Advanced bodybuilding training techniques, like set extension techniques, are applied on an occasional basis by the advanced bodybuilder to introduce variety into the bodybuilding routine in order to further stimulate muscle growth.
The purpose of such bodybuilding techniques is to take the muscle beyond the point of failure. Muscular failure is the point in which performing another repetition in good form becomes impossible and also the point that stimulates the muscle to grow.
Most of these advanced bodybuilding training techniques should only be used sparingly; do not use them on every workout or else you risk overtraining and/or injury. Supersets, tri-sets and giant-sets however are the exception to this rule and can be used on every workout.
Advanced Bodybuilding Training Techniques
1) Forced Reps: Once muscular failure (the point in which performing another repetition in good form becomes impossible) is reached, have your partner gently put his hands under the bar and give only enough assistance to enable you to keep the bar moving slowly and steadily. Limit the number of forced repetitions to two.
Pros: This principle allows you to do two repetitions that otherwise you would not have been able to get. These extra repetitions after failure serve as additional stimulus for muscle growth.
Cons: This technique is very hard on the joints and for this reason should only be used sparingly. Also, you need a good spotter to help you with the bar. This is not a technique that you can use for most exercises if you train alone.
2) Rest Pause Principle: Once failure is reached, let the bar (or dumbbells) rest on the rack for ten seconds in order to regain some strength. Then grab the bar (or dumbbells) and do 1 or 2 extra reps (or whatever strength allows). Repeat this process one more time and this will be the end of the set.
Pros: This technique can be used by a person training alone especially if dumbbells are being used. Also, this technique is not nearly as taxing on the joints as forced reps are since here you are lifting the weight using your own strength. Therefore, it can be used more often.
Cons: None that I can think of.
3) Negative Reps: Once failure is reached and you are at the top portion of the movement, as in the top portion of a bench press (at the locked position), go ahead and resist the weight through the negative portion of the movement.
Note: The lowering of the bar to your chest in a bench press is the negative portion of that movement.
Pros: This technique has been shown to yield good increases in strength.
Cons: You cannot use this technique safely in all free weight exercises. For example, I would not use this technique on a barbell Squat or on a barbell bench press. This technique however is great for dumbbell exercises and machines. As a result, I would use it for the dumbbell version of the aforementioned exercises.
Finally, this is not a good technique to be used all the time since the probability of tearing your muscles is pretty high due to the fact that you are resisting the weight in the opposite direction that the muscles were designed to move it.
4) Descending Sets: Once failure is reached lower the weight and keep doing as many repetitions as possible. Then, once you hit failure again, lower the weight one last time and keep getting repetitions until you reach failure for the last time.
Pros: This is a good technique for people without training partners especially if dumbbells are being used. When training at home, I like to use my Powerblocks for doing descending sets since it is so easy to change their weight.
What I love about descending sets is that this technique is really useful for hitting all the muscle fiber types in the muscle group being worked. I personally love using it for calves and biceps and it works really well on machine exercises where all you have to do is change the pin, such as: Leg Extensions, Leg Curls, Triceps Pushdowns, Lat Pulldowns, Low Pulley Rows, Calf Raise, etc. You can use this technique more often than the ones we have presented already.
Cons: If training alone, it is best not to use it on barbell exercises since it would take too long to lower the weight and this negates some of the effects of the technique. The least amount of time it takes you to lower the weight and start again, the better it is. Ideally, this should happen within 3 seconds.
5) Partial Reps: Once you reach failure, continue to perform the movement halfway, and once you cannot perform it halfway, continue to do it for a quarter of the way. Once it becomes impossible to move the weight even a quarter of the way, hold the weight in the contracted position until you have to put it down.
Using the Bench Press as an example, once you reach failure, just lower the weight halfway and bring it back up. Once this is not possible, then just move it a quarter of the way. Once it is not possible to move it anymore, just keep the weight in the top position until you cannot hold it any longer and you need to put it on the rack.
Pros: This technique can be used on most exercises, especially barbell ones.
Cons: I would recommend that in the case of an exercise such as the bench press, you have a spotter behind you just to be extra safe. Also, the reason I don’t like to use this technique too often is because over using it can create muscular imbalances. What I mean by this is that you get stronger in the top portion of a movement while your weak range of motion, the bottom portion of the movement, remains the same.
6) Pre-Exhaustion Principle: To use this principle, you need to first do an isolation movement, and once failure is reached in that movement, with no rest you go ahead and perform the basic exercise. Repeat the process for the prescribed amount of sets.
This is not the type of principle that you use at the end of the final set of an exercise. For example, if using this principle for training your Thighs, you first do a set of Leg Extensions, reach failure, and then move to Squats with no rest. After Squats, rest for the prescribed amount of time and repeat the process for the required amount of sets. Note that you will need to reduce the weight that you normally use in the squats in order to use this principle or otherwise you will end up making a scene at the gym.
Good pre-exhaustion combinations are:
- Thighs: Leg Extension + Squats
- Hamstrings: Leg Curls + Stiff Legged Deadlifts
- Chest: Dumbbell Flyes + Bench Press
- Shoulders (lateral Head): Lateral Raises + Upright Rows
- Back: Stiff Arm Pulldowns + Wide Grip Pull-Ups
- Biceps: Concentration Curls + Barbell Curls
- Triceps: Lying Triceps Extensions + Close Grip Bench Press
Pros: This is a great principle to totally isolate the part that is being trained. You can use this principle as often as you like.
Cons: The weight in the basic exercise will be compromised, so because of this reason I like to use it only when I want to totally shock the muscle.
7) Supersets: A superset is a combination of one exercise performed right after the other with no rest in between them. There are two ways to implement a superset.
The first way is to do two exercises for the same muscle group at once (like in the Pre-Exhaustion technique). The drawback to this technique is that you will not be as strong as you usually are on the second exercise.
The second and best way to superset is by pairing exercises of opposing muscle groups, antagonist groups, such as Chest & Back, Thighs & Hamstrings, Biceps & Triceps, Front Delts & Rear Delts, Upper Abs and Lower Abs. When pairing antagonistic exercises, there is no drop of strength whatsoever. As a matter of fact, sometimes my strength goes up due to the fact that the blood in the opposite muscle group helps you perform the other. For instance, if you superset dumbbell curls with triceps extensions, the blood in the biceps helps you to do more weight in the triceps extensions.
Pros: This technique not only allows you to do more work in a shorter period of time but it also creates an incredible pump (especially when you pair antagonistic exercises), and it helps burn fat by elevating the heart rate to the fat burning zone (which also improves your cardiovascular conditioning). Finally, you can use this technique all the time.
Cons: If you are in poor cardiovascular shape, you will not be able to use enough weight or push yourself hard enough to elicit muscle growth.
8) Tri-sets: Three exercises performed one after the other with no rest in between. It can be either exercises for the same bodypart or exercises for different bodyparts.
Pros: Like supersets, tri-sets give you an incredible pump and the ability to get an enormous amount of work within a limited amount of time. Tri-sets also give you cardiovascular and enhanced fat burning benefits. Finally, you can use tri-sets all the time without a detrimental effect in your training.
Cons: The person with poor cardiovascular health will not be able at the beginning to use enough weight or push themselves hard enough to elicit muscle growth.
9) Giant Sets: Giant Sets are four or more exercises done one after the other with no rest in between sets. Again, there are two ways to implement this. You can either use four exercises for the same muscle group or different exercises as we have previously described.
Giant Sets have the same Pros and Cons as supersets and tri-sets. I think Giant Sets are really good to work the Abs. Bodybuilders can do the following routine for Abs using Giant Sets:
- Partial Sit Ups (Going up only until you create a 30-degree angle between your torso and the floor) 3-4sets x 25-40 reps (no rest)
- Leg Raises 3-4sets x 25-40 reps (no rest)
- Crunches 3-4sets x 25-40 reps (no rest)
- Knee-Ins 3-4sets x 25-40 reps (1 minute rest)