It takes a lot of commitment to go to the gym or weight room and give your best effort.
Many people, be them athletes or average Joes, share a common training goal: building muscle.
Traditionally speaking, hypertrophy (muscle growth) training recommendations include performing 6-12 reps per set, resting 30-90 seconds between sets, and choosing a load that’s between 67-85% of your one-rep max.
While these are great basic principles to keep in mind, you have additional strategies at your disposal that can help you pack on lean muscle.
If you want to leave the gym confident you’re on your way to building more muscle, then take these four ideas with you and work them into your own plan.
1. Pre-Exhaust the Working Muscles
This is a strategy that is popular in bodybuilding-style training.
Pre-exhausting a muscle group generally involves performing an isolation exercise that targets a certain muscle directly before performing a compound exercise that targets the same muscle.
For example, you could pre-exhaust your chest muscles with a couple sets of Chest Flys before going on to the Barbell Bench Press. Other common pre-exhaust pairs include Lateral Raises before Military Presses, or Leg Extensions before Barbell Back Squats.
Pre-exhausting the muscle accomplishes several tasks at once.
First, you’re establishing a connection between the mind and the muscle so that when you perform those other exercises, you will feel it working and perform more quality reps.
But more importantly, you’re training those bigger muscle groups before going into your heavier work. This guarantees those areas are sustaining the type of damage necessary for muscle growth. While it’s usually the smaller muscle groups that limit the amount of reps we can perform on big compound movements, pre-exhaustion techniques aim to make it so both big and small muscle groups fail at the same time.
Pre-fatiguing the muscles also means you likely don’t need to use as much weight on the compound movement to make the sets count. Unless you’re a powerlifter or strongman where the number on the bar really matters, this can help you minimize the risk of injury and decrease the toll on your joints.
Look at your plan and determine which big muscle groups will be working the hardest on that day. Then find an exercise that will isolate that same muscle group, and perform it before you do your compound lift.
You can either superset the isolation exercise with the compound exercise, or perform 2-3 sets of the isolation exercise before moving right into sets of the compound exercise.
2. Add an Iso Hold to Your Final Set
People underestimate how tough it can be to simply “pause” an exercise.
By integrating an isometric hold into the final set of certain exercises, you can maximize the quality of the set without having to do more reps. This can also help you get a great pump and become stronger in a given movement pattern.
Generally speaking, this tactic is most safe with machine or bodyweight-based exercises. You can easily use it with moves like Pull-Ups, Chin-Ups, Push-Ups, Dips, Cable Rows, Tricep Push-Downs, Cable Curls, Lat Pulldowns, etc.
During the final rep of the final set of such exercises, hold for 10-20 seconds at the point of maximum contraction (which is generally around the point where you’re switching from the concentric action to the eccentric action).
3. Use 5-Second Negatives
This is one you’ve probably heard before, but I’m taking the traditional negative to another level.
If you really want to put your muscles through hell and spur greater growth, try integrating 5-second negatives into some of your exercises. Literally count aloud as you lower the weight: 1 one-thousand, 2 one-thousand, 3 one-thousand, 4 one-thousand, 5 one-thousand. Do this for each rep in a given set.
By extending the length of the eccentric like this, you’re doing more damage to the muscle. When paired with good recovery, that means more muscle growth.
4. End With a High-Rep Blowout
One of the benefits of training is that you’re sending blood to the working muscles. This is what’s commonly known as the “pump.” That’s when the muscle feels like it’s engorged and nearly going to burst out of your skin.
While 6-12 reps per set are the traditional recommendation for muscle growth, integrating a couple high-rep sets at the end of your workout can help flood those working muscles with as much blood as possible.
So how many reps? 2-3 sets of 20-25 reps is a great start. If you can get to 40-50 reps, even better.
Resistance bands are perhaps the best way to utilize this strategy, and applying it to a biceps or triceps-oriented exercise always gets great results.
For example, grab a resistance band, loop it around a pull-up bar, then perform 3 sets of 30 Banded Tricep Push-Downs. I guarantee you’ll walk out of the gym with a fantastic pump!
Try your best to finish each set without stopping. But if you must stop, try to keep any break to less than five seconds before resuming the set. And obviously, a need to take too many breaks/too long of breaks is a sign you should probably use lighter weight.
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