Unless you have the genetics of Reggie Bush, you’ve probably noticed that some of your body’s muscle groups don’t develop as well as others. The good news is that you can use old-school bodybuilding exercises to help lagging muscle groups catch up.
Although some of these tactics may be new to you, they’ve been around for decades. Rest assured, they have stood the test of time.
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Tactic 1: Drop Sets
Drop sets involve performing an exercise to exhaustion then reducing the weight and increasing the number of repetitions until exhaustion once more. They force your muscles to continue firing under physiological stress, eliciting a metabolic cascade resulting in cellular adaptations. They are not only an excellent tool for forcing muscle growth, they translate to sports extremely well. For instance, many of my cycling clients have incorporated drop sets into their training to push their anaerobic threshold to the max. This allows them to sustain a high effort while experiencing muscular fatigue.
Here are some examples:
1. Cycling Improvement. Perform 10 to 12 Leg Extensions to exhaustion then immediately reduce the weight by around 30 percent and perform another set until exhaustion. That is one set. Try for 2-3 sets.
2. “Big Back” Drop Set. Perform 8 to 10 heavy reps of Barbell Rows to exhaustion. Reduce the weight just enough to allow for 8 to 10 more reps, then repeat for three total drops. That is one set. Try for 2-3 sets.
There is no magic number regarding reps. Just keep in mind that hypertrophy typically occurs at 8-12 reps, so your initial set to exhaustion should be kept in that range. Also, finding your ideal reduction weight is done through trial and error.
Mathematically speaking, depending on how heavy your initial weight was and how many reps you shoot for with each subsequent set, your reduction weight may be greater or less than 30 percent.
WATCH: Todd Durkin Demonstrates Strength-Building Drop Sets
Tactic 2: Pre-Exhaust
Pre-exhaust techniques have been in the strength and conditioning world for quite some time, and for good reason. Pre-exhaust is a method of forcing hypertrophy by fatiguing a muscle group with an isolation exercise, then immediately performing a compound, multi-joint exercise that engages the pre-fatigued muscle group. The purpose is to force the weaker group to play “catch up” when you initiate the subsequent compound exercises.
Try these pre-exhaust techniques and experiment with your own combinations:
- Prone Hamstring Curls: 10-12 reps immediately followed by Barbell Back Squats for 6-8 reps
- Dumbbell Chest Flys: 10-12 reps immediately followed by Barbell Bench Press for 6-8 reps
- Tricep Rope Pull-Downs: 10-12 reps immediately followed by Close-Grip Bench Press for 6-8 reps
- Hanging Knee Raises or Sit-Ups: 10-12 reps immediately followed by Plank until failure
Tactic 3: Rest-Pause
The rest-pause technique can help you squeeze out an extra rep or two. Although one or two extra reps may not sound like much, do the math: If you bench press 135 pounds and perform three sets once a week, imagine the gains you can make with those extra 156 reps a year!
Using the rest-pause technique is easy. Perform an exercise of your choice until you reach exhaustion. We’ll use the Bench Press as our example. Instead of racking the weight, keep it in the “up” position for another 5-10 seconds. This may sound counterintuitive, but while holding it there, you are still recovering enough to squeeze out another rep or two. You can keep doing this a few more times until you reach absolute exhaustion.
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Tactic 4: Slow Contraction-Explosive Sets
Unlike drop sets, these sets are based solely on the speed at which you perform the exercise. As indicated by its name, it has a slow contraction phase, followed by an explosive phase.
Let’s use the Leg Extension as our example. Perform 10-12 reps with a slow, controlled cadence—ideally a three-count contraction, a two-count pause in the “up” portion and a three-count lowering phase (3-2-3 cadence). When doing the slow contractions, keep the resistance moderate and avoid performing reps to full exhaustion. After completing the initial 10-12 reps, increase the weight moderately and perform 10-12 more reps at a faster speed (1-0-1 cadence).
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