Advanced training techniques purport to increase intensity, but instead take away from it. This makes sense when you consider that working harder in the moment truly matters, not adding more work. Advanced training techniques include partial reps, negatives, drop or back-off sets, forced reps, pre-exhaustion, cheating, supersets, and other variations of these concepts.
The insurmountable question mark I’ve always had against doing even as few as three sets per exercise is: How can you avoid pacing yourself? You’re bound to hold back on sets one and two to make sure there’s enough left in the tank for set three. Once I learned how to do one final, all-out set, I wondered how I managed to avoid the pacing dilemma when I was doing two sets per movement.
– Dorian Yates
- These may extend a set, but this has little relevance to strength training.
These methods instead focus on endurance. These may lead to the pump and a greater burn. More lactic acid accumulates in the muscles and you get more soreness when recovering. Many bodybuilders claim this leads to more growth. Some research actually shows the opposite, that blood flow restriction leads to more strength and size. A direct relationship between muscle size and strength has been established in physiology. Many bodybuilders succeed on these methods due to the help from drugs and elite genetics.
- The load matters most for strength and size gains.
The best bodybuilders are quite strong. Doing more work does not increase the load. These methods can easily overtrain you. The process of using advanced techniques paradoxically reduces intensity. Trainees apply less effort to the regular set. They strain less to get that final rep and instead save up for the extensions, whether they realize this or not.
In most cases, a single working set will serve as enough for each exercise. Some beginners and others under rare circumstances may require additional sets. If you identify a true need for more work, do the least amount required to achieve your goal.
- If needed, emphasize techniques that do not add much time.
These include rest-pause, negatives, or forced reps. Negatives means extending the set by having assistance during the positive phase and lowering the weight yourself. Forced reps means having just enough assistance during the positive phase to complete the rep. You can combine both. This requires a competent partner. If you fail at the midpoint of a rep, your partner assists you in competing the lifting phase, then you finish by lowering it to exhaustion. This allows you to possibly work harder during a set without adding much volume. It works well for intermediate trainees in the right cases.
Avoid Most Advanced Training Techniques
Sometimes these techniques can teach people how to work hard. This applies to those that do not apply enough effort, either due to less experience or a poor work ethic. In either case, this is suboptimal but perhaps necessary. These can be dangerous due to the high degree of momentary difficulty though, so advanced trainees should avoid them.
Use progressively heavier weights in good form on the basics. Relative effort matters the most. A variety of weights and rep ranges can work well for progress. Once you establish a range that works for you, you must focus on adding more weight. Adding pseudo-intensity is not the answer in most cases.
Rest and eat more. Sleep enough. Work hard but do not overdo it. Training to positive failure is almost always enough. Avoid advanced training techniques in all but the rarest of circumstances.