Body Building Techniques
There are lots of ways new body builders can add muscle mass when it comes to weight training. During the first few months at the gym, a beginner will commonly see their biggest gains without putting in a herculean effort.
This is why I often tell newbies who are just starting a body building program to embrace those first couple of months because that’s when rapid gains are most likely to happen. How big a person can get depends on a number of factors – but that’s a different topic.
This article will explore body building basics and identify four weight lifting techniques for adding muscle mass. I’ve tried to keep as much “geek” out of it as I can but some of the science you will see is unavoidable.
Body Building Plateaus
If you have reached a place where packing on new muscle is difficult, you have likely hit a plateau. This means you will need to look to other training techniques in order to maintain progress.
I’ll first start out by saying that the approach you choose generally will depend on your body building goals and body type. Luckily, there are many different training techniques out there, with some being more appropriate for beginners and others who have some time and experience under their belts.
Four Body Building Techniques
The four training approaches I am going to focus on are: super sets, forced reps, the pyramid system, and periodization. Most of these methods can be used in combination with other methods in order to maximize muscle growth and strength.
Super sets involve multiple exercises performed with little or no rest in between; the rest is the time it takes to get into position for the next movement. Because the person is moving from one exercise to another fairly quickly, they are able to save a lot of time in the gym, which may prove beneficial for someone on a time-crunch.
Another benefit to super sets is the potential in challenges it poses and in capturing the athlete’s interest, since super sets actually include several sub-methods.
The most common method of super set is the antagonist method, which involves using two exercises to work a single pair of opposing muscles. Depending on the exercises, one muscle is the agonist and the other the antagonist.
Super Sets Video
The agonist muscles moves the body part from one position and the antagonist works to return the part to that same, beginning position. In other words, the agonist muscles contract while the antagonist muscles are fairly relaxed.
Examples of opposing muscles are the biceps and triceps. For example, during a bicep curl, the bicep is the agonist because it is the one contracting during the movement; since the triceps stay fairly relaxed, they are the antagonists.
On the other hand, triceps during a “tricep extension” are the agonists while the biceps are the antagonists. Some of the benefits to this sub-method is that it allows the athlete to use additional weight or increase repetitions, which may actually increase muscular endurance.
When two exercises are done to only work one particular muscle, the athlete is adopting the agonist super set sub-method. Normally, the agonist superset includes both an isolated and compound movement.
When the isolated movement precedes the compound movement in rapid succession, it is known as a pre-exhaust superset.
Pre-Exhaust Super Sets
An example of a pre-exhaust superset is doing traditional leg extensions (isolated) and deadlifts (compound) in order to really work the hamstrings. But, just like there is the pre-exhaust sub-method, method, there is also the post-exhaust method. It is very similar to the pre-exhaust method except the compound exercise is done first and the isolated exercise second.
Super sets are not limited to only two exercises per muscle or muscle pairs. When three or more exercises are used, the lifter is using the giant set sub-method of super sets. Normally, only four or five exercises are used to target a muscle group.
An example of a giant set targeting the back include: lat pull-downs, dumbbell rows, and dumbbell pullovers. However, the giant set can be a combination of the agonist and antagonist sub-methods.
Super Set Advanced
The super set advanced training methods is considered “advanced” for a reason and may be a con for less experienced athletes. Since super sets really test muscular and cardiovascular endurance, a less experienced athlete may not be able to perform the required number of repetitions in the set or do it quickly enough to be a challenge.
Additionally, super sets, especially giant sets, can be a recipe for disaster through overtraining if you are not careful.
Forced Reps are exactly as the name implies in that they are forced repetitions of an exercise that an athlete cannot accomplish without some assistance. Forced reps are completed when the athlete has reached muscle failure or, simply, when they are lifting a very heavy weight.
With a forced rep, a spotter or two relieve some of the load the athlete is trying to lift so that they may complete the lift. An example would be an athlete trying for a heavy bench press using progressive overloading.
As soon as an athlete becomes “stuck” in the press, the spotters will grab the barbell from the middle or two spotters will each grab an end of the barbell to assist the lifter, but only to the extent that the barbell is moving at the same pace as before.
Forced Reps Video
But a forced rep is not a one and done deal. The athlete may choose to do multiple forced reps, which is where the benefit to the technique lies. The forced rep technique allows the athlete to complete a few extra reps when they otherwise could not.
In itself, the need for assistance can be a drawback to adopting the forced rep advanced training technique. The athlete has to have excellent communication with his or her spotters so that they are reducing the load just enough but not too much. The spotters must, also, be physically capable of lifting the weight since they are transferring the load onto themselves.
Additionally, the technique was designed to shock the muscles and can lead to overtraining if done too frequently, so it is a technique that should be used sparingly, if at all. Overall, though, an athlete might want to leave it out of their regimen altogether since there is no proof in it being effective in increasing strength or power and may actually inhibit long-term progress.
The pyramid system of training involves at least three progressive sets of a single exercise where the load increases, the load increases and then decreases, or a combination thereof. With that, there are several different pyramid systems – the ascending pyramid, descending pyramid, and complete pyramids.
The ascending pyramid, or half pyramid, normally has the load increasing as opposed to the number of repetitions. The athlete uses a fixed number of repetitions (e.g. 10) while working from a certain percentage of their one-repetition max (1RM) to a higher percentage. T. L. Delorme, who originally introduced the pyramid system sixty years ago, suggested ascending from 50 to 75 to 100 percent of the athlete’s 1RM.
For example, an athlete working on his or her deadlift with a 1RM of 300 pounds would do their first set of 10 with 150 pounds, second set of 10 with 225 pounds, and the last set of 10 with 300 pounds. However, it is not feasible for an athlete to be able to do multiple repetitions of a 1RM (it is called a 1RM for a reason).
Therefore, a more workable percentage might, for example, be from 50 (150 pounds) to 65 (195 pounds) to 80 percent (240 pounds). On the other hand, the ascending pyramid can, also, have the number of reps increase while the load remains the same across each set.
For example, an athlete performing a deadlift can lift 200 pounds but do 5 repetitions during his or first set, 10 repetitions during the second set, 15 repetitions on the third set, and so on and so forth.
Additionally, a variation to the ascending pyramid is having the load increase while the number of repetitions decreases. For example, the first set would be 15 repetitions with 150 pounds, second set has would be 10 repetitions at 195 pounds, and the last set with 5 reps would be at 240 pounds. The main benefit to the ascending pyramid is its inherent warm-up. Starting out with a lower weight, the athlete is able to loosen the muscles that will experience increased stress later.
The descending, or reverse, pyramid starts out at the heaviest weight, decreasing through sets, while the number of repetitions increases. As one can imagine, the descending pyramid can be very dangerous since the athlete may not have warmed up to the heavy load like they would in an ascending pyramid.
However there is the great benefit of being able to do the heaviest set when the athlete is fresh and has not reached fatigue yet.
The complete pyramid simply involves both the ascent and descent. A complete pyramid is preferable to many because it is a highly effective way to train in order to build muscle because it consists of a higher intensity and volume.
A drawback, though, is the athlete may experience muscle failure or fatigue before the pyramid is complete. An important benefit to any of the pyramid systems is that it can be combined with other advanced training methods, like super sets.
Periodization, also known as cycle training, varies the volume and intensity of exercises between workouts in order to maximize long-term strength and muscular gains. Additionally, the exercises themselves can be swapped out in order to stress the muscle groups in slightly different ways.
That way, the muscles do not fully adapt to the exercise and the athlete hits a plateau.
Furthermore, the periodization can take place between individual workouts (microcycles) or over a longer period of time (mesocycles). An example of periodization in a microcycle would be an athlete doing 10 heavy deadlifts one day but 20 light deadlifts the next.
Microcycles make up the mesocycles, which is divides the years into different training seasons – off-season, preseason, early season, and peak season. One season’s overall volume and intensity will differ from that of another season.
One of the great benefits to periodization in training is that an athlete is less likely to over train because the athlete works in adequate rest periods. Another benefit to periodization is, because it varies on several aspects, it stresses the muscles in different ways to allow for faster, more progressive gains as opposed to hitting a plateau.
Also, periodization seems to offer the same positive results for older adults as it does for younger adults.
A beginner bodybuilder does not necessarily have to be concerned with some of the more advanced training techniques since they still experience gains. As a person grows as an athlete, they discover advanced techniques such as super sets, forced reps, pyramid system, and periodization.
Depending on your goals, any one of these may be adopted but most can be used in conjunction with another. However, forced repetitions should really only be used as a last resort since it has not been proven to make any positive changes to strength or muscle mass.
Aside from that, each technique has its own pros and cons and all challenge the athlete’s muscular endurance and strength.