Depending on your resistance training goals, whether it be hypertrophy, strength or power, general health and wellbeing, lifting weights covers them all, and there are a wide variety of methods to achieve your goals. This article is aimed to help you to understand some of the different methods that can be used to achieve your goals, and ultimately, guided by an experienced Performance Coach like those at Absolute, to maximise your performance potential. Please note some of these methods require good levels of training experience and guidance to complete safely, so ensure you always get professional advice before undertaking any training program.
Hypertrophy is the term used to describe growth and increase of muscle cell size. Myofibrillar hypertrophy occurs when, the myofibrils, comprised of the actin and myosin contractile proteins, increase in number and add to muscular strength as well as increase in the size of the muscle.
If your goals are hypertrophy from your resistance training then your aim when training is to activate and exhaust the muscles to such an extent that the protein stored in the muscle fibres are disrupted. As a result, in the days that follow the training session, the muscles super-compensate to grow bigger and stronger. This is done by using more repetitions at a lower 1RM%, using reps of 8-12 traditionally, and comprising of sets anything from 3 and up, with reduced rest periods of 0-90 seconds. Tempo of the lift is slow to moderate.
Agonist-Agonist Supersets: This involves performing one exercise for any muscle group and then immediately following completion of that set, you perform another exercise using the same muscle group to create an overload stimulus.
Example: If your target muscle group is chest then an example of an agonist-agonist superset is to perform a set of bench press, immediately followed by a set of cable crossovers.
Agonist- Agonist Giant sets: The same principle as agonist-agonist supersets but using multiple exercises for the same muscle group all in continuous fashion.
Example: Again using the chest example as above, you could perform a set of bench press, followed by a set of cable crossovers followed by a set pushups, then a set of dips, all done with minimal rest between the exercises.
Agonist-Antagonist superset: This involves performing a set for any muscle group immediately followed by performing a set for it’s opposing muscle group. When one muscle is contracting the other is relaxed and this is very advantageous because it allows you to use more weight and do more reps in a short space of time.
Example: Performing a set of bicep curls immediately followed by a set of tricep press downs.
Pause Training: Pause training is where you will pause with the weight being lifted at the bottom of the movement, between the eccentric phase and the concentric phase (amortisation phase). This will remove any elastic potential generated by the muscle through it’s stretch shortening cycle, forcing you to use full force on the lift. It also removes the risk of cheating or bouncing the weight.
Example: Bench press is an easy one for an example so we will use that again. When the bar has reached your chest at the bottom of the eccentric phase you will pause for 1-2 seconds before pushing and returning weight to start position.
Super Slow: Super slow training is where you will still perform the same amount of reps for any given set but the tempo of the lift will be at a much slower speed. This in turn creates a greater amount of time under tension and volume for the working muscle, thus stimulating growth.
Example: Squats; a normal squat lift will consist of a lowering or eccentric phase between 1-2 seconds for hypertrophy immediately followed by a 1 second concentric phase, making the overall time per rep between 2-3 seconds. Super slow training has no set tempo, the slower you go the greater the volume so the less load required. You could set yourself 6 second reps for each set, with a 4 second eccentric phase, and a 2 second concentric phase.
German Volume Training: German Volume Training method is to complete 10 sets of 10 reps with the same weight for each exercise. You want to begin with a weight you could lift for 20 reps to failure if you had to as by the 10th set fatigue will have brought that weight back to 10 reps for failure. For most people, on most exercises, that would represent 60% of their 1RM load. The large amount of volume, the rest periods of only 60-90 seconds between sets, and the slow tempo of lifting is what will stimulate hypertrophy. It is important to only do this for one exercise for a particular muscle group on any given day.
Example: If your target muscle group for the day is legs, then you could start with doing 10 sets of 10 with a leg exercise that recruits a lot of muscle mass like squats, and then supplement the workout with 3-4 sets, 10 reps of a couple other leg exercises such as leg press, and hamstring curls.
Full Pyramid: Full pyramid training involves starting the weight for any given exercise with a lighter weight and higher reps, increasing the weight and reducing the reps for the next few sets, and then reversing the process back to your starting weight and higher reps. The volume of the early sets combined with the high load of the middle sets is what stimulates hypertrophy. The changing of the weights between sets can be time consuming though.
Example: It is important you find the correct weight to reach fatigue in each set for the given reps.
Set 1: 10 reps @ 70% 1RM
Set 2: 8 reps @ 80% 1RM
Set 3: 6 reps @ 85-90% 1RM
Set 4: 8 reps @ 80% 1RM
Set 5: 10 reps @ 70% 1RM
Drop sets: Drop sets involves performing any given exercise to fatigue then without rest, reducing the weight and performing the same exercise again. There are different versions of drop sets varying from taking up to 50% of the weight off and doing only one drop set, to multiple drop sets where only a small amount is removed each time for several sets.
The high volume and therefore fatigue placed on the muscle fibres will stimulate growth.
Example: Traditional drop set – Using bench press, say you perform your set of 10 reps with 80kg, then as soon as set is completed dropping the weight to 45-50kg and performing another set top fatigue.
Multiple drop sets – Using bench press, performing 1st set for 10 reps at 80kg, then without rest drop weight to 60kg and do as many reps as you can, then drop to 40kg and again do as many reps as you possible before you rest.
The aim of strength training is to improve the muscles ability to apply force through increased muscle fibre recruitment, improved firing patterns and increased muscle fibre size. The intention is not to exhaust the muscles by performing multiple sub-maximal exercises to muscular failure but rather to recruit the maximal number of motor units possible with the optimal firing frequency. Compound lifts, that being multiple joint exercises like squats and military press are most beneficial if strength is your aim due to the increased muscle mass recruited.
If your goal from resistance training is to improve your strength then a lower volume of training in comparison to hypertrophy training is to be used. This is because of the increased load required to be used for such training. General strength will use reps of 4-6 for 3-6 sets, and maximal strength training will use reps of 1-4 reps A high level of experience is required for this type of training because of the increased risk of injury when using such load.
Ascending Load (Strength): Ascending training involves starting the weight for any given exercise with a lighter weight and higher reps, increasing the weight and reducing the reps for the next few sets.
Example: It is important you find the correct weight to reach fatigue in each set for the given reps.
Set 1, 8 reps @ 80% 1RM
Set 2, 5 reps @ 85% 1RM
Set 3, 3 reps @ 85-90% 1RM
Set 4, 2 reps @ 90% 1RM
Set 5, 1 reps @ 95% 1RM
Descending Load (Strength): See ascending only in reverse order, however it is important you do a warm up appropriately prior to starting with your 1 rep 95% 1RM set.
Set 1: 1 reps @ 95% 1RM
Set 2: 2 reps @ 90% 1RM
Set 3: 3 reps @ 85-90% 1RM
Set 4: 5 reps @ 85% 1RM
Set 5: 8 reps @ 80% 1RM
Clusters: Cluster training is where instead of performing continuous reps in any given set, you have small pauses, or rest breaks between the reps where the weight is racked. This allows you to lift much heavier loads with a higher level than a standard set, which will lead to strength gains
Example: Military press is an easy one for an example so we will use that again. Say you normally bench press 60kg for 4-6reps on the military press, for the pause training you will use more like 70kg, closer to your 1RM, perform 1-2 rep, rest the weight for 5-10 seconds, then repeat for the target reps.
Set structure could look like this:
4 sets, 3 x 2 reps
Wave Loading: Wave loading involves performing a ‘wave’ of sets using progressively heavy loads and fewer reps, such as sets of 5, 4 and 3 repetitions, resting several minutes in between each set. Then perform a second ‘wave’ of sets using the same repetition configuration as the first ‘wave’ but using a heavier weight than the original loading. By lifting a load that is close to your max leaves a residual strength-enhancing effect in the central nervous system. This is called post-activation potentiation, the muscles are after being previously activated. So the second wave of sets you will be able to lift heavier, therefore increase your strength gains.
Example: Perform the first ‘wave’ of sets, ie the first 5, 4, 3 rep sets, with a weight just under maximum and the second ‘wave’ of sets at maximum. A third wave can be performed if needed, however that is a lot of volume. An example set is below for conventional wave loading, there are variations of it such as perform reps of 5, 3, 1 before repeating the wave, or performing reps of 5 and 1, before repeating the wave twice.
Deadlifts using conventional wave loading technique, resting 2-3 minutes between sets
Set 1: 5 reps @ 60kg
Set 2: 4 reps @ 65kg
Set 3: 3 reps @ 70kg
Set 4: 5 reps @ 65kg
Set 5: 4 reps @ 70kg
Set 6: 3 reps @ 75kg
Eccentric/Negatives: Eccentric or negative training allows you to lift heavier loads which leads to enhanced strength gains. You are much stronger in the eccentric phase of lift compared to the concentric phase, so by using a spotter, generally 2, to help with the concentric phase of the lift you are capable to lift much greater loads.
Hanging from a chinup bar with added weight if required, you can either be assisted by someone or jump yourself to the top point of the movement. Once reached, slowly controlling the lower phase to the ground on your own and repeat for set reps and time of contraction.
If your goal from your resistance training is power, then movements like Olympic lifts and plyometric training will become a vital component to your training. Your aim through power training is to increase the muscles ability to deliver a high level of force and do it fast, Force x Velocity. Developing your muscles elastic potential, stretch shortening cycle and efficient firing patterns.
Through you power training the load and reps can vary greatly from 1 RM max training with a power clean, to high rep plyometric and power endurance training using body weight only for speed movements. It is important that the rest periods between sets are 3-5 minutes so that maximal effort can be used with each set and the action is performed as fast as you possibly can.
Heavy Light Supersets: A heavy light superset is where you perform a set of a load close to 1RM for 1-3 reps, then immediately followed by a movement targeting the same muscle group, using a light weight and aiming for maximal speed with the movement.
By doing this you work on both of the key components to power (maximal strength and speed) in the one set.
Example: Squats –
Set 1 100kg x 2 reps
Super set with
Body weight squat jumps x 3-5 reps
Perform your set of heavy squats where you are working on maximal strength and the movement is slow (due to load), then immediately rack the weight and perform 3-5 squat jumps aiming for as much speed and height with each one. Rest for 3-5 minutes and perform another 3-4 sets.
Clusters: See example in Strength section, only using lighter weight (30% 1 RM approx) with a greater focus on velocity of the movement than maximal strength.
Ascending: See strength section for example, using higher % of 1RM, and explosive lifts i.e. Olympic lifts.
Descending: See strength section for example, using higher % of 1RM, and explosive lifts i.e. Olympic lifts.
Plyometrics: Sets and reps in plyometric work is determined by ground contacts usually, this requires high levels of baseline strength and control and details are beyond the scope of this article.
The above methods for your resistance training are only just scratching the surface of the options and progressions you can utilise, ultimately it comes down to the right methods for your goals, abilities and injury history. To ensure you are making the most of your resistance training, come on down to Absolute for a tailored approach to all your programming and training needs that you can only get from industry leaders.
Written by Performance Coach David Smith