Everyone who’s worked with weights is familiar with a straight set-and-rep scheme. You pick an exercise, choose a weight and do the prescribed number of reps. This type of training can get you very far. It took me from a weightlifting newbie to winning my first few fitness competitions.
But after a while, I found that I hit a plateau in muscle growth. I also grew a bit bored with this style. I began to include some different training techniques to breathe new life into my routine. It added much-needed fun to my training. Also, my body responded with all kinds of great soreness and muscle development! Here are 15 of my favorite strength and muscle growth techniques to spice up your repertoire.
15 Techniques For Strength and Muscle Growth
1. Drop sets
With a good old-fashioned drop set, you perform an exercise to muscular failure, quickly reduce the weight and continue to failure with the lighter weight. You can continue to extend the set by dropping the weight a second and even third time for a few more reps.
Example: After a set of dumbbell lateral raises, move down the rack to grab a lighter pair and continue lateral raises. (Repeat with an even lighter weight, if desired.
2. Mechanical Drop Set
Here, we’re changing the mechanics of a movement to go from a less to a more advantageous position. Perform a set of an exercise to failure; then, keeping the same weight, change the EXECUTION of the exercise for more mechanical advantage and continue to failure.
A) After a set of wide-grip pronated pull-ups, switch to a neutral grip for a few more reps.
B) Perform front squats to failure, then immediately switch to back squats for a few more grueling reps.
3. Rest pause
Do a full set of an exercise, rack the weight for a few seconds (five to 15) and force a few extra reps. You can repeat as much as you like to get more reps with good form in a set.
Example: Hit your target number of reps on a bench press, rack it (keeping your hands on the bar), take a few breaths and hit more reps. (Note: Use a spotter on an exercise such as the bench press.)
4. Band Assisted
Use a set of bands, specially made for this technique, to assist you in a lift. This method is typically used on the bigger lifts (squat, bench, etc). The bands give more assistance during the most challenging part of the movement and less assistance in the easier phase. This allows you to get used to weights beyond your training max.
Example: For squats, attach the bands to the top of the rack and to the bar. They will make the weight feel lighter at the bottom and heavier at the top, where you have the most advantage. Perform your set for the prescribed reps.
5. Band Resisted
This is the opposite of a band assist. Here, we’re using sub-maximal weights with added band resistance. This allows for more resistance at the “easiest” part of the lift.
Example: When performing deadlifts, anchor one end of the band to the floor and attach the other to the bar. This will provide more resistance as you move the weight away from the floor, making the lockout portion more challenging.
6. Tempo change
Many lifters become married to the 1010 tempo (one count up, one count down). Some will occasionally throw in a slow eccentric, or “negative.” But why limit ourselves to these tempos? They’re not written in stone, and we can certainly benefit from switching it up. Just as we don’t want to use the same weight over and over for weeks on end, we don’t want to get stuck in just one tempo. Along with slowing down the negative, we can slow down the concentric portion of the move or make it explosive. Throwing in some pauses at either end of the movement will give an added challenge as well.
Example: Try a 52×0 tempo, a 2022 or any number of combinations. A squat with a 52×0 tempo takes five grueling seconds to get to the bottom, pauses in the hole for two seconds, then explosively pushes to the top.
7. Pre-fatigue with an explosive movement
Perform several reps of an explosive/dynamic movement before moving on immediately to a heavier exercise using the same muscle group. The explosive first movement will slightly fatigue the muscle (the fastest-twitch fibers) before the main exercise, so don’t try to set a PR using this technique.
Example: Perform a set of five to 10 clapping push-ups before going into a set of dumbbell chest presses.
8. Pre-fatigue from isolation movement
With this method, we do an isolation exercise for a muscle group before a compound exercise that features that same muscle.
Example: Rep out a set of quad extensions right before a set of squats. (Afterward, hobble over to the water fountain.)
9. Post-fatigue sets
After a compound movement, go right to an isolation movement for one of the muscles that was just worked.
Example: Right after a set of deadlifts, go to a set of glute/ham raises.
10. Forced eccentrics (negatives)
After hitting concentric failure on an exercise, take out the concentric portion (how you do this will depend on the exercise) and force a few more controlled negatives.
Example: When you can no longer get your chin over the bar on a set of chin-ups, jump to the top and slowly control yourself to the bottom.
11. Partial reps
This is one of the rare times when we actually want to use a partial range of motion. After reaching failure on a full range of motion, squeak out a few more half- or quarter-reps of part of the movement.
Example: After hitting as many perfect reps as possible on a barbell bicep curl, get a few more reps of the bottom portion of the movement.
Or you can purposely split up the segments of an exercise, doing the tougher portion of the movement to failure before switching to the easier portion.
Example: Do a set of lateral raises from the middle to top of the movement. Then burn out a few more reps of the bottom portion.
12. 1 1/4 reps
From the stretch position, do the first quarter of the movement. Go back to the full stretched position. Then complete the entire range of motion.
Example: From the bottom of a squat, go one quarter of the way up, then back to the bottom, and all the way up. That entire sequence counts for one rep.
13. Shortened rest
Grab a stopwatch and chop some time off your regular rest period. For a muscle-burning, lung-heaving challenge, cut rest time in half! (Note, do not try this when maxing out in the one- to five-rep range. Your nervous system needs adequate time to recover.)
Example: Take only 30 seconds between sets of lat pull-downs. Enjoy the burn!
14. Isometric holds
Iso-holds are becoming a lost art, but they can help bust through a plateau in muscle growth. You can use this technique in several different ways.
A) Pause five to 10 seconds on every rep of an exercise. This can be done at peak contraction or anywhere else in the movement besides the stretched position.
Example: Pause for a five-count at the top of each rep of spider curls.
B) Pause five to 10 seconds on the last rep of an exercise.
Example: Hold the last rep of a chin-up at the top of the movement.
C) After completing a set, flex the muscle and hold for five to 20 seconds.
Example: After a set of weighted push-ups, clasp your hands together and flex your pecs hard!
15. Forced or cheat reps
This is where we use some momentum and less than perfect form to do a few more reps at the end of a set. Let’s be very clear here: You should only use this with an exercise in which there is a very low chance of injury when form breaks down. No cheat squats. No cheat deadlifts!
Example: Cheat curls. Use a little kick from the torso to get the weight up when you can’t do another rep with strict form.
Pepper in a few of these strength and muscle growth techniques during your workout to bust through a plateau and add a little excitement!