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Train To Gain: Right Start: Muscle Magic

Ways to trick your muscles into working harder.

Our early years of training are marked by exhilaration at becoming many times stronger than we once were. I’m sure you remember the first time you broke certain barriers’a 300-pound bench press or a 400-pound squat. Those were very satisfying moments. Though we kept making gains in strength, eventually the rate slowed down drastically. That’s only natural. If we all kept getting stronger at the same rate indefinitely, we’d all be bench-pressing 1,000 pounds and squatting a ton after a few years.

The reality is that at some point you’ll come very close to your ultimate potential for strength. It’s highly likely, however, that you’ll still have some room left for muscular growth. How on earth are you supposed to get bigger if you can’t get stronger? You do it by subjecting the muscles to new stimuli, shocking them and forcing them to grow through mechanisms other than merely increasing the resistance you use. Muscles don’t know how much weight they’re using’they only feel stress and tension. Here are some ways to trick them into adapting and growing without having to lift a house.

Emphasize contractions. You should already be taking the time during every rep to really squeeze the muscle, but try putting enough emphasis on the contraction that the bar, dumbbell or machine actually stops moving momentarily. Using the leg extension as an example: When you hit the contraction point, flex your quads for a full count of one-one thousand before slowly lowering. The lactic acid burn and phenomenal pump will let you know that this is a step up the ladder of intensity.

Preexhaust. It’s a clever way to give the target muscle added stress without using heavier weights. For best results go immediately from an isolation movement, such as pec deck flyes, to a compound exercise for the same bodypart, such as bench presses. The fibers of your pectoral muscles will feel as if they’re being torn asunder, and in a way they are. If you’re forced to train at a gym during peak hours, odds are you won’t be able to hog both stations at once. In that case you can still derive most of the benefits by doing all your sets on the isolation movement before proceeding to the compound exercise. Other great combos include lateral raises and overhead presses, leg extensions and leg presses or squats, and pullovers and chins or rows.

Reduce rest time. Most of us rest anywhere from one to three minutes between sets of an exercise. One way to force the muscles to work harder is to cut your rest time in half. That will reduce the amount of weight you’re normally able to use following your first set, but it will feel plenty heavy to your muscles. Resist letting your ego get the best of you and keep going until all your sets are over. Even if you do your last set of barbell curls with 50 or 60 pounds instead of your usual 100, the numbers are irrelevant if your bi’s get sore and grow. Drop sets are an even more extreme version of cutting down rest periods. IM

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