Four Weightlifting Techniques to Build Muscle

August 19, 2011

Must See Strength Training Videos

The secrets to building muscle lie in the strength training techniques you employ in the weight room. Too many athletes stick with the same familiar training methods, impeding strength and size gains. Spice up your routine and focus on proven techniques that stimulate the body's muscle building processes.

Muscles increase in size after intense exercise because they break down and then rebuild. The process works through placing stress on the muscles by lifting weight, which triggers several growth factors, such as the release of muscle-building hormones. The scientific term for the process is hypertrophy, and the result is an increase in the contractile components of the muscles, promoting bigger size and greater strength.

In a recent article in the Strength and Conditioning Journal, Brad Schoenfeld, MS, CSCS, discusses four common muscle-building techniques that can be used in your training program.

Forced Repetitions
You may have already performed forced repetitions—perhaps unknowingly. A forced repetition involves a spotter helping a lifter complete a lift after failure—when the lift can no longer be performed as part of a set. The spotter must provide only enough assistance to allow the lifter to complete the rep without sticking through the push or pull movement. Although the technique is commonly used with exercises like the Bench Press, it can be applied to virtually any exercise—assuming a spotter is present [see Part I of our series on perfect spotting technique].

Studies show that forced repetitions increase growth hormone levels more than traditional sets. The presence of growth hormone is a critical indicator for increased muscle growth; however, other factors may also contribute. Schoenfeld theorizes that muscle fatigue and/or stress on the body’s energy systems from forced repetitions also contribute to muscle growth.

Drop Sets
Drop sets involve performing an exercise until failure, then immediately reducing the load for additional reps. They are typically done following the  final set, when the lifter reps out with lighter weight in two or three incremental "drop set" reductions. However, even one set with a significant weight reduction can be effective.

The idea behind drop sets is to increase the number of reps performed [volume] while working at near maximum intensity—close to failure. According to Schoenfeld, this increases fatigue, which is crucial for building muscle. Also, drop sets increase growth hormone levels, which is important for hypertrophy.

Supersets
The superset—two exercises performed back to back with no rest—is another productive exercise technique. Normally, a superset consists of exercises that work opposing muscle groups. Examples include Biceps Curls with Triceps Extensions, Leg Curls with Leg Extensions and Bench Press with Inverted Row.

One obvious benefit of supersets is saving time—you perform two exercises in the same amount of time as one, while alternatively resting the opposing muscle group. When you work your biceps, your triceps are resting, and vice versa. Also, according to Schoenfeld, when you exercise the secondary muscle [e.g., the triceps in a Biceps Curl], you are able to lift more weight in the primary movement [the Biceps Curl], thus adding an additional challenge to your muscles. Finally, you can perform a greater number of reps to increase fatigue, contributing to muscle growth.

Heavy Negatives
Heavy negatives are another bodybuilding technique proven to increase muscle size and strength. They focus on an exercise's eccentric contraction [muscle lengthening while resisting a weight load], such as the downward phase of a Bench Press. Since muscles produce their maximal strength during eccentric movements, a weight of 105 to 125 percent of max can be used. Schoenfeld recommends lowering the bar in two to three seconds and using a spotter for assistance to raise the bar.

Since eccentric contractions elicit maximum muscle force, they are the only way to train at or near your strength capacity. Schoenfeld says heavy negatives cause more muscle damage than traditional lifting techniques, thus allowing muscles to grow in size when they rebuild.

The biggest problem with heavy negatives is their slowness—which mimics hardly any athletic movement or skill.

It's important to vary your training program and always allow for recovery. Any of these methods performed too frequently can lead to overtraining, which erases training gains. But, if used properly, these four techniques can be valuable tools for building muscle.

Source:  Schoenfeld, B. M. [2011]. The Use of Specialized Training Techniques to Maximize Muscle Hypertrophy. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 33 [4], 60-63.

Andy Haley
- Andy Haley is the Performance Director at STACK. A certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), he received his bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Miami...
Andy Haley
- Andy Haley is the Performance Director at STACK. A certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), he received his bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Miami...
Must See
Why You Should Never Doubt Colin Kaepernick
Views: 20,641,762
Abby Wambach Will Do Whatever It Takes
Views: 4,541,559
Roy Hibbert 540 lbs Deadlift
Views: 1,563,663

Featured Videos

Get in Shape for Baseball With Austin Adams' Metabolic Conditioning Circuit Views: 2,372
A Day in the Life With Kansas City Chiefs Tight End Travis Kelce Views: 7,149
Eastbay Path to the Pros Episode 4: Skill Training Views: 330,200
Load More

Resources

STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers

Magazine

Latest issues of STACK Magazine

STACK 4W

Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice

Gamer

Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes

News

Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

Paul Rabil's Box Jumps
Views: 848,711
Perfect Dwyane Wade's Signature Euro Step
Views: 1,309,063
Colin Kaepernick's Core Workout
Views: 883,469
Abby Wambach Will Do Whatever It Takes
Views: 4,541,559
Dwyane Wade Jumps Onto a 42" Box
Views: 10,741,217

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like

Train Like a Pro: Baseball Strength Workout Program

Train Like a Pro: Julio Jones 3-Day Sandbag Strength Program

Train Like a Pro: James Harden's Basketball Maintenance Workout

Get Faster to Pitch Harder

Train Like a Pro: Los Angeles Lakers Strength Training Program

Is It Too Soon for Olympic Lifts?

How You Can Olympic Lift With an Injury

How to Use the Pallof Press for an Iron Core

8-Exercise Advanced Chest and Back Workout

Abby Wambach's Strength and Speed Workout

Jump Higher After a Month With These 3 Exercises

3 Tips to Blast Through Training Plateaus

How to Recover From a Soccer Game or Workout

The 4 Best and Worst Cable Machine Exercises

Get Faster With This Weightlifting Technique

Paul Rabil's Powerful Rotational Strength Workout

Use Wave Loading to Take Your Strength to the Next Level

Todd Durkin's Complete Football Strength Training Program

Not Making Bench Press Gains? Try These Strategies

Bicep Curl Grip Guide: How Hand Placement Changes the Exercise

4 Tips for Reducing Deadlift Back Pain

Use Sled Pushes to Increase Speed, Strength and Power

Speed Drill of the Day: Reverse Lunges

5 Quick Workout Fixes for Faster Muscle Growth

Build Athletic Strength with the Playground Sandbag Workout

Tobin Heath's Powerful Leg Workout

3 Habits of Highly Successful Coaches

Add Surprise Sets for a Great Workout Finisher

2 Brutal 10-Minute Workouts That Deliver Serious Results

Build Muscle With the 2-Second Pause Workout Program

Train Like a Pro: Dustin Pedroia's Baseball Power Workout

Train Like a Pro: Henrik Zetterberg's Hockey Strength Workout

Build Strong Legs with the Leg Press Lockdown Workout

3 Keys to a Solid Squat Setup

Increase Athletic Strength with Rotational Bodyweight Training

Build Bulletproof Chest Strength With This Unconventional Method

Build a Strong Upper Body With These Landmine Exercises

3 Keys to Better Softball Workouts

3 Reasons Why You Should Do Full-Body Workouts

The Un-Liftable Inch Dumbbell: Can You Handle Its Challenge?

The Top 10 Mistakes Athletes Make in the Weight Room

Train Like a Pro: MLS Soccer Strength Program

Speed Drill of the Day: Weighted Arm Swings

Kevin Love's In-Season Workout

Abby Wambach's Soccer Power Workout