Build More Muscle Mass and Bust Through Strength Plateaus with Shock Techniques
If you’ve been training for a period of time with the end goal of gaining muscle mass you’ll know how frustrating it is to tackle the challenge of breaking through a sticking point to build more muscle, lose more fat, and gain more strength.
When the weights don’t budge anymore or the body stops responding, it’s time to do something different to gain muscle mass. Humans are creatures of adaptability. We easily adapt to training stimuli and stresses over time, despite fearing the change in the first place. We recommend you try out a supplement. Visit 101SARMs for more.
The strength training plateau is inevitable. I don’t care how genetically gifted you are,..maybe you worked up a linear weight progression scheme and managed to bench 300, squat 350 and deadlift 400 in under a year, you’ll still stagnate…eventually. It happens to all of us.
Plateaus are inevitable as even the best bodybuilding workout routines and programs will become stagnant over time. When I started lifting, I gained easily with beginner/newbie gains just like any starter would but the gains stopped coming in several months because I just didn’t know what to do to plow through the plateau.
Methods are many to gain muscle mass but principles are few. You have to do something different while adding additional stress to the body. Here are 4 specific methods to supercharge your workouts for continued strength and muscle mass gains. These methods are not for beginners, however.
Beginners should focus on a more linear approach using straight sets because they haven’t even plateaued. New lifters need to first work on proper exercise execution, form, and selection. They have to adjust to the incremental training volume and frequency by starting slow and build up from there.
The 2-day/week full body 3×5 program modeled after the 5×5 routine is a good start for beginners.
starting-strength-coverMake sure you’ve been lifting for at least 6 months consistently before trying these methods. The techniques require a level of strength foundation to benefit. Beginners should focus on building a strength foundation first with the core compound lifts using a full body approach.
For building a strength foundation to gain muscle mass, look into the 5×5 program, most recently re-popularized by weight lifting coach and trainers Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore in the best-selling book, “Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training.” The 5×5 program revolves around building a base level of strength using 5 sets of 5 reps and progressive overload through load progression with the 3 major powerlifts; squat, bench press, and deadlift.
It’s a tried, true, tested, and proven program that has built lots of muscle and strength for generations of lifters and bodybuilders. Old school bodybuilders in the 50s, 60, and 70s used it with great success. In fact, guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Reg Park, and Steve Reeves trained with the 5×5 program exclusively through many training cycles early in their bodybuilding careers.
Rippetoe has also released a 2 1/2 hour DVD called “Basic Barbell Training” that complements “Starting Strength” demonstrating how to perform the 3 major barbell compound lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press) for gaining muscle mass and building strength. These 3 lifts are more technical than all the other compound and isolation exercises so you have to pay extra attention to proper execution of each movement. The chance of injury increases if you don’t take the time to learn how to perform each lift with good form.
Now I’ll keep it simple so you can take these shock methods and get to work.
A superset is basically 2 exercises done back to back for the same body part without rest. For example, do a set of bench presses, then immediately do a set of dumbbell flys.
Now there are 3 popular ways to superset:
Post fatigue superset is where a compound lift is done first, followed by an isolation exercise. The above example is an example of a post-fatigue superset. The bench press is a compound movement and the dumbbell fly is an isolation lift.
Other examples of good pairings include (compound lifts followed by isolation movements, I’ve included several variations of the basic exercises here so you get the idea of how these pairings work):
* barbell back squat (or any squatting variation; front squat/single leg squats/weighted pistols, hack squats) and leg presses or leg extensions
* lying bb skullcrushers/california skullcrushers (on flat or decline bench) and standing db tri extension/tricep dumbbell kickback
* dumbbell or barbell bench press (or any bench press variation) and barbell floor presses/dumbbell floor fly/pec dec machine
* weighted chinups/pullups and machine lat pulldowns/bench supported dumbbell row
* pullups and bench-supported dumbbell rows/back extension machine
* barbell bench press and pushups (pushups can be done weighted with a weight vest or backpack)
* incline dumbbell press/low incline barbell bench press and machine pec dec/floor press/dumbbell fly
* standing military press/push press and side lateral raises/bent over rear raises/cable lateral raises/front raises
* dumbbell arnold press/dumbbell shoulder press/push press and bent over rear raises/lateral raises
This offers the benefit of loading the primary muscles worked with maximal microtrauma. Often, smaller muscle groups in a compound movement gets fatigued first before the primary muscles.
When you’re doing bench presses,the smaller muscles like forearms, triceps, and shoulders may give out before the chest so incorporating isolation exercises following the compound movement will further fatigue the chest.
Pre-fatigue is the opposite of post-fatigue where you perform an isolation movement first, then a compound movement to induce extreme amounts of microtrauma. You’re able to stress the muscles worked to a greater extent than straight sets with this approach. As examples, you can just take the post-fatigue pairings and reverse the order.
Examples of pre-fatigue pairings:
* barbell curls/close grip chinups
* dumbbell flys on floor/bench press
* leg press/barbell squat
* leg extension/barbell front squat
* dumbbell front raise/dumbbell shoulder press
Next, isolation-isolation fatigue…It is what it says. You pair one isolation exercise after another, i.e db curls, bb curls bb tri extension, db tri extension . This method is great for building strength endurance in the smaller muscle groups like calves, forearms, biceps, and shoulders. Here are some examples:
* dumbbell curls/barbell curls
* incline db curls/preacher curls
* side lateral raises/front raises
* sitting calf raises/standing calf raises
* dumbbell tri extension/close grip weighted pushups
* dumbbell flys (flat bench)/floor dumbbell flys
If you’re revamping your program, don’t substitute all straight sets for supersets. Pick 1 or 2 compound and isolation movements in your routine in the 6–12 rep range to start. It’s best to ease into these shock techniques so you don’t overtrain.
Overtraining creeps up in the long term if you constantly bombard your body with unfamiliar stimulus that proves too much for the body. Incorporate these methods sparesely first, and then build by adding over time.
Also, remember progression should be taken into consideration here. Strive to use heavier and heavier weights over time. Aim for higher volume and reduced rest once you’ve adapted to this type of increased stress.
Progression is crucial to your workout success. You need some form of progression to get stronger, faster, and gain more muscle. If you leave that out, then just forget about making improvements in body composition, strength, and performance.
After all, the point of working out is to improve, whether that’s to get stronger and faster, lose weight, build muscle, getting back into shape, or maintain fitness.
Drop sets are also another great way to enhance muscular fatigue and “shock” and achieve more motor unit (building blocks of strength, nerves) recruitment to increase the total volume of a workout.
A drop set is a combination of a straight set done to failure followed by a series of sub-sets, consisting of a few reps. The weight (load) is lowered after the initial straight set.
Rest per set is minimized to the amount of time it takes to reduce/strip weight off the bar. A training partner will be useful here to strip the weight for you while you take deep breaths for the little rest you get.
- bench press: 1 set of 10 reps, 200 lbs.
*reduce to 180lbs., crank out till failure
*reduce to 160, crank out to failure
That’s a total of 2 drops and you’ll probably get 1–5 reps on each drop. A drop set usually contains 1–3 drops. Drop set scheme for muscle growth are usually in the higher rep ranges for the first set.
Drop set schemes for hypertrophy:
* do 12 reps with 12 RM (repetition maximum, how much weight you can lift for 12 reps to failure), drop weight 20–25% and do as many reps as possible to failure, then drop another 20–25%. Rest 2–3 min. in between each drop set and repeat 2–3 more times.
* do 10 reps with a 10RM, reduce weight 50% and aim for 20 reps. Repeat 3–4 times.
* do 8 reps with an 8RM, reduce weight 50% and aim for as many reps as possible to failure, drop another 20%, and do another set to failure. Rest 2–3 min between each drop set and repeat 2–3 more times.
Drop set schemes for strength:
* do 5 reps with 6RM, leave one rep shy of failure, drop weight by 10% and crank out a few more reps, drop weight another 10% and continue
* do 3 reps with 3RM, go to positive failure, drop weight by 25% and do a few more reps, drop weight by another 25% and do a few reps, finally drop another 25 % and crank out to failure
This is a similar approach to cluster set training for maximizing strength gains. Read more about cluster training at t-nation.com here. Renowned olympic weight lifting coach Christian Thibaudeau has also released a DVD series on cluster training.
Drop-supersets combine drop sets with supersets for a double whammy punch on gaining muscle mass. They are extremely neural intensive so I don’t recommend trying this for any body part for more than two times per month. Drop supersets are best done with 1–3 drops in the 6–12 rep range and then without rest, more onto an isolation exercise with 1–3 drops in the 12–15 rep range.
For example, military press for 100 lbs. x12 reps, drop to 80lbs. x6, drop to 60lbs. x 6, drop to 40lbs. x 4, then immediately more onto dumbbell lateral raises 25lbs. x12, 20lbs. x5, 10lbs. x 6, 5 lbs. x8. You can also pair isolation with isolation or isolation first with compound second.
Rest-pause sets are similar to drop sets and are also another excellent way to increase total volume in a given workout. But unlike drop sets, you don’t drop the weight on the bar for each sub-set. For rest pause, you simply take brief rest periods, about 15–20 seconds in between sets and do a few more reps after the initial straight set.
You complete one straight set, rest briefly, take with the same weight do a few more reps to failure. You can easily double and triple the amount of reps and total volume (sets x reps) for each workout by breaking entire sets into smaller rest-pause sets. Rest-pause also allows you to do more reps with heavier weights.
As an example, let’s say you can do 3 sets of 10 reps with 100 lbs for barbell rows, that’s 3×10 = 30 total reps using 100 lbs, now switch to rest-pause,
* barbell rows: 1 x 10, rp 15 seconds, 6 reps, rp 15 seconds, 4 reps, rp 15 seconds, 2 reps, rp 15 seconds, 2 reps, rp 15 seconds, 1 rep
That’s 5 rest-pause mini-sets and one full set of 10 totalling 25 reps. You would repeat this 2–3 more times doubling or tripling your volume.
So there you have the most practical high intensity shock methods for busting through plateaus. Employ these 4 shock techniques for quick ways to build muscles. Have fun with them even though they’re not much fun to begin with. Stay focused and make sure you use good form for all exercises and movements.