Lifting progressively heavy at low repetitions and sets has primarily been the focus for building muscle size. Indeed, heavy lifts can stimulate the nervous system and release testosterone and Human Growth Hormone. However, there is research that suggests that similar results can be obtained by increasing volume and range of motion. Once you build a solid foundation, it is time to consider using alternate methods to stimulate muscle growth. The next time you are able to perform a set of 10 reps at your current weight, try using some of the methods below rather than automatically increasing the weight.
- Increase your ROM (range of motion in the exercise). For example, go deeper in you squats. Try a rear leg elevated split squat (Bulgarian split squats). Work through the entire extension with your bicep curls, rather than lifting heavier and only focusing on the top or bottom range of the exercise.
- Achieve a mind muscle connection. I have addressed this in earlier articles. However, most people do not realize the importance of feeling the weight as opposed to simply moving the weight. It is easy to zone out and push or pull the weights without truly focusing in on the effort. Your goal is to make the weights feel like they weigh more than they actually do.
- Have days where you focus on high volume. If you continually perform 6 to 10 reps day after day, the nervous system ceases to respond. High volume means more reps and sets of the exercises. You could simply have one high volume set followed by lower rep sets or end each exercise with one burn-out high volume set. Burn-out or finisher sets are an excellent way to condition the muscles and stimulate the pituitary gland to release Human Growth Hormone.
- Incorporate supersets and tri-sets. Once you have reached a certain level of strength, your body can become immune to your reps and sets. Supersets and tri-sets are a good way to bump up the intensity by forcing a lot of blood into the area being worked. They are combinations of two or more exercises with minimal rest between sets. If you are new to supersets a good way to start is by combining exercises for opposing muscle groups. For example, bicep curls and tricep pulley push downs. Supersets and tri-sets can also be used to target one single relatively large muscle group.
- Work the negative. Slow down the negative portion of the exercise so that it takes twice as long to complete the repetition. If you raise a weight in 3 seconds and lower it in 5 seconds, try raising it for 3 seconds and lowering it for 10 seconds.
Keep in mind, these are just a few of the methods that can be used to increase intensity and muscle stimulation. There are many more possibilities. Also, it is important to first establish a solid base of strength training before increasing volume and intensity.
This morning I used ROM, volume, negative, and supersets/tri-sets to bring extra blood flow to the muscles in my back (an area I have been trying to develop for quite some time).
Superset: 6 sets
- Lat Pull Downs Reps: 20/15/15/15/12/20
- Seated Cable Rows Reps: 20/20/15/12/10/20
Tri-Set: 4 sets
- Single Arm Hammer Strength ISO Lateral Row (right, left) Reps: 20/15/15/12
- Hammer Strength High Iso Row Reps: 20/15/12/12
- T-Bar Row with hands at lowest handles Reps: 10/10/10/10
Tri-Set: 3 sets
- Wide Grip Pull up on the Max Rack Bar Reps: 20/20/20
- Narrow Grip Pull ups working the negative (pull up to the top and lower slowly down to the count of 5) Reps: To failure
- Bent Over Wide Grip Rows using the Max Rack Bar Reps: 15/15/15
Holm L, et al, Changes in muscle size and MHC composition in response to resistance exercise with heavy and light loading intensity, Journal of Applied Physiology, Nov 2008, 105:1454-1461
Denos, L. What is More Effective for Building Muscle Mass? Straight to the Bar
Wuebben, J., PHD and Stoppani, J., PHD Increase Workout Intensity with Supersets: Human Kinetics