Humans are adaptable. And so are our muscles. The more we progress in our training, the more they adapt to our workouts, and the less likely they are to respond. That’s the time to ramp up the intensity with a range of sizzling strategies that will leave your muscles with no choice but to grow. The ten strategies outlined here aren’t for the faint-hearted. What they are is hard-core and heavy-duty – just what your body needs to take your results to the next level!
Method #1: Develop the Mind Muscle Connection
When you’re about to lift, you must develop laser like concentration on the task at hand. The first way to do this is to develop the mind-muscle connection. If you are doing squats, for example, put your mind into your thighs. Let nothing else matter. Be in the moment.
While you are fully engaging your brain with the body mechanics of the movement you are performing, you need to, at the same time, switch it off to the part that is trying to curtail your workout. You know that part – it’s the part that is always attempting to rationalize why you should do less . . .
So you don’t get injured
So you don’t miss that appointment
So you don’t over train.
We all have that voice inside, and it’s always trying to get us to do less than we should. Never negotiate with it. Instead do the opposite – tell yourself that what is set before it is easy. Rather than obsessing with the weight, view your body as a machine, rhythmically and mechanically moving the weight in perfect precision.
Method # 2: Lift Your Sternum
A lot of guys go into a lift with rounded shoulders and their torso hunched down. This is a very immobile position. By lifting your sternum, you will be extending through the thoracic spine. Think about bringing the sternum up so that it is level with the ground. Doing so will set your shoulder blades in the right spot for all of your curling and overhead lifting.
Method #3: Pull with Your Elbows
When you’re doing a pulling exercise, such as a Lat Pull-down, don’t think about pulling with your hands. If you, do you are likely to pull down with your wrists. To focus on the target muscle, such as the lats, you need to pull with your elbows. When doing the Lat Pull-down, think of your hands simply as hooks and concentrate on pulling down with your elbows. As a result, your elbows will move down and back beyond the level of your lats.
Method #4: Brace Through Your Torso
When you’re doing an exercise like the deadlift or an overhead life, you need to get tight through your torso. The first cue to achieve this is to pull down with your lats. Imagine that you’re doing straight arm pull-downs. Now squeeze the chest. This will provide you with a great deal of rigidity through the trunk which will actually allow you to lift more weight in your deadlift or overhead moves. In the top position of the exercise (such as the upright position of the deadlift), be sure to squeeze your glutes as tight as you can. This will ensure that you get full hip extension. You’ll be more stable and, again, you will be able to handle more weight.
Method #5: Squeeze the Bar
Whether you’re using a machine, a dumbbell or a barbell, you should squeeze with your hands. Doing so will enable you to activate a number of stabilizer muscles. When you squeeze the bar, the force will transmit all the way up your arm. This makes it easier for you to perform an upper body lift safely.
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Method #6: Pyramiding
Pyramiding relates to the rep –weight combination of the sets you perform. As you do each set, you up the resistance while lowering the number of reps that you’re doing. This technique works best when you are training on heavy compound moves like squats, bench presses and deadlifts. Make sure that you’ve got a spotter when going heavy on these exercises.
Method #7: Pre-Exhaustion
Pre-exhaustion is an extremely effective intensity enhancer that allows you overcome your weak links in order to fully stress the working muscle group. A major problem with some exercises is that, in order to work the target muscle group, you need to use assister muscle groups that are smaller and weaker. The classic example is the bench press.
The bench press targets the pectorals as its prime mover. However, it also involves the much smaller deltoids and triceps. This means that, when you are doing the exercise, the shoulders and arms will give out before the chest does. You won’t be able to maximally work the target muscle group.
Pre-exhaustion overcomes this problem in a novel way. It involves performing an isolation exercise for the large target muscle group before immediately going to the main compound movement. In the case of the bench press, for example, you would do a set of 12 reps on flat bench flyes before immediately going to the bench press.
By performing the flyes first, which target the chest, you are, in effect, making the chest the weak link in the next exercise. This allows you to work it to failure before the shoulders and arms give out.
Pre-exhaustion relies on moving immediately from the first to the second exercise. You do not want your target muscle to recover before hitting it with the main exercise. This technique will force you to lower the weight on the second move, but it will hit that muscle far more effectively.
Method #8: Descending Sets
Descending sets involves doing four to six sets of an exercise with no rest. The normal rep range is between 6 and 8. On each succeeding set you reduce the weight slightly. The easiest way to perform descending sets is by standing in front of a rack of dumbbells. Start with the heaviest weight that you can handle for 6 reps. Grasp the weights and perform your 6 strict reps. Now place the weights back in the rack and grasp hold of the next set going down the rack. Perform another six reps. Keep working down the rack until you have completed your required number of sets.
Descending (or strip) sets can also be performed with a barbell. Ideally, you’ll need two spotters. If you are doing the bench press, start with a weight that will allow you to eek out 6 reps. Then rack the bar as your partners strip 5 pounds off each end of the bar. Now pump out another six reps. Continue this process, going down in gradations of 5 pounds each time.
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Method #9: Forced Reps
Just as an exercise should feature a resistance curve that varies over the course of a rep in relation to the target muscle’s strength curve, so the amount of weight you lift during the course of a set should vary so you are always pushing as hard as you can while still being able to move the weight. There are several ways to get the amount of weight to vary like that. The simplest is with forced reps.
Forced reps involves performing all but the last couple of reps of a set by yourself. When you are unable to complete a rep on your own, your training partner provides just the help you need to get you past your sticking point.
Let’s say the amount of weight you can bench press is 185 pounds. Your average set goes like this: the first two or three reps at this weight are easily within your ability, the fourth starts to get pretty hard, the fifth and sixth are really hard and you can just barely do the seventh and eighth.
Next set, you can barely do five reps. Third set you can barely do three.
Normally, you might drop the weight during the second and third sets to allow you to get out the required six to eight reps. However, the point remains that you can do the first few reps, even in these later sets. The problem is not that the weight is too heavy – it’s that the weight remains static while your strength curve drops as a result of training fatigue.
With a partner to help you, however, you can use the higher weight for all three (or four) sets, and have the partner “adjust” the amount of weight you are pushing to match your decreasing strength.
For each set you would do as many as possible unassisted. As the exercise becomes impossible to complete on your own, have your spotter give you just enough assistance to complete the set. Often only a finger on the bar from your spotter will make it move. You do not want your spotter to take too much of the weight.
Keep in mind that forced reps is an advanced technique and is much more intense than doing normal reps. It’s also more dangerous. If your partner looks away at the wrong moment or jerks the weights when you’re on your last strength reserve, you could be severely injured. Do forced reps only with a partner you trust.
Method #10: Wear Weightlifting Shoes
Weightlifting shoes are not just for the elite lifter. They can make your lifts a lot safer and help you to go harder and heavier. The most important aspect of weightlifting shoes is the raised heel. This gives you greater shin angle in the deep squat position. This is critical in the squat exercise. It encourages better squat mechanic by keeping the torso upright.
A weightlifting shoe will also make your feet more stable. This stability anchors the heel, preventing the danger of the foot shifting laterally. You will have a very strong platform from which to exert force directly into the floor.
- Use progressive resistance to increase the intensity of each succeeding workout
- Always keep your core tight and your back flat when holding a weight
- Always use a closed grip when grasping a bar
- Never use momentum to lift a weight
- Lift your sternum, squeeze your glutes and brace your torso
- Pull with your elbows and squeeze the bar
- Leave your ego at the door