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III. Advanced Training Techniques
There are several ways to stimulate muscle growth and endurance without necessarily increasing resistance. These techniques are used to keep your body adjusting and avoiding plateaus. It is important to note that each technique should be used sparingly because it might be too intense to use on a regular basis, and may not give a muscle group adequate time to recover and repair. It you are beginning to strength train I would avoid most of these techniques until you have adequate tendon, joint, and ligament strength.
1. Drop Set: Start with 1 warm up set. Select amount of resistance you would normally use on your last set to failure. Lift to failure, drop 10% resistance, and lift to failure and drop another 20%, lift to failure, drop 50% and do as many reps as you can. You can do a drop set with four, three, two, or a single drop in weight.
2. Compound Set: A compound set is performing two exercises for same body part back to back with no rest in-between. Ex. bench press / push up; preacher curl / hammer curl; triceps kickback / bench dip. Compound sets will quickly bring a muscle group to failure therefore it is unnecessary to perform multiple exercises.
3. Super Set: A super set works opposing muscle groups back to back with no rest in-between sets. An example would be performing a bicep curl and triceps extension, leg extension (quadriceps) and leg curl (hamstrings), seated row (back) and chest press. Super sets are great for minimizing amount of time needed to workout.
4. Partials: Normally an exercise works a joint through a complete range of motion. Partials are used when muscles are too fatigued to do a complete range of motion and attempt to squeeze last bit of strength out of them. Once you have reached failure in full range, complete several more reps to failure using last half of range of motion.
5. Negatives: You can accomplish just as much in lowering or negative phase of an exercise as positive or exertion phase. The negative phase for a bicep curl would be lowering weight to starting position. For biomechanical reason your muscles can accommodate 20% more resistance in this phase therefore increased weight and usually a partner are needed. Negatives increase load on tendons, joints, and ligaments therefore I use negatives on only my most stable clients who have been strength training for some time. You can perform a form of negative resistance by taking as much as ten seconds to lower weight. This is much safer and easier on joint. Note that negatives are used for mass building not endurance.
6. Super Slow: When you work out you attempt to recruit as many of fibers in a muscle as possible; at failure you are achieving maximum recruitment. The super slow method is an effective way to recruit muscle fiber without using a lot of weight. Simply take ten seconds to perform both positive and negative phases of an exercise. You will want to use lower weight. The first few reps will be easy but muscle will quickly begin to burn. Because super slow method is tedious I do not recommend its' use in an entire workout. I would use this method sparingly in one set per body part.
7. Rep Sets: Your muscles are composed of mix different fibers, some are used for short bursts of power others for endurance. Generally speaking power fibers hypertrophy, or get bigger than endurance fibers, but endurance fibers still can be worked. A rep set works a muscle group using low weight and high repetitions versus normal mass building routine. I use a single rep set occasionally at end or a workout for a muscle group.
8. Pre-Exhaustion: An example of pre-exhausting chest would be to perform two sets of push-ups to failure prior to doing your bench press. I like to schedule pre-exhaustive outlines approximately every four weeks. Use light weight and high reps isolating same muscle group you will use on your next exercise.
9. Burn Out Set: A burn out set is similar to a drop set. Perform your normal set group (ex 12-10-6) of an exercise, immediately following last rep performed drop weight in half and continue to do as many reps as you can to failure. IV. The Exercises
Compound versus Isolation exercises: For sake of simplicity we will assume your body can be worked in two ways, by tackling each muscle individually or by working a group of muscles at once. When we work an individual muscle or a muscle group that acts on a joint in same manner, it is called an isolation exercise. Examples of isolation exercises for legs are leg extensions (quadriceps), leg curls (hamstrings), and calf raises. Compound exercises work several muscles or muscle groups at once. Examples of compound exercises for legs include squats, leg presses, and lunges which work glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps as well as a variety of smaller support muscles. Once again I recommend using a variety of compound and isolation exercises. Sometimes I pre-exhaust my quadriceps with leg extensions making them work extra hard when I perform squats, or I finish my leg presses with hamstring curls to really make sure I got everything out of them. Alternate between isolation and compound exercises but remember large compound movements should be emphasis of your workouts.
Matt Russ has coached and trained athletes around the country and internationally. He currently holds licenses by USAT, USATF, and is an Expert level USAC coach. Matt has coached athletes for CTS (Carmichael Training Systems), is an Ultrafit Associate. Visit www.thesportfactory.com for more information.