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We’ve all been there. Stuck in a slump, counting to 12 reps, resting for a minute and carrying on. Finishing a workout and feeling flat, underworked and unsatisfied with your performance.  As you advance on the bodybuilding scene, so must your levels of training. There are specific techniques that allow you to push your body harder, past that comfort zone and to really speed up the process.  

However, before you even consider advanced training, you must make sure you have achieved the basics:  

  1. Have you already built some muscle using basic techniques with standard reps and sets?
  2. Is your nutrition and supplementation on point and ready to handle the new advanced form of training?
  3. Are you able to perform all lifts correctly with good form and control on all movements?
  4. Have you gained enough strength to really push your body to new limits?
  5. Are you consistent with your training and food?

The best way to try out these advanced techniques is to start light with weights and gradually build up, get a feel for what the impact is on the muscles and your system. Don’t jump into the deep end. Too much overload and you will risk injury and failure.  

Tempo Speed

The speed of a rep is critical. Different speeds will allow you to focus on the kind of lift you are after. If you think about it, a powerlifter needs to be fast and ferocious in his lift. He is very explosive and dynamic to generate as much power as possible. While a bodybuilder who wants size wants to focus on applying as much tension to a muscle as possible, of a set number of repetitions or time.  

When we look at tempo speed, we look at three separate numbers. The first number indicates how long it should take you to perform the rep, which is the concentric part of the movement. The second number tells you how long to hold the lift at the contraction part of the movement. The final number tells you how long it should take you to return the weight back to the beginning of the movement, which is the eccentric part.  

Powerlifters will often lift with a 1:0:1 ratio when performing max lifts, or 1:0:4 when trying to gain strength and focusing on negative power.

A bodybuilder will look to really control and stretch out repetitions to maximize the stimulus. They work on reps speeds of 2:1:4 or 4:1:2 or even a speed of 4:2:4. There is no real right or wrong, just options. Some things will work well for you, some not; it’s a case of trial and error to find your perfect speed for what you want to achieve.

Pre Exhaustion

Pre exhausting a muscle is a very safe way to train. When we lift heavy compounds, you can risk injury to joints and muscles by the incredible weight you can build up to. When we pre-exhaust, we use smaller weights that isolate a body part, to then be followed up by a compound lift after. This lift will incorporate fresh muscles that will assist a movement. As the primary muscle is already fatigued, you don’t need to use a dangerous weight to perform the compound lift to make it useful, making this a great way to train lagging body parts.

Below are some examples of pre-exhaust training:

  1. Quads - Leg Extension (isolated exercise) followed with leg press (compound exercise)
  2. Chest - Pec Deck Fly (isolated exercise) with barbell chest press (compound exercise) 
  3. Shoulders - Lateral Raise (isolated lift) with seated shoulder press (compound lift) 

Super Set

A superset is when you perform 2 exercises, back to back with no rest in between. You can use the same muscle groups for this, or opposing muscle groups. If you are going to use the same muscle group, you would perform an isolation exercise first, followed by a compound exercise. If using antagonistic muscle groups, you can use isolation or compound lifts. 
An example of that would be: 

  1. Chest – Isolation, then Compound Set. Perform a set of cable flys, followed immediately by bench press. 
  2. Chest – Compound, then Compound Superset. This is done by performing a barbell chest press, followed by a bent over row. 

Tri Set - These are an advanced version of the superset. They can be performed in any manner: isolation followed by compound followed by isolation OR compound, compound, isolation. The options are endless. If you are focusing a tri-set on just one muscle, I would do it starting with an isolation, followed by a free weight compound, then a machine compound. As you advance through the sets, you reduce the control and stability needed from the muscles, so you stay safe and in control.  

Drop Set - A drop set is similar to a superset, in the sense you are performing multiple sets, back to back. However, with a drop set, you are just using a single exercise. You perform your first set and once you have reached failure, reduce the weight slightly and carry on. You would usually perform around 3 to 4 total drop sets.  Drop sets work really well on dumbbells, barbells single and machines but a spotter is needed for safety reasons with barbells.  

Cluster Set - A cluster set is a large group of sets (usually 5-10 sets total) that are performed with a fixed number of reps and set rest periods between each set. The goal of a cluster set is to wear down a muscle by the use of cumulative fatigue. You repeat the cycle or perform a small number of reps, followed by a relatively short rest period. With cluster set training, the early sets often feel easy, and the later sets become progressively more difficult.

Here are a few examples:

  1. 8 sets x 3 reps, 20 seconds rest - you perform 3 reps, rest 20 seconds and repeat this cycle until all 8 sets are completed, using the same weight for all sets. 
  2. 10 sets x 4 reps, 30 seconds rest - you perform 4 reps, rest 30 seconds and repeat this cycle until all sets are completed, using the same weight for all sets.           

Negative Reps

Negative reps, or negative training, is the use of slow, controlled aspect of a lift to stimulate muscle growth. You are training the central nervous system to handle heavy weight with control. You always focus on the eccentric part of the movement for negatives, as this is where the muscle is at its strongest and can handle heavier loads. You can use a spotter to help you on the positive part of the movement to really push past that comfort zone and take the negative to complete failure.  

Forced Reps

A forced rep is a great way to add extra muscle. You are forcing the fibers to get broken down, pushing them past that level of comfort. You should only ever do 2-3 forced reps, and it’s key that the spotter assists you on the movement but doesn’t take over the movement.  I like to spot my clients with my fingers to start with, and as they tire, I can use my full hands to pull the bar back to the top.

All of these versions are useful and will contribute a great deal to your advancement in working out and building muscle. Just make sure you are using the right one for YOU.

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