THE INNOVATIVE WAY TO ACCELERATE YOUR GAINS, PART 2 OF 4
PRE-EXHAUST * SMALL ANGLES * REST RUNDOWN
Submitted By Timothy Rigby, M.A., NSCA-CPT
Ultimate Fitness Events (UFE) is pleased to present the second in our four-part series on specialty training techniques. These innovative training protocols serve as ways to break from the norm of boring, same-old exercises using traditional rep schemes and overused four-day or weekly splits. Specialty techniques infuse the elements of creativity and innovation to give you a mental spark, while delivering consistent gains leading to improved results. In turn, you should be able to enter a competition with an extra edge over your fellow athletes.
Specialty techniques are not reserved simply for the ranks of professional bodybuilders. Novice, Open, Elite and Pro level athletes competing in Physique, Classic Physique, Figure, Fitness, Bikini and Glamour classes all stand to gain from incorporating these techniques for short periods of four to six weeks, and then switching up to another such technique for the same time frame. As you approach your competition date, you should observe that the gains just keep on coming. Whereas more traditional training platforms will inevitably cause you to hit a plateau at some point – therein stalling your gains – the nifty slate of specialty techniques at your disposal ensure you overcome any roadblocks to consistent success.
There are different manners in which specialty techniques modify traditional training; these revolve around manipulating either exercise selection, sets, resistance, rest periods or the reps themselves. Last month, we introduced you to the specialty techniques of supersets (which manipulates sets), along with 21s and the 4-rep system (which manipulates reps). This month we’ll explore other useful techniques concerning the exercise selection you employ and also rest periods. The pre-exhaust and small angles methods are scientifically proven to be effective for manipulating exercise selection in order to further your gains, while the rest rundown method is a very effective program of manipulating rest periods to accelerate your gains while training for competition. Read on, and you’ll see why.
Have a target muscle group that you’d love to bring up (or full-out blow up) to improve your symmetry and/or balance with your other muscles? The pre-exhaust method of training is a simple-to-use system wherein you’ll perform exercises in a specific order. Namely, you’ll complete a few isolation moves first, and then move on to heavier compound moves that work your target muscle group along with one or more assistance muscle groups. In this way, it’s a reversal of the principle of training with heavier moves first, while your energy levels are their most fresh. The justification for this inversion of order is based upon the human body’s incredible ability to adapt – which means unfortunately that you’re liable to keep hitting plateaus if you constantly do the same ol’ thing each workout. By implementing a radical modification to exercise order, you can add a new stimulus to your muscles that will set them on course for enhanced growth.
By working the target muscle group with isolation moves first, you can fatigue or “pre-exhaust” it before the compound moves that will really finish it off. Naturally, when performing the compound moves, the muscle group you’re focusing on will have it’s strength diminished, so you should use an appropriately lesser weight than you typically would with straight training. The rule of thumb that you should “employ this technique for four to six weeks and then switch up to a different training protocol” definitely applies here, for if you were to keep it up beyond six weeks, you’ll run the risk of overtraining your target muscle group; this would cause your gains to stall.
A good plan for establishing your reps quantity with the pre-exhaust method is to perform three sets of 10 to 15 reps for the isolation moves, then three sets of six to 10 reps with the compound moves.
Sample Pre-Exhaust Workout (Hamstrings and Quadriceps):
|LEG CURL||3||12||1:30 mins.|
|SQUAT||3||8, 7, 6||1:30 mins.|
|LEG EXTENSION||3||12||1:30 mins.|
|LEG PRESS||3||8, 7, 6||1:30 mins.|
SMALL ANGLES TRAINING
This is a specialty technique that’s intricate and effective, but actually also a lot of fun. In simple terms, it centers on the idea that performing an exercise from only one angle will only hit your muscle fibres in one way. In order to truly increase muscle mass, it’s to your advantage to perform the movement from a variety of angles. But if the thought of manipulating the equipment several times each exercise seems daunting, don’t fret. It’s actually very easy, with many apparati lending themselves purposely for this task. Cable crossovers have many different levels at which you can position the cable pulley; many benches and other various machines are constructed such that you can adjust the angles to many different points. Now you may be thinking, as long as your performing a biceps curl and can feel the contraction in your peak, why do you need to do this exercise at different angles? There’s only so much you can do to make a muscle grow, right?
Here’s where a little bit of science goes a long way. You have to think beyond your fingertips and realize that there’s a great deal to your anatomy that you can’t actually see or feel. It’s important to understand first of all that your muscle fibres do not actually run the full length of your muscles; they are each in fact only about one to four inches in length, and they link up with other fibres to make the bulk of your muscles. Many times, when you perform a standard exercise with weights, you’re activating only certain fibres within the specific muscle group; believe it or not, many other fibres contained in the same group actually go unused. The first time you learn this, it may seem difficult to believe. However, this reality of science illustrates the importance of hitting your target muscles from a variety of angles.
So in the same way that you perform different exercises to build a target muscle group, you will here use variety of angles for the same exercise. Simply focus on one or two moves per muscle group per workout and perform them for multiple sets at different angles. The sample workout below illustrates how you would perform small-angles training for your chest using the cable crossover. This specific case is also known as “climbing the ladder”. For a large muscle group like your chest, it is recommended you also perform a second small-angles exercise like the bench press using a variety of grip widths.
Sample Small Angles Chest Workout (Cable Crossover portion):
|CABLE CROSSOVER||Top position||1||8-10|
|2 notches from top||1||8-10|
|4 notches from top||1||8-10|
|6 notches from top||1||8-10|
|8 notches from top||1||8-10|
This month’s third specialty training technique is an excellent method for advancing the growth of muscle mass immediately before a competition. It’s therefore very popular with bodybuilders and other competitive fitness athletes. The rest rundown method is one in which you manipulate your rest periods progressively. Specifically, you’ll be reducing the length of time for taking your rests between sets, all the while using the same weight for the same number of reps. This technique is a very gradual one that’s meant to be performed over the course of about eight weeks, so patience is clearly a virtue.
You may be thinking that simply decreasing rest periods is overly basic and doubt it’s practical veracity. Rest assured, it has been scientifically scrutinized and the results speak for themselves. A 2011 study by Souza-Junior et al. that appeared in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that subjects who decreased the time of their rest periods between sets produced greater gains in building muscle mass than those who kept their rest periods constant. This study was run over the course of eight weeks, so as you can see it’s a lengthy process, yet clearly effective.
Another common concern for this method is that those training doubt whether they’ll be able to lift the same amount of weight for the same number of reps, given that the rest periods are gradually shorter. However, by following this plan, you’ll be training the biomechanical pathways in the muscles that allow them to recover faster. The result is a gain in relative strength. Bear in mind that you will not be able to accelerate this process if you decide to reduce the length of rest periods substantially. A general rule of thumb is to reduce it each week by only 15-20 seconds. As you can see from the following chart, this rate of progression will reduce the time from 3 minutes down to just 20 seconds over the course of nine weeks. A side benefit to these short rest periods is that in addition to the mass and strength gains, you’ll also burn more calories by giving your workouts something of an aerobic element to them.
Sample Rest Rundown Workout (Back):
|Exercise||Week||Sets||Reps||Rest Between Sets|
|SEATED CABLE ROW||1||3||8-12||3 mins.|
Keep in mind that there’s a lot of faith that goes along with using specialty techniques to accelerate your gains. When you first begin using them, you may ask yourself, “Is this really working?” As stated above, there are many things going on in your body when you train that you may not immediately notice. Keep the faith, however, because these methods have been tried and tested, while consistently producing significant results.
Specialty techniques come very close to building the maximum muscle you can in the most efficient way possible. But this does not give you license to arbitrarily modify them yourself, under the mistaken impression that increasing the degree of their difficulty will result in even further gains. This is a misguided attitude. If you follow the programs correctly as prescribed, you’ll already achieve the threshold of what they can accomplish for you; this is what all the scientific research on them has demonstrated. If you try to take them to a more intense level haphazardly, you’ll make yourself vulnerable to overtraining, burnout and injury. The latter is something you want to completely avoid, because an injured muscle often takes a long time to heal – it can throw your schedule right off-kilter and possibly knock you out of a competition for which you’ve worked so hard to prepare.
Be sure to check back to this Training Tips section of the UFE website over the next two months as we’ll explore other effective specialty training techniques, including those that manipulate the resistance (the load itself) with which you train. Remember, use these for four to six weeks at a time, then be sure to switch to another method.
Timothy Rigby, M.A., NCSA-CPT is a freelance writer and one of Canada’s most published fitness writers.