You tell me you’re not getting the same results with your current workout, and I’ll tell you that unique set techniques and alternative rep schemes are an integral part of any serious weightlifters success.
Aside from the fundamentals of basic set structure workouts, my first experience with any kind of weight training principals began back in high school as part of weightlifting class. My coach would have us do circuit training at least once a week. This pushed my classmates and I to a whole new intensity level, and taught us how accelerated multiple sets could translate into incredible gains. It was my first taste of anything close to giant sets, staggered sets, or supersets, and has been an essential part of my training ever since.
As I hit a stride with my training, I found certain concepts that worked especially well for me, like drop sets, twenty-one's, and supersets. I’d try anything new and kept a rotation of techniques that worked well for me, would throw away what didn’t, and eventually I found a handful of concepts that promoted the most muscular stimulation and growth. The key to the success of these concepts is called The Muscle Confusion Principal. This is a very simple theory that has been around from the conception of organized weight training; throw enough crap at your muscles from different angles, tempos, repetitions, and weight and they will respond! In fact, Joe Weider coined the name decades ago among his list of Weider Principals.
Most of the training principals you’ve heard about, and possibly even those you thought were part of today’s cutting edge methods, Weider had already helped catalogue and develop years before many of us were even born. He had the good fortune of working on and refining these concepts with the golden boys of bodybuilding; Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dave Draper, Frank Zane, Franco Columbu, Sergio Oliva, Ed Corney, and Eddie Robinson just to name a few. That is why he’s called the trainer of champions, because he really did help these incredible athletes reach their highest potential.
In a nutshell, Muscle Confusion means to stimulate your muscles through differentiated training techniques. These techniques were designed to hit any certain muscle or muscles from all angles, at different times, to induce an innate adaptation by the human body. In other words, challenge yourself and you will adapt and overcome.
I implement some sort of rep scheme or set technique into almost every workout that I do myself and those that I write for my clients. That’s not to say supersets, drop sets, and twenty-one’s are going to be in every workout, but I try to implement some form of high intensity training technique at some point in every workout. I recommend you try rotating some different set techniques and alternative rep schemes into your workouts. You’ll find there are some that require a training partner (like forced reps), and some that you can do on your own (like tri-sets). In time, you’ll get the techniques that work really well for you, those that trigger a great response from your muscles, and really kick your butt.
Keep in mind that Muscle Confusion techniques should not represent the bulk of your training, but rather they should help enhance and intensify your workout routine. Some are good to do once a month to knock the cobwebs out, shock your muscles, and induce growth, while others can be done more frequently than that (like drop sets or supersets). Don’t forget to rotate these techniques throughout your entire body (including legs), and always concentrate on form to reduce the risk of injury. Remember, it only takes a split second to tweak something that might plague you for months.
MY TOP 3 PICKS FOR SET TECHNIQUES
- END OF WORKOUT BURN
- SHOCKING MUSCLES
- MASSIVE PUMPS
- REFINING/COMPOUND SUPERSETS
- UPPER/LOWER BODY SUPERSETS
- HEAVY or MODIFIED SUPERSETS
- ANTAGONIST SUPERSETS
- COMPOUND SUPERSETS
Supersets are done by alternating between two exercises with no rest until you've completed all the determined sets. Sometimes I like to specify the total number of sets before getting started, while other times I like to go until it just feels right. The average rep range for Supersets is 12 to 15.
The following are different Superset variations:
I like to do these as I'm finishing up my workouts. For instance, if I'm doing legs, I might finish with Walking Lunges (refining) and superset that together with Leg Press (compound). If I'm doing chest, I might finish with Incline Dumbbell Fly's (refining) and superset that with Flat Dumbbell Bench (compound).
I like doing this style of Superset because it doesn't tax your muscles as much as a full-on Superset. It's also nice to finish a muscle group with a pump as you're heading out of the gym!
UPPER/LOWER BODY SUPERSETS:
I don't do these very often because it doesn't play well into my normal workout, but I encourage you to give it a try and see for yourself. Some examples might include Squats and Military Press, Seated Calf Raises and Bicep Curls, or Leg Press and Cable Back Rows to name a few.
HEAVY or MODIFIED SUPERSETS:
Instead of the usual 12 to 15 rep range that standard supersets require, these utilize heavier weight and reduce the rep range down to 6 and 8 reps per set. The pace is fast with no rest in-between, and requires an emphasis on form and concentration. It's a killer!
These are my favorite! Antagonistic muscles are those that counteract one another. For example, the antagonist for biceps is triceps, the antagonist for quads is hamstrings, and the antagonist for back is chest.
I like doing this style of superset because it not only allows the opposing muscle to rest while you're working on its antagonist, but it also keeps the blood centralized in a large area for massive pumps.
This simply refers to doing a superset with two exercises of the same body part. Examples include Lying Triceps Extensions (or Skull Crushers) with Standing Cable Pushdowns, or Leg Extensions with Hack Squats, or Lat Cable Pull-downs with Seated Cable Rows, or Seated Dumbbell Curls with Preacher Curls to name a few.
Also known as:
- MULTI-POUNDAGE SETS
- DESCENDING SETS
- SANDBAG SETS
- STRIP SETS
- WORKING DEEP MUSCLE FIBERS
- END OF WORKOUT BURN
- SHOCKING MUSCLES
- DOWN-THE-RACK SETS
- JETTISON STRIP SETS
- TRIPLE DROP SETS
Drop sets can be extremely effective when trying to completely exhaust the muscles you're working on. They're in the same family as supersets, except that you're using the same movement rather than switching between two exercises or between two different body parts.
The basic method can easily be performed on machine equipment like Leg Extensions or Peck-Deck for example. All you have to do is reduce the weight by changing the pin-easy! This allows for very quick weight adjustments and not a lot of time for muscle recovery. I like to perform as many drops as I can until I'm struggling with super light weight. This might total anywhere from 4 to 6 weight reduction changes.
When you're using free weights, you've got to rack the weight, pull off a couple plates, then pick up the weight and continue your drop set. This is why it's important to move swiftly when using free weight, so you don't allow the muscle to fully recover. Having a training partner certainly helps, but it's not necessary. The following are different drop set variations:
Down the rack refers to a dumbbell rack, but it could also refer to a pre-set barbell rack. Pre-set barbells are those bars with permanently fastened weights that are usually set up vertically on a rack.
Basically, you begin with a certain weight (heavy or light), and work your way down the rack. If you begin with a heavy weight, then you work your way down to the lighter weights. If you begin with a light weight, then you work your way up to heavier weights.
Beginning with heavy weight will determine the number of reps you can achieve, but when you begin with lighter weight you usually go for a pre-determined number of reps.
The following are two examples starting with both heavy and light weight:
DOWN-THE-RACK SETS (starting with a heavy weight):
Let's say I'm doing Standing Dumbbell Curls (alternating). I would start with a weight that I could get approximately 10 to 12 total reps with. Then I'd rack the dumbbells, and pick up the next set of dumbbells that are 10 pounds lighter. I'll try to match the same number of reps as the previous set (or more if I can). Again, I'll rack the dumbbells and pick up the next set of dumbbells that are 10 pounds lighter. Again, I'll try to match the same number of reps as the previous set (or more if I can). I keep moving down the rack in 10 pound increments until I'm using weight that's so light it's almost embarrassing. There's nothing like seeing a big dude struggling with 15 pound dumbbells, and of course that's when an attractive girl will swagger by and notice you!
DOWN-THE-RACK SETS (starting with a light weight):
For the sake of ease, let's say I'm performing the same exercise (Standing Dumbbell Curls). I would start with a fairly light weight, but one that I might be able to get 20 to 24 total reps with. After performing those reps, I'd rack the dumbbells and pick up the next set that are 10 pounds heavier. Here I'll crank out as many reps as I can, rack the dumbbells and pick up the next set that are 10 pounds heavier. Again, I'll do as many reps as I possibly can before racking the dumbbells to continue going up to the next set. These will again be 10 pounds heavier, and I'll do as many as I can. The final weight increases are tough, but these are the ones that will make you grow! I'll keep moving up in weight until I'm only able to get 4 or 6 total reps. As you reach these last few weight changes, it might only be possible to increase the dumbbells by 5 pounds (instead of 10 pounds).
For an enhanced ass-kicker, reverse and continue the set by going back down-the-rack without taking a break. This method can be done whether you're beginning with light or heavy weight.
JETTISON STRIP SETS:
Jettison simply means to toss some crap overboard to lighten the ship, airplane or hot air balloon. This is where the term "sand bag sets" came from. Jettison strip sets are the same as drop sets, but they refer to the way the plates are pulled off the bar. Usually several smaller plates are added outside the collars on the bar. This allows for quick and easy drops in weight. If you've got a workout partner, you don't even have to put the weight down as your partner can simply slide the weight off. This can also be done without the collars on the bar, but obviously you have to watch and make sure to balance the bar throughout the movement.
TRIPLE DROP SETS:
These are one of my favorites! Triple drop means that you're going to do three drops in a single set. Here you reduce the weight while increasing the reps. For example, the three drops are as follows: heavy weight for 6 reps, medium weight for 8-10 reps, and light weight for 15 (or more) reps. This kind of drop set can also be called a fiber sweep, because that's exactly what it does. It hits your fast twitch and slow twitch muscles while burning deep throughout the fibers.
A variation is to reduce both the reps and the weight. I know it doesn’t seem to make sense, but when you’re under the weight you’ll see that it works. For example, the three drops are as follows: heavy weight for 15 reps, medium weight for 12 reps, and the lightest weight for 10 reps.
Also known as:
- TRIPLE MOVEMENT SETS
- MULTI-EXERCISE SETS
- TRILOGY SETS
- TRINITY SETS
Tri-Sets are three sets in a row of the same or different muscle groups, while working those muscles from different angles. Let’s use shoulders as an example because you've got three heads to the deltoid: frontal, medial, and rear delts. This is why I use Stratum Fly's as part of my workout, because they encompass all three heads of the deltoid for total coverage. Stratum Fly's refer to dumbbell movements, with the first set being front fly’s, the second set lateral fly’s, and the third rear fly’s.
You can do Tri-Sets with any body part(s), including back, legs, biceps, triceps, abs, and shoulders. Legs are a good example because you can do Tri-Sets targeting only quads, hamstrings, or calves - or choose to hit the entire leg. Examples include back-to-back sets of Squats, Leg Curls and Calf Raises to blast the entire leg or something like Leg Press, Leg Extensions and Squat Jumps to isolate the quads.
TRI-SET MUSCLE ISOLATION EXAMPLES:
- Biceps – Preacher Curls, Seated Dumbbell Curls and Concentration Curls
- Triceps – Lying Extensions (or Skull Crushers), Standing Cable Pushdowns and Dumbbell Seated Overhead Extensions
- Shoulders – Military Press, Upright Rows and Rear Delt Fly's
- Back – Bent Over Rows, Seated Cable Rows and Cable Pull-downs
- Chest – Incline Bench, Decline Bench and Flat Dumbbell Fly's
- Legs – Leg Press, Leg Extensions and Lunges
TRI-SET MULTI-MUSCLE EXAMPLES:
- Biceps/Triceps – Dumbbell Curls, Rope Pushdowns and EZ-Bar Curls
- Chest/Shoulders – Dumbbell Bench, Military Press, Cable Fly's
- Back/Arms – Seated Cable Rows, Olympic Bar Curls and Skull Crushers
CONTINUED AT: SETS AND LOGIC PART 2