So what if you’re a beginner? Physiologically, muscle is, well, muscle. Some of us have less, some have more, and we each have varied amounts of what are called fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers. But even with those differences, all muscle thrives on the challenge of being pushed beyond its limits, giving it the impetus to grow bigger and stronger to be prepared the next time it’s faced with a similar load.
With that in mind, the following advanced techniques can work for you if used judiciously as part of your regular weight-training routine. If you’re completely new to training with weights you may want to stick to the basics a while longer, but if you have at least a few weeks of training under your belt, try these techniques for yourself and see what you respond to best. They’re certain to make your gym time much more productive.
The idea here is to push your muscles to their breaking point, then lighten the load and do it again for good measure. Start with a standard set to failure at your chosen rep range, then immediately “drop” or decrease the weight roughly 20 to 30 percent and rep again to failure.
This is simple to accomplish on a machine: Just reset the pin in the weight stack. But don’t be afraid to also try it with dumbbells and barbells, especially those handy preset bars.
As with any intensity technique, you don’t want to use drops on every set. But with one or two exercises within a workout, incorporating a drop (or two) can ensure that you’re appropriately taxing your body and priming the pump for growth.
You may remember being told as a kid, “Don’t do anything halfway.” That otherwise well-intentioned advice doesn’t apply here. In fact, even halfway might be a touch too much. That’s because the partial-reps technique involves doing repetitions from one-quarter to one-half of the full range of motion of an exercise after you’ve done as many full reps as you can. It’s a way to ensure a muscle group has absolutely no energy left to muster.
To do it, choose a resistance that will cause you to reach muscle failure at the target rep range. Using our arm-workout example, on triceps pressdowns you’d stick the pin at a weight that you can’t finish more than 12 reps with. But at rep No. 12, instead of just stopping the set, you continue: first doing as many half reps as you can, then “pulsing” out quarter reps until you can’t move the stack anymore. You should choose your exercises wisely, of course, and use a trusted spotter when needed.
Obviously, this tactic can give you an unbelievable bout of delayed-onset muscle soreness in the days to follow. You wouldn’t want to use it on every set or even in every workout because it can lead to overtraining, in which your body struggles to recover from workouts. Used prudently, however, partials are a potent weapon in the battle for more muscle.
Drop Sets Workout: Back
15 (warm-up), 12, 10, 8, 6
Supported T-Bar Row
12, 10, 10, 8–10*
Seated Cable Row
10, 10, 8–10*
Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown
10, 10, 8–10*
* On the final set, drop the weight by 20 to 30 percent, rep until failure, then drop it again and rep until you can do no more. You may drop the weight a third time for additional work.
Partial-Reps Workout: Arms
Close-Grip Bench Press
15 (warm-up), 12, 10, 8
Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extension
10, 10, 10
EZ-Bar Preacher Curl
Dumbbell Concentration Curl
^ On the last two sets, after going to full-rep failure, continue with partials — half reps and quarter reps — until you reach total muscle exhaustion.