5 Ways To Step Up Your Workouts

Leave muscles begging for mercy with these seldom-used intensity boosters.
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The only thing harder than starting a new workout program is sticking to one. But once you get into a groove and start seeing results, another problem comes into play: complacency. Becoming too comfortable with one routine — or with certain elements of a routine — can crush progress. What is required, on occasion, is a bold trek into unforgiving rep schemes and punishing yet judicious embargoes on rest.

1. Time Under Tension

Major training organizations coach the importance of rep tempo. Taking four seconds to lower a weight, for example, but only two to lift it is seen as optimal for beginning lifters. Sadly, the prescriptions for rep tempo are often overlooked by guys just looking to “get ’er done” on each set. An occasional, exaggerated focus on your muscular time under tension can spur new gains because it requires far more control than the usual rep and can extend the total time of muscular work with a simple tweak.

Try It: Using a weight you can handle for a set of 12 on dumbbell overhead presses, alternate reps from side to side, keeping one dumbbell in the “down” position the entire time. On the next set, alternate while keeping one dumbbell in the “up” position throughout.

2. Go High Volume

Typical routines call for 12 to 16 total sets for large bodyparts like back and quads and nine to 12 for smaller ones like biceps and calves. This effectively stimulates growth while keeping you from becoming overtrained. But if you stick within that set range too often, your muscles will grow too accustomed to a certain number of sets and reps to respond with any kind of vigor. A better bet is to crush a bodypart with a targeted, high-volume blast every few weeks.

Try It: Instead of your normal more-plates-at-all-costs bench routine, use a high-volume approach that focuses on relative strength. Simply rack a bar with your bodyweight and press to failure for as many sets as it takes to reach 100 total reps (resting a minute or less between sets), then go home and eat like a boss.

3. Bodyweight Finishers

When training your chest, back or legs, the tendency is to let the “total pounds lifted” mentality set in. But next time, instead of pouring your remaining energy stores into some elaborate drop set, just finish things off with some bodyweight work. This adds a bit of functionality to your routine while also providing a final and authoritative pump to already exhausted muscle groups, which can trigger increases in size. 

Try It: Finish off your next major bodypart day with a Tabata set — eight 20-second segments of work, broken up by 10-second rest periods. For legs, do bodyweight squats. For chest, do push-ups, and for back, do pull-ups. (Try static hangs once you reach failure.)

4. Two-a-Days

If time and gym access aren’t an issue, consider hitting the iron twice in one day for related bodyparts. You’ll have a dramatic bump in caloric expenditure, not to mention a greater hormonal response.

Try It: In a morning session, hit a larger bodypart like chest, back or quads. In the afternoon, follow up with a session that hits each of the aforementioned groups’ supporting cast — tri’s for chest, bi’s for back, hams for quads.

5. Combine Lifting and Cardio

Need to really step things up? Don’t rest. Ever. Make it your mission for at least one workout a week to keep moving the entire time by following each staple lift with a short bout of moderate-intensity cardio to massacre more fat.

Try It: For a mini full-body workout, do 10 deadlifts, 30 seconds of running in place, 10 pull-ups, 30 seconds of bicycle crunches, 10 dips and 30 seconds of jump rope. Repeat two to three times.