Just like you, your muscles become bored easily. And if you’ve not been hitting your goals fast enough, then you need to break the tedium – quickly. Variety is vital because your body is the most adaptable thing you own – yes, even more than your iPhone – and it thrives on new challenges. So if you bore it with the same tedious routine then you’ll sooner look like the before-picture than the after-picture. If you’re impatient about hitting your goals – and you should be – then every sweat session should be tougher than a two-dollar schnitzel. The fix? Hit your workout’s refresh button by including these intensity-increasing techniques and you’ll transform your physique from a bore into a gem you adore.
Bust Through Sticking Points
The fix? Partial reps
What are they? You’ll lift a weight through an incomplete range of motion – at the top, in the middle or at the bottom – of an exercise. They’re like a mini-repetition done with more weight than you’d usually use.
Why they work? If you’ve become stuck on the same weight for squats, then you can use partial reps to build the strength to blast through that exercise’s ‘sticking-point.’ So, if you struggle to stand up from the deepest part of a squat, that’s your ‘sticking-point.’ You can do partial reps through that ‘sticking-point’ to the mid-point of the exercise, where you’ve not completely stood up. This strengthens your muscles though that section of the lift, so you’ll be able to push more weight when you do full range motion reps.
How to use them? They’re great starters and finishers to your workout. Use the former to blast through ‘sticking-points’ while you’re still fresh, so you can get stronger in an exercise where you’re stagnating. As finishers, you should do them through your strongest part of an exercise – after you’ve done all your full range of motion reps – to build more strength endurance in that muscle. Yes, just occasionally, a half-arsed approach pays the most dividends.
The fix? Negative reps
What are they? You’ll take 3-4 seconds to lower a weight, or yourself, to force your muscles to work during the lowering portion of an exercise, instead of the lifting part. Occasionally, dwelling on the negative is a good thing as it’ll offer a positive gift to your muscles: tone.
Why they work? Negative reps demand that you lower the steel slowly, forcing your muscles to fight against gravity and the resistance created by the weight. Arizona State University researchers found the lowering portion of an exercise can lead to greater muscle gains than the raising portion. “But make sure you have a spotter nearby,” says study author Kyle Carothers. Getting trapped under a weight bruises egos and muscles.
How to do it? It’s best to do this routine with a training partner. Get her to lift as much of the weight during the lifting (up) phase as possible then let you lower all of it. If you don’t have a training partner, in some instances, use machines instead of free weights. On a bicep curls machine raise the weight with both limbs then lower it with one. Your spare limb becomes your training cohort and unlike some partners, it’s never late.
Burn extra fat
The fix? Drop sets
What are they? You’ll push out a 6-8 of reps of an exercise then decrease the poundage by 15% and continue to do another 6-8 reps with the lighter weight. This will make your muscles feel like they have a curry stewing inside – a sure sign you’re frying off more fat.
Why they work? Drop sets fatigue your muscles in a short time, accelerate your heart rate and will help you pump out 100% more reps after your muscles have already given up. And more reps mean more calories burnt. You can even do several drops sets on one exercise – that is of course if you’ve got the guts. Think of it like starting off with large glasses of wine and boozing towards shots at the end of the night – the shots may give more pain but also offer more drunken rewards.
How to use them? There are two ways you can use them. First, do an entire workout where you do a drop set on each exercise. Or you can do them on the final 2-3 exercises of your workout – like the drills below – for an extra calorie burning kick before you hit the showers. Whichever line of attack you choose, the best number of reps to do with perfect form is six, then reduce the weight by half and complete another six.
Get more stamina and endurance
The fix? Giant sets
What are they? It’s a circuit of between one and 10 exercises done using the same weight for all the moves in the circuit. That means you’ll keep your hands on the same barbell or set of dumb-bells for the entire set, creating a constant resistance that builds stamina so quickly you won’t believe it.
How it works? Normal sets last 20-40 seconds, after which you take a breather. Giant sets can last for 2-3 minutes before you get a chance to sip from your water bottle. This forces your muscles to do a hybrid of weight lifting and cardio that’ll drastically increase the stamina you have in both.
How to use it? For Duracell Bunny-like stamina, swap that 10-minute bike ride at the end of your workout for 3-4 giant sets, doing 4-5 exercises in each set and you’ll improve muscle tone and get you more stamina.
Get fitter and improve your sports performance
The fix? Plyometrics
What are they? You’ll lift your bodyweight fast and explosively so that you get a split second of airtime at the end of each rep. This harnesses the elastic properties of your muscle – increasing your power, acceleration and speed.
Why they work? Great form is more than just fitness and strength. It’s about combining agility, acceleration, reaction times and power, and is what makes good athletes great. Speeding up your repetitions forces your muscles to generate high amounts of force, which is what will make you quicker than your competition. What’s more, a study in the >American Journal of Sports Medicine found that women who did plyometrics increased their overall power by up to 44%, decreased their risk of injury and could jump 10% higher. Does that sound like a winner or what?
How to use them? Speed is one the great delights of our modern lives, so don’t deprive yourself of it in the gym or park. Do a plyometric circuit midway through your workouts when you’re warmed up and not yet fatigued. Do 2-3 exercises where you do 3-5 reps on each, moves such as jumping split squats, clap press-ups or medicine ball slams.
Get your head in the game
Install the mental software to make your mind motivate your muscles
- Clench your teeth to finish that last rep. Marquette University, USA scientists found that athletes who bit down produced more force and jump higher. Just not too hard – a broken-glass smile isn’t worth the extra power.
- Before a tough set, visualize what each rep will feel like and how long it will take you. Two studies in the >Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology found that practicing this kind of imagery increased their strength by 10%.
- Cardio can be body and mind-numbing, but researchers at Massachusetts’ Smith College, found that if people tried to remember a list while they cycled, the activity felt easier than if they concentrated. Pop Idol, iPod, Sudoku – use anything to drive yourself with distraction.
- Venting your anger can increase muscle force by up to 25%, found research in the >Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. We don’t condone yelling but think of your boss’s smug face the next time you stall on a rep.
More plateau-busting tricks
Slot these into your routine to stoke up its intensity and get results faster
- The rest-pause technique
Grab a weight you can manage five reps with. Do five reps, take a 15-second break then do 2-3 reps, rest another 15 seconds then do another 2-3 reps.
- Static holds
Hold weight for 30 seconds in the position that’s the toughest for the muscle. You’ll force the muscle to fight gravity and the weight.
- Rope in a training partner for forced reps
Do as many reps as you can then get your training partner to help you lift the weight just enough for you to slave drive another 2-3 reps from your muscle.
You’ll do two exercises back-to-back, for the same or different muscle groups without rest. They’re a great time-saver that not only fatigues your muscles quickly but also burns more calories.