Over the course of our 123-day lockdown, I certainly learned one thing for sure; that is to say, there are 1001 ways to do a bodyweight squat…
After months of deprivation from the leg press and a power rack, many of us Fitness Fanatics were forced to get the Creative Hat on in order to stay onboard the Gain-Train during our time at home; and the day I swapped the rusty-broomstick-resistance-band-combo for a cast iron barbell was a f**kng good day indeed….
Achieving a high enough level of intensity during our lockdown workouts was largely made possible through the use of exercise intensifiers – training systems and methods used to increase the intensity of an exercise without changing the load. Given the fact that many of us were very limited in terms of equipment, these intensifiers therefore became one of the only ways to stimulate progressive overload (i.e. increasing the amount of work a muscle has to do over time).
Now that we’ve returned to the gym, it’s very easy to have a narrow-minded approach to how you progress and improve week-on-week; that is, to simply add more weight to the bar or pick heavier dumbbells for each exercise within a session.
Although this is an effective way to stimulate progressive overload, there are many other ways to increase the amount of work done by target muscle groups with nearmost any exericise. …..
In this article, I am going to explain 8 ways that you can spice your workouts up by transfering different micro- and macro-training systems used to progress bodyweight workouts in lockdown, thus increasing intensity in a way that DOESN’T involve increasing the weight lifted….
1. Slow It Down with Tempo Reps
There’s a reason why Les Mills’ BodyPump Classes are so popular. With a relatively light barbell, you can give each and every muscle in the body an absolute roasting; this is largely due to the use of different tempos for each exercise within a workout.
Tempo Reps involve slowing down different phases of a movement to maximise time under tension within working muscle groups. By taking the tempo back a notch, you reduce the amount of momentum your body uses to drive a movement (i.e. the stretch reflex), and instead concentrate the effort on the working muscles.
You can apply a slower tempo to most phases of an indivdual movement in order to make it harder. For example, if you are doing a barbell back squat, you could focus on slowing the downward (eccentric) phase for a count of 4, and then explode out of the bottom after pausing to further reduce momentum. Alternatively, you go down at a normal pace, pause at the bottom, and come up from the ‘hole’ for a count of 4 (concentric phase).
If you are trying this for the first time, GO EASY ON THE WEIGHT ; this type of set is all about tension in the muscle, and less about the load lifted. Dialing the weight back a touch and focusing on maintaining and controlling the movement with decent form is the focus.
Trust me: it burns like an absolut b**ch….
2. Press Pause
Similar to number 1, Pause Reps involving coming to a dead-stop at one or two points during a movement, therefore increasing the amount of core control and muscular contraction required to drive a movement from A to B.
Although this can be done aat any point throughout a movement to increase intensity, it is usually done at the peak phase of a movement (what is sometimes referred to as the “top” or “bottom” of a movement depending on which plane of motion you are moving in). So for a back squat, this would be the point at which your hips are parallel/just below parallel to the knees (i.e. “bottom”), whereas for a Barbell Row, this would be the point at which your elbows come past your torso (i.e. “top”).
This is another method of reducing momentum and increasing the amount of work required by the working muscle groups to drive a given movement. Ultimately, if you have reached a plateau in terms of increasing the load lifted for a given exercise, this could be a great way of stimulating further muscular growth (hypertrophy) for a muscle group.
3. Short On Time? Crack Out An EMOM
CrossFit is arguably one of the most brutal forms of fitness going; this form of training is rife with full body workouts that require a high level of aerobic endurance, muscular strength and power in order to complete the gruelling Workouts Of the Day (WODs) and team workouts that come as part of the culture.
One of the most popular training systems used in CrossFit is called ‘Every Minute on the Minute’, or EMOM. This involves assigning an exercise and rep-scheme for each individual minute over a longer period of time, and during that minute you complete the given exercise for however many reps as quickly as you can with good form. Any time remaining during that minute is taken as rest.
You can apply this to your training routine in order to get your heart rate soaring and develop your aerobic fitness whilst simultaneously improving your strength. For example, you could do a 20-minute Full Body EMOM Workout that would be 4 rounds of:
- 1st Minute – Dumbbell Floor Press x 15
- 2nd Minute – Goblet Squat x 15
- 3rd Minute – Dumbbell Burpee x 8
- 4th Minute – Barbell Bent-Over Row x 15
- 5th Minute – **REST**
- ^^ REPEAT x 4
In the above example, then, say you complete the 15 floor presses in 35″, you would use the remaining 25″ as rest before moving straight into Goblet Squats. This helps to maximise efficiency, and get a decent workout in a limited period of time…
4. Double Up with Supersets
Supersets have been an absolute mainstay in the world of fitness ever since the Golden Age of Bodybuilding in the 20th Century. By completing two exercises back to back, with little/no rest in-between sets, you can achieve one or more of the following:
- Take an Individual Muscle Group to Absolute Failure
- Increase Total Workload across a session (alternating upper/lower body)
- Increase Energy Expenditure through elevated heart rate
- Improved Cardiovascular function.
There are a few ways in which you can make the most of supersets to elevate your workout and increase the intensity of a session. The most common way is to superset an upper body with a lower body movement; for example, you could do a set of 12 Barbell Back Squats immediately followed by a set of push-ups to failure. This type of training is known as Peripheral Heart Action (PHA), because you are diverting the flow of blood from your lower to your upper body; therefore serving to improve the efficiency of your circulatory system.
Another common way of effectively implementing supersets into a workout is what is known as Agonist-Antagonist Supersets. This is where you programme two movements back-to-back that work opposing muscle groups, such as biceps and triceps. If you want to completely obliterate your arms into a state of unadultarated pumpage, the try supersetting 12 x Barbell Biceps Curl with a set of 12 Overhead Dumbbell Extensions.
5. Chasing A Naughty Pump? Throw In A Dropset
This applies to a lesser extent on the home workout front, but is still a great way to increase intensity in your gym-based sessions. Dropsets are those which involve doing 8-12 reps @ 75-90% effort, and then continuing the set to failure whilst incrementally dropping the resistance down.
You can continue to failure for however many sets you want, but in order to reap the maximum benefit from this form of training, it is important to give yourself little/no rest between drops in weight.
This is particularly effective if you are training using a weekly split, for example upper/lower, or push/pull/legs. Using dropsets on a particular movement can help take your muscles as close to absolute failure as possible, which may increase the amount of localised hypertrophy.
The Final Word
Hopefully you are now aware of the fact that there is more than one way to increase intensity of your workouts. Don’t become transfixed on upping the weights lifted as a means of progressive overload; use any of the aforementioned systems to mix up your training, throw a spanner in the works and make your body adapt to a new stimulus that will serve to make you stronger.
Just be sure to give your body a deload week every 1-2 months in order to recovery properly from an intense training cycle; otherwise you might end up doing yourself a wee bit more harm than good!
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