The people who believe that progressive overload can be only achieved by continuously increasing the weight they work with… are usually the same people who are surprisingly great at making their muscles bored or getting them over-trained. Think about how many times you’ve seen or heard about lifters who badly injured themselves because they were training with more weight than they could handle, just because they believed there’s no other way to make muscles grow than keep terrorizing them with ultra-heavy loads that cause their form to break down too soon. Why do they do it? Because it makes them look tough, duh.
So here’s the deal: boosting your results requires a gradual increase in volume, intensity, frequency or training time. You want to grow? Then you up the challenge. That’s been the core rule of bodybuilding since its humble beginnings, and let’s just hope it won’t get watered down with the advance of modern shortcuts. However, there are many ways to stimulate the factors for growth that don’t necessarily involve putting more plates on the bar. Check out these 3 incredibly simple ways to upgrade your gains and burst through any plateau without going heavier!
1. Change Rep Pattern Number
Have you been stuck on 3×10 rep pattern for too long? Then it’s time to move on. Experimenting with set and rep patterns will do a wonderful job at “shocking” your muscles and forcing them to work overtime. For example, if you feel like you have some fuel left at the end of your regular session, don’t stop there – push yourself harder and keep going until your tank is absolutely empty!
Keep in mind that the optimal rep range for hypertrophy is 6-12, although results can vary between individuals. Anything lower than that will shift the focus to building maximum strength, while going into higher rep ranges can help you build endurance but also accelerate size gains. Yet, you cannot keep increasing the number of reps indefinitely.
So here’s one of the best tips you’ll ever get: once you can easily do sets of 12 for two consecutive workouts, add about 5% more weight for upper body movements and 10% for lower body exercises. Then focus again on increasing the reps.
2. Increase Number of Sets
If your end goal is maximum muscle size, you need to give your best to maximize muscle hypertrophy during training. One of the simplest ways to do this is by increasing the number of sets you perform on a given exercise, thereby increasing training volume. If done correctly, this will allow you to get the results you want a lot faster than playing it safe with conventional sets. Think Vince Gironda’s 8 sets of 8 exercises, the 10×10 approach, etc.
If you’re looking to get as big as possible, keep the number of reps per set in the 6-12 range most of the time. But if you’d like to work on your strength and power, go as low as 5-6 reps per set and increase the duration of your rest periods to 3 minutes. Make sure you have a spotter and keep your form flawless – otherwise your risk of injury will be greater than you can afford.
3. Downsize Rest Periods
If you’re killing yourself at the gym three times per week for months now and yet it still feels like you have nothing to show for it, the problem might be long rest periods. When you rest for too long, your muscles cool down and you lose most of the previously accumulated muscle tension, which is bad news for anyone who understands the basics of muscle building.
So no more chatting in between sets and checking social media while resting – cut your rest pauses to a maximum of 3 minutes between regular sets. That’s one of the most efficient ways to force your body to make incremental adaptations, i.e. build new lean muscle tissue so make the most use of it.
Don’t Do Them at the Same Time
All three of these tips are the tried-and-true cornerstones of any smart training program for bigger muscles. That being said, we wouldn’t recommend you to try them all at the same time: use one until you reach a plateau, then try something else, and so on. And don’t worry about getting stuck – there are a lot more amazing intensity-boosting techniques out there than you think.