Part II – The other four tools to build your best body

Plateau Buster #3: Partials

The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, goes the old adage. And that probably best describes how partials training can chew up obstacles you face in the gym and propel you through to the next level of growth. Simply put, partials entail overloading small sections of the full range of motion (ROM) with more weight than you could possibly handle if you tried moving that same weight through the entire ROM.

Anatomy of Partials

You may be stronger at the top portion of a lift like overhead presses, squats or bench presses, but the weight you choose is always limited by how strong you are through the so-called sticking point, typically the weakest section in the ROM. But that’s not the case with partials, because you’ll be training above the sticking point, so you’ll be able to use more weight. By applying more force across a particular area than the muscles are typically accustomed to, the fibers will be stimulated to grow. The genius of this technique is that you can ultimately apply it across the entire ROM, one segment at a time.

Complete Benefits of Partials

Partials are best done inside a Smith machine where you have the benefit of safeties but you also have multiple levels built in to the machine to use as guides. (Hardcore lifters do them in something called a power rack, but the Smith works well, too.) You can choose the top portion of the range of motion, like the last 6 inches of the overhead shoulder press, or the middle sticking point, or even the bottom portion of the rep. That’s important to know because your gains will be limited to the particular ROM you train in, so over time, you’ll need to adjust the safeties and work all various parts of the full ROM. For the shoulder press, the full ROM starts with the bar just off your upper traps to a position in which your arms are fully extended.

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Working It

Do partial-rep training early in your workout. Because partials are so intense, do them with only one bodypart at a time over the course of your training split, even if you train multiple muscle groups on a given day. It’s also a good idea to precede a partials day with a full rest day so that you’re fresh and ready to go.

Select the top third of the range of motion of a given move and insert the lower safeties on the Smith machine, which restrict your ROM. Compute your 10RM weight (the weight at which you can do just 10 reps with good form), and add 25% to that. Do two sets of 10 reps — the bar should be moving only about 6 inches. Lower the safeties another third of the ROM and reduce the weight back to your 10RM and do two more sets of 10 reps. Put the safeties all the way to the bottom of the ROM and do two more sets of 10 reps, working through the full ROM.

Partials: To Sum Up

  • Break down the full range of motion of a given movement into thirds.
  • Partials allow more force per square inch than standard lifting, especially when working above the sticking point. So take advantage and go heavier accordingly.
  • Doing partials only helps you at that particular angle, so it’s important that you work throughout entire range of motion.
  • The technique is best used on a Smith machine or power rack for safety and ease of varying angles.
  • Because they’re so intense, do partials early in your session.

Plateau Buster #4: Antagonist Sets

If it’s true that opposites attract, you’ll go crazy over this plateau breaker. You’ll see the benefits of this tactic in the mirror immediately after the first time you try it. While you may be familiar with the idea of doing two exercises back to back, this variation entails pairing exercises for antagonist, or opposing muscle groups. Research shows that a muscle is stronger if its antagonist is contracted immediately before it.

Anatomy of Antagonist Training

The reason behind the increase in strength of the second muscle group is because there’s an innate limitation of an agonist by its antagonist. In other words, during a few standard sets of bench presses, the back muscles inhibit the contraction of the chest to a degree. But if you precede the bench press with a set of wide-grip rows, it will lessen the inhibitory effect so your bench-press motion can contract with greater force. And this phenomenon can be applied to virtually every bodypart.

Perfect Pairing

For whatever bodypart you’re training, select an exercise for its opposing muscle group to perform first. If you’re doing leg extensions, precede the movement with some lying leg curls for hamstrings. Antagonist muscle group pairings include: triceps with biceps, quads with hams, back with chest, and shoulder exercises with other delt or back exercises (for example, pair front- and rear-delt movements, but choose overhead dumbbell presses with lat pulldowns).

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Working It

You can add this plateau buster at any time during your training session. Some caution points on the first exercise: Do only a few light reps and don’t go to muscle failure. Instead, do 5–6 reps with a weight you could do for about 15, and use an explosive motion. Rest 1–2 minutes before doing the target exercise. After the rest period, ratchet up the weight on the focus bodypart and do a set of five reps with roughly 85% of your 1RM (that’s 85% of your one-rep max weight).

Switch It Up

The next training session where you pair two exercises together, switch the order in which you train, allowing the opposite muscle to reap the same benefits of the agonist/antagonist relationship.

Antagonist Sets: To Sum Up

  • Choose opposing muscle groups.
  • Try to select a move that’s the mirror image of the target move.
  • The target muscle will be stronger if its antagonist is stimulated prior so long as you choose a fairly light weight and do just 5–6 reps.
  • After a short rest, hit your primary target with a fairly heavy weight. Be sure to swap the order the next time you pair the two moves.
  • You can do this technique at any point in your workout, but since you’re strongest early in your training session, it’ll have more impact when done early on.

4 winning tools to build your best body ever I

Years ago, a friend and I were working together to prepare his physique for an upcoming acting role. As he was training, he said to me, “Jimmy, no matter what your dream is, keep digging. Most people stop digging 3 feet from gold. But if they’d only kept going … clank!”

His words stuck with me. And its message is relevant even in the gym. You’ve worked hard to get to where you are. You haven’t missed workouts and you’re dedicated to eating clean. But alas, you seem to have reached a plateau of sorts. And as you stand to catch your breath, you wonder whether or not your body can reach the next level. Well, this issue we’re offering you five tools that are sure to help you finally pierce through. So, let’s go. For all you know you could be 3 feet from gold. We’ll give you the tools; it’s up to you to keep digging.

Plateau Buster #1: Negatives

Most guys hear “negatives” and think about merely lowering a weight slowly. Not so fast. The negative tactic is much more than lowering the weight a little slower than usual. In fact, negatives have a dual purpose: They can be tailored to promote strength or size, with clear distinctions between them. Here we’re focusing on how best to use the negative movement to elicit quick and lasting changes in size.

Anatomy of a Negative

During a negative contraction, the muscle lengthens while it contracts as the load exceeds the force supplied by the muscle. This contraction occurs during the downward phase of your exercise, like when you’re lowering the bar on a curl, descending toward the floor during a squat, or resisting the bar as it approaches your chest on the bench press.

Turn a Minus into a Plus

The main reason you’d want to focus on negatives for building muscle is the mere fact that you can damage so many more muscle fibers during negatives than you can during the positive (concentric) phase. The better you can stimulate muscle fibers, the quicker you pierce through your plateaus. But most lifters ignore the negative portion because they typically end their sets when they can no longer lift the weight on the positive rep. Here’s the key: At that point, your muscles still have the ability to resist the weight on the negative rep.

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Get to the Point

Consider this scenario: You’re doing a set of bench presses and have chosen a weight that causes failure around eight reps. You’re struggling with six, then seven and finally —aaaargh! — eight. As you attempt another with a mighty effort, you simply can’t lift the bar past the first quarter of the rep, so you stop. This is the point of initial failure. That’s when negative-rep training begins for muscle building. Focus on resisting your working weight on the negative at the point at which you reach positive-rep failure.

Partner Up

Whatever exercise you choose, you’ll need an attentive training partner. He should be in a position that allows him full control of the bar. Because you’ve reached positive failure, you still have gas in the tank for a few negative reps but will need help lifting the bar on those concentric reps. Make sure he helps as much as possible — this isn’t forced reps — so that you can concentrate fully on the negative portion.

Best Exercises

Barbell exercises are great for negatives because you can work with so much more weight than with dumbbells and your partner can engage himself best when balance is less of a concern. Machines are also effective.

Working It

You don’t need full sets of negatives, but you can do 2–3 reps (resisting the weight for a full three seconds) following positive failure. This shouldn’t be done on every set, just the last 1–2 sets of each exercise suggested.

Negatives: To Sum Up

  • Negatives for size are best performed only after positive failure.
  • You can incur more muscle-fiber damage (and thus gains) with negatives than positives.
  • Do only a few negative reps and only on your last couple of sets.
  • Negatives are best done with barbell exercises.
  • To perform them properly, you’ll need a qualified, attentive partner.

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Plateau Buster #2: Max-Out Method

This max-out technique takes advantage of a phenomenon that occurs when you try to use a weight that’s heavier than you intended. Using a baseball analogy: The on-deck batter is practicing his swings with a weighted donut around the bat, making the bat feel heavier. By the time the batter steps to the plate donut-free, the bat now feels much lighter.

Anatomy of the Max-Out Method

The technical name for the max-out method is post-activation potentiation method, or PAP, which is (definitely) not to be confused with Pap, the women’s cervical screening test. It’s predicated on the idea of enhancing your performance of one exercise by preceding it with a heavier one. The mechanism works by tricking the central nervous system (CNS) as well as the target musculature into becoming stronger for a given weight.

What’s Really Going On?

You can feel the benefits of the PAP technique in just one workout. By front-loading a set by a heavier set of the same exercise, you’ll recruit a maximal number of muscle fibers to accomplish lifting the heavier weight. When you back off the resistance on the next set, you’re able to move the bar with greater power, much like the baseball hitter who now has a more powerful swing.

PAP Potential

Start by choosing an exercise using something close to your maximum weight — about 90% of what you can lift for one rep with good form on a particular exercise. After performing just 1–2 reps at that weight, rest 2–3 minutes, then reduce the weight. Choose a poundage you can do for eight reps, plus add 10% weight back on. The goal now is to do eight reps with a weight that’s 10% heavier than what you could previously do for eight reps. The other option is to use your eight-rep max and try for 10 reps. Either way, you’ll see immediate gains.

Best Exercises

The most effective way to incorporate the max-out method is to limit its use to multijoint exercises like bench presses, squats and bent-over rows, though you may feel safer doing the machine variations of those moves since you’re going to do a very heavy set. Because the technique is so demanding, you want to use major lifts that incorporate heavy weight. It’s simply more effective when working several muscle groups at once, even if you’re focusing on a particular bodypart. If you feel uncomfortable using a near-max load for an exercise like squats, use the technique with leg presses instead, where you’ll have more support.

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Working It

Use the max-out PAP-technique sets early in your routine when your muscles are fresh.
After a sufficient warm-up with 2-3 sets of light weight on the leg press, hit your potentiation set (“the weighted bat”) for 1–2 reps, then take ample rest 2–3 minutes before doing a lighter working set of leg presses. Do up to three working sets, preceding each working set with a PAP set. Then add in other moves (without using the PAP technique) to balance out your routine.

Max-Out Method: To Sum Up

  • Think “on-deck hitter with weight bat” phenomenon.
  • You’ll feel the benefits immediately in the influence on your next set.
  • Use a load that’s about 90% of your 1RM for just a rep or two.
  • Drop the weight back down to your 8RM, rest a few minutes then shoot for eight reps with 10% more weight than usual.
  • Choose multijoint moves and do up to three sets early in your training session.

That’s the end of part I. Stay tooned for part II