I talk so much about the many common ways to add intensity to your workouts—techniques like drop sets, forced reps, rest-pauses, and holding peak contractions—that I sometimes forget the not-so-obvious ones. Recently, I thought back to some of the innovative ways my fellow bodybuilders and I achieved that extra bit of intensity, as we were always looking to add another 5-10 lbs of new muscle growth. Here are three of the more creative measures we took.
1. Partial Holds
This novel technique involves holding a relatively light weight steady at various points along the path of an exercise, which forces the muscle to maintain a constant contraction for extended periods.
Let’s use lateral raises as an example. After reaching failure on a straight set, I lifted the dumbbells out to my sides only 5" or so and held them there for 10 seconds. That may not sound like such a big deal, but believe me, it provides a painful end to a set. When I was seeking an even greater burn, I’d do this another time or two after resting for 15 seconds, almost like rest-pausing. Give it a try the next time you feel you’ve hit a plateau. This works similarly with pullups. At the end of a set, lift yourself only a few inches above the bottom of the rep and hold this position for as long as you can. What a way to force your lats to grow wider.
2. Multi-Exercise Sets
This one’s great, though you almost never see it done at the gym. Instead of performing, say, four sets of one exercise, do one set each of four different exercises for the same body part.
Using chest as an example, this might entail doing one set of barbell incline presses, resting a minute or so—this is not a superset, mind you—then doing a set of flat-bench dumbbell presses, resting, then a set of incline flyes, resting for another minute, and finishing with weighted (or bodyweight-only) dips. Think about it: By performing four different movements, you employ different angles and stresses on the same muscles each set. You can do this for your entire workout, which may require getting creative since you’ll do about 10 distinct exercises, or you can finish your routine the way you normally do, picking 2-3 more exercises for that muscle group and performing 3-4 sets of each.
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3. “One-and-a-Half” Method
Finally, you have one-and-a-halfs, which I think of as a less elaborate way of doing 21s (in which you perform the top half of a rep seven times, then the bottom half seven times, then finish with seven full reps).
With this method, you follow each full rep with a half rep. The goal, of course, is to experience a maximum burn in your target muscles. Let me explain how to do this for biceps. On a given set of standing barbell or dumbbell curls, follow every full rep with one in which you go only halfway up or halfway down. When I used this technique, I made sure that I performed every half rep very slowly and strictly. Toward the end of the set I often had to cheat the full reps up because my biceps were in such excruciating pain.
Add these three techniques to your current routine and I promise you’ll experience a new kind of soreness—and muscle growth.