Sunday, August 31, 2008

More Weight Training Techniques to Revive Your Workouts and Break the Plateau

You should know that it takes discipline and dedication to follow workout routines to produce results. After a while, even the "best" workout routines are getting old and boring. You stop lifting heavier weights and more reps. Your strength staganates. Your muscles stop growing. Like I say all the time:


"Everything works. But nothing works forever.
You got to change it up!"

In an earlier post, I have provided 7 weight training variations to a classical straight-set workout routine. They are very effective and useful alternative workout routines to help you change up your weight training program.

Let's re-visit the training variables you can manipulate for weight training (resistance training):

  • Selection of exercises
  • Order of exercises
  • Weights (resistance)
  • Sets
  • Reps
  • Tempo (rep speed)
  • Rest interval
  • Loading pattern
  • Periodization program
What else can you do about these variables beyond the straight-set routine and the other 7 variations??

Let's use the same classical straight set routine as an example.

Classical Straight Set for Hypertrophy (Muscle Building)
Chest Bench Press: 10 reps x 3 sets, 2-0-1 tempo, 1 minute rest

Here are 7 more variations you can do to change up your weight training program.

1 1/4 Reps
Clean the weight up to top fully extended position. Slowly lower the weight to the chest. Press up a quarter of the way, then lower the weight down to the chest. Now press the weight up to full extension to the top position. That's one repetition, which is actually one-and-quarter rep. Repeat for 6 to 8 reps. Rest a minute before repeating for another one to two sets.

21s
This is one of the old-time bodybuilders' favorites. A typical weightlifting movement has three phases. The concentric phase (or positive, push or pulling phase) is when you contract (flex or squeeze) your muscles. The eccentric phase (or negative, returning or lowering phase) is when you stretch the muscles you just contracted. There is a neutral mid-point between concentric and eccentric phase where your muscles are not contracted nor stretched. Sometimes it's called the "sticky point."

With 21s, you'll do 21 repetitions in one set. You need to cut the weight you can normally do 7 reps by about 40 to 60%. So do bench press from the lowest stretched position up to the chest for 7 repetitions. Then do another 7 reps from the chest up to full extension at the top position. Finish the set with 7 regular bench presses. Rest for 2 minutes before repeating for another one or two sets. You should feel the "burning" sensation on your pec muscles.

Super Slow Reps
It's another old-time favorite. This is not for the beginners or less conditoned lifters as the super slow reps may produce extra sore feeling on the muscles.

Super slow reps are another variation to the tempo and tension manipulation. Tempo is also called rep speed as to how quickly you lift the weight (concentric or "positive" phase) and lower the weight (eccentric or "negative" phase).

The 3-point tempo prescription of 2-0-1 means that you take 2 seconds to lower the weight, zero second pause at the bottom (stretch), and take one second to lift the weight. A more complicated 4-point tempo prescription adds the 4th digit for the time to hold (contracted) at the top of lifting.

Super slow reps produce a prolonged period of muscle tension. Isokinetic studies show that more muscle force is generated at slower movement speeds to develop maximum strength. The greater muscle force produced at slow speeds is due to greater recruitment of muscle fiber.

Use 30 to 40% less weight than normal. The tempo for super slow reps is like 5-0-10. So take 5 counts to lower the weight to the chest. Then slowly press the weight up over a period of 10 seconds. Repeat for 4 to 8 reps.

Partial Reps
By all means, you'll do just "partial" repetitions not the standard full range-of-motion repetitions. Partial reps allow you to lift heavier weight only through your strongest range of moitoin, which is typically the last few inches before completing the lift for a full-range movement.

It's safer to perform partial reps on a Power Rack, Smith Machine or with the help of an experienced trainer or spotter. You can typically lift extra 10 to 20% more weight than normal. Start with the top fully extended position. Lower the weight only for 2 to 3 inches before pressing the weight back up.

Forced Reps
This is another "forced" scheme that requires due dilegence from both the weightlifter and the spotter for safety reason. The purpose is to fatigue the muscle fibers that you wouldn't otherwise perform the "forced" reptition by yourself.

You'll perform the standard full range-of-motion repetitions. This is done when you want to push that extra last half rep or a few inches to complete another full reptition. The spotter would only help you for the part where you can't complete by yourself.

Drop Sets
This scheme can be done with barbell, dumbbell or machine. It's helpful to have someone help you with the weight plates or dumbbells.

For example, say you want to perfrom drop sets with barbell bench press. Load up weight plates on both sides. Replace the last 25-lb or 45-plate plate with a few 10-lb and 5-lb plates. You'll perform a set of 10 reps of bench press. Immediately have the helper take off some weight (e.g., 10 lbs) and do another set of 10 reps at a lower weight. Again, take some some more weight (e.g., another 10 lbs) and do the third set of 10 reps at 20-lb lower weight. If you can handle it, drop another 10 lbs and do the fourth set of 10 reps at 30-lb lower weight. That's literally a 40-rep set and would produce tremendous damage and soreness on your pec muscle fibers.

Rest and Pause
This is a scheme that helps you crank up another 2 or 3 reps at the end of a normal set of workout. You feel sore because your muscles are under sufficient load (stress) for a period of time (tension). You can't complete the 11th rep beyond the 10 reps because your muscle fibers can't "fire up" fast enough to generate the strength to lift the weight. In biochemical term, the ATP can't break down fast enough to generate ADP and the "energy" to activate the muscle fibers. Or the ATPs are depleted momentarily. If you rest for a few seconds, the ATP reserve in your body is called out again to provide the necessary energy to activate or "fire up" the muscle fibers.

By taking advantage of these few seconds of window of opportunity, you're able to lift for another 2 or 3 reps. At the end of 10th repetiton in your bench press, hold the weight (in extended or locked-out position) and pause for a few seconds. Then you're able do a few more reps until fatigue. It's wise to use a spotter when you first try out this scheme.

Try to mix up with any of these 7 new variations when you need a boost in your workout routines. Do them spargingly. Don't try them all together. Don't go overboard in these special training methods to avoid injury or overtraining.

Changing up your weight training routines is necessary to keep you from being bored, stop from making progress in strength or muscle growth. That's how to revive your workout routines and break the plateau.

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