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As a strongman competitor, Darren has pulled 50,000 lb trucks and dead lifted 805 lbs. As a competitive bodybuilder, he has won Provincial Super-heavyweight & Overall titles. As President & CEO of FREAK Fitness, he has coached his clients to hundreds of Novice, Provincial/State, National, and IFBB Pro titles. Having been involved in the sport of bodybuilding for over 20 years, Darren has his finger on the pulse of the local and international bodybuilding scenes, and will be keeping you informed through his column, “Freak Fitness."
Training Alone? You Can Still Push Past Failure.
New ways to increase your training intensity when going solo
Some folks will tell you that a training partner is absolutely necessary to push yourself in the gym and train past failure. I’m not one of them.
I always prefer training alone. I don’t have to delay my workout if someone’s late, I’m able to stay focused on just my workout, and I don’t have to wait for someone to finish their set before I go again. I can enjoy the solitude of training alone yet still be able to ramp up intensity and train past failure for new growth.
Before I get into specifics, I should start by saying the following techniques should be reserved for the latter half of your workout. I recommend you start each training session with free-weight, multi-joint exercises such as the barbell squat, overhead barbell press, or bent-over barbell row. It’s at the start when your central nervous system and body are fresh to tackle the bigger lifts and heavier weights. As your session progresses, focus more on machine-based exercises and isolation work. This way, when you want to take yourself beyond failure and employ one of the following techniques, you can do so safely.
1. Drop Sets. This technique is a good plateau buster because it allows you to extend your set and completely exhaust targeted muscle fibres above and beyond what a regular set could achieve. This technique is outstanding for stimulating hypertrophy, but, because of the high level of fatigue achieved, it can dramatically impair muscle performance, which is why it should be left to the end of your workout.
As an example, let’s consider the leg extension machine, for which making fast weight changes is as easy as pulling and reinserting the pin. Do your set as normal, but instead jumping off the machine when you hit muscle failure, stay seated. Quickly reduce the poundage by about 25 percent and reassume the set, repping to failure again with the reduced load. If you can stomach the burn in your thighs, do it all again once more. Good luck standing up once you finish! Let’s hope there isn’t a staircase in your immediate future.
2. Rest-Pause. This technique is another good plateau buster because it allows you to nearly double the number of reps you can achieve with a heavy weight, which is also done via a set-extending technique. But it doesn’t entail multiple sets of failure within a single set.
The best way to explain it is by way of example, so let’s try seated machine presses for chest. First choose the rep target (lower for strength emphasis, higher for hypertrophy, so let’s say your target is 12). With a load you can do for about 12 reps (called your 12RM), do just more than half—about 7. You’re going to rack the weight and take a 15- to 20-second break (no more!) and then continue on with your set for another 6 or 7 reps. You continue with these short rest intervals and work segments until you can’t get at least 6 reps. In total, you may perform 20 reps of more with your 12RM weight, a very sizeable and significant primer for muscle growth. (And remember, you can use your 8–10 RM, a slightly heavier weight, and do segments of 4 or 5 reps in the same manner to bring a bit more of a strength emphasis to the sequence.)
3. Partial Reps. Normally, you perform an exercise through its entire range of motion, from its fully stretched position all the way through to full muscle contraction, and the set ends when you can no longer complete a full repetition. With this technique, the set doesn’t end there.
Let’s try a lateral raise with dumbbells here. With your 10RM, do a set to failure, but instead of ending the set, start doing the motion going just three-fourths of the way up (the portion is where you’re biomechanically weakest, aka the sticking point, so you’re training below that point). When you can’t complete any more of those, go all the way but just halfway up, and finally reduce the ROM to just the bottom quarter. These very short ROM partials are also called pulses. Your middle delts will be on fire!
It’s worth noting that some movements follow an ascending strength curve and others a descending one, which simply means your sticking point is near the bottom or top, respectively, of the ROM. Knowing that, you limit your partials either above or below the sticking point. For instance, both the bench press and squat follow ascending strength curves; you’re weakest at the bottom and strongest at the top. Here, unlike the lateral raise, you’d do partials in a reverse manner, going all the way up and descending just three quarters, halfway, and a quarter of the way down, respectively.
I warn you: This technique burns and pumps you up like no other!
In summary, by employing these three techniques, I promise you’ll be able to take your workout intensity to a whole new level and, combined with proper nutrition and adequate recovery, you’ll be able to make serious gainz!