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10 Powerful Ways to Stimulate Muscle Growth

man doing back double biceps poseIs your progress slowing down or even stagnant? Looking for new and exciting ways to gain muscle mass? Below you will find 10 exercise tactics you can implement into your workout routine that will help push you through those barriers.

Supersets

Take two different antagonistic exercises and alternate between them without rest. For example, for bodyweight exercises you could do pushups and pullups. For weight lifting you could do bench press and rows. Don’t rest between sets. Just go back and forth between the two exercises until you’ve completed your total sets.

This enables you to do more work in less time since you don’t have to wait for the worked muscles to recover. Instead, you’re working the antagonistic muscle while resting the other.

Change Grips

Simply changing your grip can place a completely different emphasis on a muscle. Using bench press as an example, you can use a close grip to place more emphasis on the triceps, or you could use a wide grip to place more emphasis on the shoulders and lats.

Pullups can be done with an overhand or underhand grip (chin ups). Deadlifts can be done with a wide grip. The same goes for nearly any exercise. Take one exercise and turn it into 3 variations by simply using a close, medium, and wide grip.

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Change Resistance Curve

What do I mean by changing the resistance curve? Well, normally when we strength train, the resistance curve is fairly linear. In other words, you’re lifting the same weight throughout the whole movement. By using some extra equipment, you can make an exercise get heavier or lighter as you approach your lockout. You do this with the help of bands and chains.

For example, if you were to use bands on the bench press, you could wrap them around the bar and from the top of a rack. What happens is as you lower the weight to your chest, the bands stretch – taking some of the load off the bar. As you press the weight back up, it gets heavier as the bands release tension.

I use the elitefts resistance bands pictured here.

Drop Sets

You can implement drop sets to add some change to your workouts and shock your muscles. What you do is take a weight you can do for maybe 10 reps. You do those 10 reps and then take some weight off the bar and immediately knock out another 10 reps. Then, you take more weight off the bar and do 10 reps again. Don’t rest between sets. Just take the weight off the bar and keep going. This is going to burn, but it’s fun.

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Speed Training

Not all training has to be done under maximal loads. You can increase your strength by working on generating more force on the bar at a faster speed. You do this by taking a lighter weight and pressing it quickly. The weight should be light – maybe only 40-50% of your 1 rep max.

Lower the weight quickly and reverse direction as fast as possible. Only do 2-3 reps per set, but do more sets. Speed training is not about exhausting your muscles, it’s about generating reversal force and increasing bar speed.

Stability & Balance Training

This is an often overlooked aspect of training. There are so many smaller stabilizer muscles that get neglected during training, and that can inevitably lead to injuries. Stability training can help bring up the weak points and stimulate muscle growth.

This is most easily accomplished by taking the 1-legged variation of the regular exercise, or by using dumbbells instead of barbells. For example, do a one-legged squat instead of the normal one, or do dumbbell presses instead of barbell bench press.

There are many other ways to add instability to your exercises so that you can work out those smaller stabilizer muscles. Stability balls or wobble boards are two easy ways to accomplish this.

Here’s an example of a stability ball.

Here’s what a wobble board looks like.

Break the Eccentric/Concentric Motion

The eccentric part of the exercise is when the worked muscle lengthens, and concentric is when it shortens (or contracts). For example, when you do the squat, the eccentric phase is when you lower the bar to the bottom of the squat position, and the concentric phase is when you push it back up.

You can break the eccentric/concentric chain by doing box squats. You squat down onto a box and “sit” there for a moment. Doing this releases the tension on your muscles. Then you drive back up.

This really helps you work on generating force from a static position. You can do this with many exercises. For example, you can use boards for bench press by placing boards on your chest and lowering the bar onto them. Rest for a moment and then drive the weight back up.

Here are 10 tips for strong, defined arms and shoulders.

Work Up to Max Efforts, Then Back Off

This was a staple method of my exercise routine for almost a decade. I would work up to a 1-3 rep max in an exercise and then remove some weight and work in the 5-10 rep range for sets.

By working up to those max reps at the beginning, you recruit a large amount of motor neurons for those exercises. Then, once you back off on the weight, you’re able to lift more than you would have had you started off at that weight originally. For example, I might work up to a 1-3 rep max on the bench with 315 pounds. Then, I would drop the weight down to around 250 and do 3 sets of 10. Works great.

Change Time Under Tension

The speed at which you lower the weight, hold it there, return it to the starting position, and then hold it there can affect muscle growth. Many people lift at a temp of “1 0 1 2″. What this means is it takes you 1 second to lower the bar, zero seconds holding it at the bottom (basically reversing directions immediately), taking 1 second to press it back up, and then holding it in the the starting position for 2 seconds before you start your next rep.

You can change this up all kinds of ways. Try a “3 1 1 0″ tempo and tell me if that isn’t intense. That means take 3 seconds to lower the weight, pause at the bottom for 1 second, press it back up as fast as possible, and then don’t rest at the top position – immediately start your next rep by lowering it slowly for 3 seconds.

Negatives

Negatives are a great way to practice building up strength in an exercise you normally couldn’t do. For example, many people cannot do a pullup, so instead of just not practicing them, you work on the negative phase of the movement until you have built up enough strength to do a full one.

It’s easy to do this. You just need to use a bench or box to get yourself in the completed position of the pullup (when your head is over the bar). Then, just lower yourself down as slow as possible. Get back on the box and put yourself in the starting position and do it again. Repeat for reps.

  • Lisa

    The Bosu and the TRX Suspension trainer are two of my favourite pieces of equipment to practice balance and add instability to all sorts of exercises. Your right, stability and balance training are very often overlooked. It’s amazing how many muscles you can recruit by adding some instability. :)

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

      Good adds Lisa. I haven’t heard of the Bosu. I’ll have to look into it…

      • LisaK

        Bosu rocks! We use it a lot in Pilates

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

      Thanks for the adds Lisa. I’ll have to look into them. I’ve never heard of the Bosu.

  • Travis

    Maybe this is a dumb question, but what exactly do you mean by “work up to a 1-3 rep max”? I’d love to see an example – I’m really intrigued by this one.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    In other words, using a weight you can only do 1-3 reps with. For example, you do bench press and continue to increase the weight until you can only do 1 single rep with a particular weight. Then, you back off on the weight and do your normal 3 sets of 10 or whatever.

  • http://www.getfitgetright.com/ Bryan

    Great article! Have you ever tried modifying your grip with FatGripz? They are absolutely awesome for strength gains. Slap those suckers on a dumbbell and it becomes a whole new ballgame :)

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    I have not used them, but I do own a fat barbell, which is basically a thick diameter barbell. Good add, and I agree.

  • Momma_Gal

    Awesome article Coach. Thanks! :) Shared on my GAL page.

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

      Thanks Jen ;)