The inspiration for today’s video is a study I read that compared increasing load without changing the number of repetitions to keeping the weight the same and just increasing reps as a person gets stronger. The goal was to see which method builds the most muscle, adding weight or increasing repetitions.
We’ll come back to the study at the end of the video but let me know in the comments which one you think builds the most muscle.
This got me thinking of all the different ways we could increase the training stimulus on a muscle to keep it growing without increasing load, and I came up with a total of 12 different ways.
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But why would we want to progress our workouts without lifting heavier weights?
I can think of 3 main reasons. The first one, which seems to affect us more as we get older, is it allows our joints and tendons more time to strengthen and get used to a weight.
Next, if you’re a guy like me and mainly train with dumbbells, as you get stronger and start moving weights heavier than your body, it becomes difficult to get into certain exercises like the bench press safely.
Finally, you simply may not have that much weight to work with.
The two most common ways to progress without adding weight are to increase the number of repetitions you’re doing or the number of sets. These methods are commonly used in double or triple-progression programs.
In double progression, you have a specific rep range, say 8 to 12 repetitions. You start with weight doing 8 reps and slowly working your way up until you can do 12 on all sets, then you increase the weight and start working from 8 up to 12 again.
Now, if you don’t want to increase the weight, then you could increase the rep range to 15 before increasing weight or even going to 20. Studies have shown you can build muscle in ranges as high as 30 to 35 reps, but from a practical standpoint, I cap mine off at 20.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to do more repetitions, you could slow down the pace instead of doing a 1-second concentric and a 2-second eccentric, cut the speed in half and do a 2-second concentric and a 4-second eccentric. That’s the third method for those who are keeping track.
Going back to increasing the number of sets, this works, but you can’t continually add more sets, or your workouts get too long. There are 3 ways we can offset this. First, we can reduce our rest times between sets or eliminate them, as in the case of drop sets.
Eventually, we may have to look at increasing training frequency by adding another training day to keep our individual workouts down to a reasonable length.
There’s one more way we can manipulate rest to increase our training intensity, and that’s a rest pause. This is where you rest at the end of a set for 10 seconds or less so you recover enough to force another rep or two before failure.
Some programs will go with longer rest pauses of 15 to 30 seconds.
Another intensity method I like to use is part repetitions. I do this quite often on my last set of pull-ups. I’ll keep going even after I can no longer get my chin over the bar, with each rep having a shorter range of motion until I can’t even move.
Pre exhausting a muscle is when we do an isolation exercise before a compound moment to tire out a muscle allowing us to effectively work it with less weight.
For the bench press, we do chest flyes first to pre-exhaust our pecs.
Another way we can exhaust a muscle is with static holds. I was talking to a guy in the comments of a recent video, and he likes to pause and hold at the bottom of a squat. This is how I like to do my static holds as part of a repetition.
The following two things I should’ve mentioned first as they’re the things you need to look at before adding another repetition or even more weight, and that’s perfecting our form and improving range of motion.