Training variety is all the hype these days, and for a good reason too. For anyone with a decent amount of bodybuilding experience, the benefits of inviting new techniques into their routine once in a while are more than obvious. Yet if you were to choose just one type of training to do for the rest of your life, what would that be?
We’re hoping that your answer is somewhere in the high intensity, low volume training frame, which basically means pushing every set brutally hard but doing only a few sets for each exercise. This means different things for different people: some lifters like to use rest/pause sets, some do pyramid sets, while others go for single all-out sets to failure. Regardless of its many variations, high-intensity training involves keeping the total volume per body part really low and taking sets to muscle failure.
Besides allowing you to get progressively stronger and build thick, rock-solid slabs of muscle, this way of training builds the ultimate mental and physical toughness – it’s literally the best way to teach your mind to push through the last mental barrier and squeeze out those last few reps. In the bigger picture, your high intensity, low volume work will minimize the time you spend in the gym while maximizing your gains. What else can anyone ask for?
Here’s the thing: most people will get bored from even the greatest routine in the world after a relatively short period of time. This is normal and to be expected, but the problem arises when it becomes the reason for halting your progress just for the sake of providing your brain with some new stimuli. Instead of simply cutting back on the intensity and piling up the volume, you just need to tweak your routine a bit so that it’s different but still allows you to reap the enormous muscle-building benefits of high intensity, low volume training. How? By using high-intensity splits in short increments.
Let us show you the way.
When using high-intensity splits, you are very likely to leave the gym feeling like you still have some fuel left in the tank. That’s a rather frustrating feeling for everyone used to feeling completely drained at the end of every session, which is why most guys tend to add more sets. But remember the rule: less is more. With this style of training, “overdoing it” won’t lead you to bigger gains – it can actually set you back. Perform the prescribed volume of work and resist the urge to do ‘just’ a bit more. You’ll thank us later.
Next, keep in mind that high intensity training usually takes a toll on joint health, but this can be minimized with proper form and attentiveness. Make sure to always perform the negative, eccentric part of the lift in a very slow and controlled manner, and allow for an equally slow and smooth transition to the positive, or concentric portion, but then lift the weight up explosively to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible. This way you’ll lessen the stress placed on the connective tissues while maximizing muscle stimulation.
Finally, know that in order to make the most out of this, you need to commit to improving your results at every next workout. Every time you walk into the gym, you want to put your best gym face on and make sure you top your previous performance, be it by increasing the load or completing a couple of extra reps. Keeping a training log will help you immensely with this one. We know that you hate doing it, but force yourself to start recording your results. Once you recognize its effectiveness, you’ll have no problem sticking with the practice.
Use the following techniques to push your hypertrophy to new heights:
- Straight sets to failure: continue each set until you are no longer able to move the weight. Do this for three sets max.
- Rest-pause sets: go to failure, rest 15-30 seconds to allow your muscles to replenish, then continue the set. After reaching failure, rest 15-30 seconds, then do another set to failure.
- Repeat this for a third time if possible. Be extremely careful when using rest-pause sets on compound moves that rely on perfect form, such as squats and deadlifts.
- Isometric contractions: to really fire up your CNS, at the final rep of your final set hold the weight in the contracted position for as long as you can.
- Forced reps: once you reach muscle failure during a set, have a spotter assist you in completing the concentric portion of a few more reps. Forced reps will work great for bench presses, bicep curls, squats and triceps extensions, but are best avoided on deadlifts, barbell rows and dips.
- Partial reps: perform only a portion (top, bottom, middle or anything in between) of a complete rep that requires a muscle to work in a shortened range of motion. You can use these not only in the ranges of motion where you can move the heaviest weights, but also in the ranges of motion where you are at your weakest.
- Negative reps: slow down the negative, lowering part of the lift to an approximate 5 seconds rep count. You can start with a weight you can’t lift concentrically and perform only negative reps, or perform a slow negative rep after you’ve reached concentric failure. Or you could do an isometric hold after your final full rep, and then do a negative rep. Regardless of which method you choose, negative reps are guaranteed to increase muscle fiber damage and inspire amazing strength and size gains.
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