You would not want to superset the shoulders and calves, you see, because they are so far apart it would be hard to target blood into both these muscles in such a short space of time.
The first is called “breakdown training”; this requires the use of machines. Choose a weight that you think will challenge you for a set of approximately six repetitions–50 pounds on the Triceps Pushdown, for example. Do as many repetitions as possible at that weight. Once you have reached muscle fatigue, quickly decrease the weight to 30 pounds and again do as many reps as possible. This would complete one set. Breakdown training enables you not only to increase the intensity, and thus force more blood into the muscle, but also allows you to reach momentary muscle fatigue twice, affecting more muscle fibers.
The second method is similar to breakdown training, except it is done with barbells and is called “stripping.” Let’s say you do the flat bench press with barbells for your chest muscles. If you normally do a set of Bench Press (Bb) for 6 reps with 185 pounds, you might want to arrange the weights so that you have two 35-pound plates on each side of a 45-pound barbell. Do your bench press with the two 35-pound plates on each side for as many reps as you can. When you have reached muscle fatigue, have your partner or–even better, two people–quickly strip one of the 35-pound plates off of each side and do the bench press again for as many reps as possible. This would complete one set.
Up/Down the Rack
The third training method that promotes new and improved muscle and strength gains, similar to both breakdowns and stripping in its intensity, is called “up and down the rack”; this one requires the use of dumbbells. When using the “down the rack” training technique, make sure all the dumbbells are in proper sequence with about 5-10-pound increments between each pair. Shrugs (Db) is our example: choose the weight you would normally use for about 8 reps, and do as many Shrugs as possible; then quickly grab the next set of dumbbells (approximately 40 percent lighter) and again do as many Shrugs as possible.
You can see why each of these three techniques would help you overcome plateaus and produce outstanding results. Try to choose the weights so that each time you are only able to do between 4 and 8 reps. This way, if you do the bench press 5 times with your heavy weight and then “break it down,” “strip,” or go “down the rack” to a lighter weight that you can do 6 reps with, the effect is as if you have done a set of 11 repetitions–but the experience is much more intense because you have reached muscle fatigue twice. You must go to complete fatigue each and every time before “breakdowns,” “stripping,” or going “down the rack” and each strip must occur in under three seconds. This is a must; the speed is essential. The muscles being worked must not get a chance to recover. If you take longer than three seconds, the muscles will recover and thus defeat the whole purpose of the exercise.
You can do any one of these three methods three times if you want to further increase the intensity. For example, you could start out doing breakdowns with 50 pounds and do as many as possible, then quickly decrease the weight to 30, and then 20 pounds.
Never do more than three sets of these advanced training methods and definitely do not feel guilty about doing only one set. If done properly these will absolutely stimulate growth. Remember: you must go to muscle fatigue before breaking down, stripping, or going down the rack, and each “strip” for example, must be done very quickly–in less than three seconds. This is very important–the muscles being worked must not get a chance to recover.
It’s very likely that the results of this training will be so great that you will literally want to do this style of training every workout, but remember: keep changing your routine–never let your muscles get accustomed to any exercise or technique. Be sure to go back to straight sets in between, and try some of the additional techniques that follow.
Assisted training, sometimes called “forced reps” training, is similar to breakdown, stripping, and up and down the rack training in that resistance is decreased in accordance with the muscle’s momentary capacity to contract. However, with assisted training your partner actually helps you to perform two or three post-fatigue repetitions.
For example, let’s say you normally encounter muscle fatigue after 10 reps with 70 pounds on the Close-grip Lat. Pull-downs. By receiving a little assistance from your partner during the lifting movement, you can complete a few more repetitions, thus stimulating and fatiguing additional muscle fibers, increasing the intensity of the exercise. Make sure that your partner does not help you during the negative part of the repetition, the part with resistance where you let the weight back slowly to the beginning of the movement. You should resist the weight all by yourself. A good lifting partner will always encourage the lifter to let the weight come back very slowly, in good form.
This brings us to the next advanced training method, called “negative training” or “negatives.” There are two different ways you can work “negatives” into your routine. The first method is very intense and requires that your partner apply additional resistance to the negative phase of the lift. For example, when doing the Preacher Curl Machine, curl the bar up, just as you normally would, but now have your partner apply resistance or pull the bar down against your force. It’s fine if you eventually need help on the positive phase (the lifting of the weight); just be sure to keep resisting the additional force your partner is applying to the bar.
Because effective muscle force output is greater during the negative phase of the lift, negative training is useful for increasing muscle strength and development. However, lowering weights that are too heavy to lift creates a higher injury risk for both the muscles and the connective tissues. We therefore recommend that all negative training be carefully controlled, supervised by a conscientious spotter.
A second, less intense form of negative training simply requires that you lower the weight back to the original position as slowly as possible and then lift the exercise as you normally would through the positive phase. For example, when doing the Bench Press (Bb), lower the weight as slowly as you can and do as many reps on your own as possible. When you get to the point where you cannot push up the weight, have your partner help you with the pushing up and still lower the weight as slowly as possible. This method will really force blood into your muscles. Expect to be a little more sore than usual and maybe even need an extra day or so of rest to help the rebuilding process in your muscles.
The last advanced training strategy is called “10-second training.” This is another way to make muscles work harder by decreasing speed. Slower movement reduces the role of momentum and requires more muscle effort. One way to further exploit and take advantage of this strategy is to take a full 10 seconds for each lifting movement. You may need to decrease the weight and/or the repetitions with this method, because if you move slowly enough, it won’t take much to produce muscle fatigue; the increased muscle tension will be obvious.
As with all other forms of advanced/intense exercises, 10-second training should not be practiced at every workout session. Just as with the other advanced/intense exercises, use a spotter who will provide some assistance and assure your safety.