Teaching exercise and nutrition fundamentals and establishing a physical and attitudinal foundation upon which to forge ultimately greater results are what all good trainers are enlisted to do for their clients. However, when it comes to addressing programme modification, to further boost their clients’ success rate, many trainers falter. After an initial period whereby adhering to fixed set/rep schemes and developing a sound strength and aerobic fitness base are likely to produce impressive results (the duration of which may depend on training stage, fitness level, mindset, and a host of additional variables) a training plateau may ensue. Your client is now ready to up their training game; strength and/or hypertrophy-focused workloads must be changed to overcome inevitable training stagnation and a focus must be placed upon progressively employing further training strategies to provoke continued adaptation, supercompensation, and growth.
Rather than strictly drilling the same standard training protocols (with perhaps a few changes made to rep ranges and the requisite increasing of resistance), as many trainers do, it is smart practice to incorporate a succession of intensity methods to further challenge your clients both physically and mentally, increase the enjoyment and satisfaction they may derive from each workout, and, most importantly, boost their success rate. Three intensity methods I have employed to great effect are:
1. Drop sets
As with all intensity methods, drop sets are used to compound the effort our muscles must exert to complete their task. It must be noted that degree of difficulty, weight lifted, reps completed and overall intensity of effort are not necessarily to be correlated with optimal muscle fiber recruitment, stimulation, and growth. What is most important is the amount of tension we are able to place on our muscles from extension to contraction on all reps of a given set.
While heavy resistance is a crucially important facilitator of the muscle growth process, it is Time Under Tension (4 seconds down and 2 seconds up, with a total, ideal, TUT of between 48-72 seconds per 8-12 rep set) and sustained force (or mechanical tension) that produce the muscle building results our clients seek.
Instead of completing one all out set with a back breaking weight, which may result in displaced muscle tension, especially on the final few reps, do one set with a weight that will allow your clients to fail at the 12th rep while utilising good form, before stripping 20-30% from the bar and completing another set. A further drop may also be done to extend workout intensity.
Drop sets encourage greater tension to be placed on our working muscles by allowing just enough resistance to be used. The trick is to drop down to a lighter weight as soon as maximum muscular failure as been reached on the first set. Instead of going too far on our first set (always a temptation when a rest period is forthcoming), we may stop, lighten the load, then crank out another 8-12 with good form, to boost overall workout intensity.
A further way to extend the duration of a set without sacrificing form is to simply pause for 2-3 seconds, thus resting them sufficiently so they may crank out an extra rep or two. All good trainers know that it is the final 1-2 reps of a set that elicit the greatest muscle growth response. Unfortunately for many, the last reps are all too often the sloppiest (once muscle fatigue has set in, other groupings are often called into play and the full engagement of our targeted muscle fibers is significantly lessened).
To counter this common problem, stop your set upon reaching failure and do not be tempted to ‘cheat’ further reps (which may only lead to injury over time, depending on the degree of control we use). Instead, rest for 2-3 seconds, take a couple of deep breaths, and finish your set in style with excellence of execution.
By combining two movements back to back with no rest in between, we may hit more muscle fibers by emphasising different areas of a muscle grouping. In this fashion, intensity and muscular overload is also elevated to a significant extent. Supersets are also a great way to pre fatigue one muscle group so as to limit its influence when targeted other areas. When training chest and shoulders, for example, complete a set of seated dumbbell presses before immediately taxing the upper pecs with incline barbell presses: here, your pre exhausted, and stronger, front delts are less likely to take over, thus forcing the pecs to do a majority of the work.
Intensify your workouts
Without sufficient resistance training intensity, our clients will not reach their full muscle building potential. Rather than incrementally increasing the weights they lift and adjusting rest periods and rep ranges (though all great ways to further challenge our clients), we must also include a range of additional intensity protocols (three of the best are outlined above and others will be discussed in upcoming articles). By constantly exploring new ways to increase the difficulty of each workout, we may not only provide the challenge needed to bring out the best in our clients, but we may also provide the growth stimulus required to push them further than ever before.
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