Stuck in the strength training doldrums? Our best piece of fitness advice is that “Variety is key.” Greatist has shared all sorts of ways to take workouts from “hum drum” to “hot stuff.” We’re now turning our eye to eight effective strength training techniques. So grab that workout log and a pen, because here are some great ways to challenge the status quo and add a little variety to the normal gym routine.
Grab Bag — Your Action Plan
Doing the same old, same old in the gym is all well and good — until it’s results in a power plateau. Mix in these techniques next time you’re in the weight room to help blast through plateaus and add just the spice needed to keep you coming back to the gym day after day (except on rest days, of course!).
- Training to Failure. During most lifts with a moderately heavy weight, the set is completed before failure is reached. Muscles feels taxed, the sweating has begun, a few more sets are rocked, and we move on to the next exercise. This is a great way to get stronger, but is taking a set to failure an even better way? Yes and no
Muscle Activation strategies during strength training with heavy loading vs. repetitions to failure. Sundstrup, E., et al. 1 National Research Center for the Working Environment, Copenhagen, Denmark 2, Institute of Sport Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark 3Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Bispebjerg University Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012 Jul;26(7):1897-903.. While training to failure — lifting until the body can’t do a single more rep — recruits more muscle and triggers the body to release more strength-building hormones, it’s most effective if a very high percentage of a one rep max can be performed The application of training to failure in periodized multiple-set resistance exercise programs. Willardson, J.M. Physical Education Department, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois 61920, USA. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research; 2007 May;21(2):628-31. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. Schoenfeld BJ. Global Fitness Services, Scarsdale, New York, USA. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research; 2010 Oct;24(10):2857-72.. Also, sets to failure increase the opportunity for overtraining and injury, so it’s best to use this technique only occasionally and with a spotter.
- Super Set. Instead of tweeting about how sweaty you are after each set, push muscle groups by coupling exercise with another set that focuses on a different body part, for example: back and chest, bi’s and tri’s, Tom and Jerry. Research suggests lifting in supersets can be just as effective as normal sets at building strength while adding an additional cardio component
The metabolic costs of reciprocal supersets vs. traditional resistance exercise in young recreationally active adults. Kelleher, A.R. Musculoskeletal and Human Performance Laboratories, Department of Exercise Science, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, USA; Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2010 Apr;24(4):1043-51.. Or for added punch, do similar body parts — shoulders and shoulders, legs and legs — for a serious burn.
- Circuit Training. Some gyms are set up to move people from machine to machine or exercise to exercise with little rest. This keeps the heart pumping and the muscles working. Work at each station for 30 to 45 seconds, or a certain number of reps, and keep the rest periods short, just the time it takes to walk from station to station. Like with supersets, this method combines the benefits of strength training and a bit of cardio at the same time
Similarity in adaptations to high-resistance circuit vs. traditional strength training in resistance-trained men. Alcaraz, P.E., Perez-Gomez, J., Chavarrias, M., et al. Biomechanics Laboratory, Department of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, San Antonio Catholic University of Murcia, Murcia, Spain. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research; 2011 Sep;25(9):2519-27. Physical performance and cardiovascular responses to an acute bout of heavy resistance circuit training versus traditional strength training. Alcaraz, P.E., Sanchez-Lorente, J., Blazevich, A.J. Kinesiology and Biomechanics Laboratory, Department of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, Universidad Católica San Antonio de Murcia, Guadalupe, Murcia, Spain. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research; 2008 May;22(3):667-71.. It’s easy to do a simple circuit at home, too: Lunges from wall to wall, sit ups in front of the TV, incline push ups on the coffee table, lateral hops over the sleeping puppy — work hard, move quick, get fit!
- Tabata Intervals. The great thing about many of these techinques is the time saving aspect, and Tabata Intervals are definitely time savers. Developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata for Olympic athletes, Tabata Protocol is a form of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) where 20 seconds of work is coupled with 10 seconds of rest then repeated for 8 total rounds
Metabolic profile of high intensity intermittent exercises. Tabata, I., Irisawa, K., Kouzaki, M., et al. Department of Physiology and Biomechanics, National Institute of Fitness and Sports, Kanoya City, Japan. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 1997 Mar;29(3):390-5.. The 20 seconds work/10 seconds rest pattern has been shown to tax both aerobic and anaerobic pathways more — and in less time — than intense exercise with longer rest periods, meaning improved overall cardiovascular fitness. This protocol can be done with running/rowing/swimming, bodyweight exercises, or weighted movements.
- Drop Sets. Drop sets can be performed with any exercise that involves moving weight around, like squats or the bench press. You have performed ten bench presses and couldn’t possibly do eleven. Re-rack the weight and have a partner take off ten pounds or so, then perform as many reps as possible at that new weight. It’s even easier to use dumbbells and simply move to smaller and smaller bells, set to set. Three total drop sets is the norm, do this to infinity and beyond and you may be way too sore the next day.
- Negative Sets. Weight training works with and against gravity. The motion towards the bar in a pull-up is called the “concentric movement,” while heading back towards the ground is an “eccentric movement,” or the negative portion of the movement. Resisting the pull of gravity during the negative porting of the movement taxes the muscles in a different way
Myofibrillar disruption following acute concentric and eccentric resistance exercise in stregth-trained men. Gibala, M.J., Interisano, S.A., Tarnopolsky, M.A., et al. Department of Kinesiology (Neurology and Neurological Rehabilitation), McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada. Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmocology. 2000 Aug;78(8):656-61.. At the end of a long set, switch to just performing negatives (with a partner’s help on the way up) or work towards getting those difficult bodyweight movements (like a pull up or dip) by only performing the negative of the movement. Sounds easy? Just try it!
- Rest-Pause Sets. The body is an amazing machine, with the right amount of rest it can surprise us with its tenacity. With a weight near your 3 or 5 rep maximum, perform as many reps as possible, then re-rack. Rest for 10 to 15 seconds, then grab it again and go at it. Make sure to keep correct form, and go/rest until you can’t budge the bar. Make sure to only do this once.
- Static Hold. Static holds are familiar to some as a great strengthening technique used in yoga. They can be performed with bodyweight movements — get in the top of a plank or a deep squat position and hold — or they can be done by holding weights (in a slightly contracted position or with full lock out). Our tip? Time how long you can hold a plank to see improvement from week to week.
Remember, the real trick to getting stronger is to progressively move more and more weight, so keep in mind that these tricks and tips are meant to supplement that goal