As explained in the previous lesson, training to failure involves performing reps until you can no longer complete one using proper form. Assisted reps allow you to train past failure. The concept is simple: Just get a spotter or training partner to help you to do a few more reps after the point of failure. The extra reps will help to increase muscle overload.
It’s important that your spotter doesn’t help you too much. He or she should only assist you in keeping the weight moving through the sticking point. Any more help than that and you will not get much benefit from doing the extra reps.
Since assisted reps are even more demanding than training to failure, they are controversial. If you want to try assisted reps, limit them to the last set of a given exercise, and don’t use them every week.
Dropsets are another way of training past failure, this time without the need for a spotter or training partner. As with assisted reps, the concept is simple: After you hit failure, just continue the exercise with a lighter weight, without resting. Then, after you hit failure again, you can continue with an even lighter weight. Since you’ll be dropping the amount of weight each time, you’ll start by stimulating Type II fibers in the heavy set, and then stimulate Type I fibers as the weight gets lighter, thus allowing you to train for strength, size, and endurance within the same set.
Dropsets are obviously suited for dumbbell and machine exercises, which allow you to change the weight quickly and safely. As with assisted reps, limit the technique to the last set of a given exercise, and don’t use it every week.
Rest–pause training is as simple a concept as assisted and dropset training: Once you hit failure, put down the weights, wait for 15 to 20 seconds, pick the weights back up, and continue until failure again. To give your muscles a chance to recover, limit the technique to the last set of a given exercise, and don’t use it every week.
Compound and superset training
Compound and superset training involve performing two sets in a row without resting. If the sets target the same muscle group, it’s known as a compound set; if the sets target opposing muscle groups, it’s known as a superset.
When you perform a compound set, not only is the muscle group subjected to more stress but it is also worked from different angles, thus often stimulating more muscle fibers. One example would be to perform the dumbbell fly immediately after the barbell bench press. As you can imagine, this kind of set sequence is very demanding and should therefore be used sparingly.
Note that if you perform more than two sets in a row that target the same muscle group, it’s known as a giant set.
Supersets are less demanding than compound sets. One example is to perform a set of dumbbell curls followed by a set of triceps extensions. This kind of training is beneficial for three reasons:
- Since there is no resting time between the sets, the workout time is reduced.
- The intensity of the workout is increased.
- The lack of a resting period between the sets and the resultant increase in intensity provides a better cardiovascular workout.
Eccentric training (also known as negative training) involves doing sets using extremely heavy weights that you are unable to lift by yourself (up to 140% of your 1RM). Spotters assist you in completing the concentric phases of the reps, but allow you to complete the eccentric phases by yourself, very slowly and carefully. The reasoning behind this method of training is that, as explained in Guidelines and principles of weight training, eccentric phases of reps have more muscle-splitting potential than concentric phases, which means that eccentric training could lead to greater muscle growth.
Eccentric training should be reserved for advanced lifters. It can be very dangerous, and causes greater muscle soreness than usual due to greater muscle fiber damage. Advanced lifters may sometimes perform entire workouts using just negative training, sometimes to help them break out of a plateau. Because of the increased amount of microdamage to muscles, sets are limited to just three or four per muscle group, the resting time between sets is increased, and up to two weeks are allowed before performing another eccentric workout (concentric workouts are performed in between as normal, after a few days’ rest). Eccentric sets can also be used during a regular workout, in which case they should be limited to the last set of a given exercise, once every two weeks.
Pre-exhaustion training, also known as pre-tiring or pre-fatiguing training, involves partially exhausting the prime mover muscle(s) of a certain body part by performing an isolation exercise before moving on to a compound exercise. Sometimes, two isolation exercises are performed before the compound exercise, in which case it is known as a double pre-exhaustion. One example is to pre-exhaust the quadriceps with a set or two of leg extensions before performing the barbell squat. Another example is to pre-exhaust the glutes with a set or two of kneeling hip extensions before performing the barbell hip thrust.
Pre-exhaustion training can be used for different reasons. For example, a pain in your knee might limit the number of squats you can do, so you might pre-exhaust your quadriceps before doing squats to ensure that your quadriceps get a thorough workout. However, the most common reason for pre-exhausting prime movers is to ensure that they work twice as hard on compound exercises, which can help you to get a better workout or even break through a plateau. Another reason for pre-exhaustion training is simply to enjoy a change in your workout.
In this and the previous lesson, I have discussed a variety of basic and advanced methods of training. You may be wondering which ones, if any at all, to incorporate into your training program. My advice would be to mainly stick to straight sets when you’re a beginner and to start incorporating the more advanced methods of training as you gain experience. Just make sure that it is preplanned and written into your training program. Do not do anything spontaneous or willy-nilly. Your training and training program must always be well structured. If your training lacks structure and you keep trying different things and changing things around, it will be more difficult to see if you are making progress; and if you do make progress, you will not be able to identify what made the difference.