If you’ve noticed that your physique and strength have hit a plateau or you’re just downright bored of repeating your daily or weekly workout routine, it may be worth your while to consider mixing things up. Our bodies adapt rather quickly to the same environmental stresses we introduce to it every day, so if we keep repeating our actions day in and day out, we give our bodies no additional stimuli to adapt to and improve upon. So if we catch our bodies by surprise by forcing it to perform an action or series of actions it has never encountered before, we could force it to grow and adapt to this new stressor (the shocking principle). As your body gradually adapts, your workouts will likely be more difficult, probably less boring, and may potentially get you out of a plateau. These are a few methods that could help kick up the intensity of your workouts.
A negative repetition is a weight lifting technique where one performs the eccentric segment – the lowering of the weight – of a particular exercise in a slow and controlled manner. As an example, curling a dumbbell to your bicep is concentric whereas lowering the dumbbell back down is eccentric. Our bodies can handle lowering more weight than we could actually push or pull. Focusing on the eccentric part of the movement places a great deal of stress and trauma on the muscle, tendon, and connective tissue, so it can be very beneficial to incorporate this into your routine once or twice a week to increase strength and encourage hypertrophy (increasing the size of your muscles). If you do not have the strength to do a pull-up, this is particularly great for developing the strength to do so. You may need to seek a partner (or a stool) for help to position you at the start of the eccentric movement (chin above bar). Practice lowering yourself down in a controlled manner until your arms are fully extended and repeat that movements for a few sets.
A superset is another weight training technique that involves performing back-to-back exercises without any rest period between them. Many people superset with two exercises, but if you want to beast it even more, you can triplicate it, which would be a triset. When using this technique, you can either superset on the same body part or on different body parts. An example of supersetting the same body part would be performing a bent-over row first and then seated cable rows (perform the more challenging movement first). Supersetting on the same muscle group will really give your muscles a good pounding and a great pump. An example of supersetting different body parts would be biceps curls to tricep rope pull downs. This allows one body part to recover while another is at work. Supersets can be beneficial for multiple reasons: it saves you a lot of time, provides cardiovascular conditioning, boosts the intensity of your workout, and makes things more challenging and interesting.
A drop set is a technique where the lifter performs an exercise to failure, immediately drops (reduces) the weight and continues to perform the same exercise to failure, repeating that process for multiple sets. Some lifters move along the weight rack as they drop weight, also known as “running the rack.” Drop sets help to increase the blood flow to the target muscle group, recruit and fatigue as many muscle fibers as possible, and encourage muscle growth. A sample drop-set could look like:
- Set 1: Start with a weight that you’d fail at 12 reps
- Set 2: Reduce weight until you fail at 8 reps
- Set 3: Reduce weight until you fail at 6 reps
- Set 4: Reduce weight until you fail at 4 reps
- Bonus: As an added bonus, drop all the weight and flex your target muscle group for 10 seconds
When attempting these more advanced techniques, always remember safety first. Maintaining proper form and performing exercises with slow and controlled movements are essential to skeletal muscle growth and the prevention of injury or overexertion. If in doubt, consult a personal trainer who knows what he or she is doing. Lastly, have fun!