How do you expect to progress if you’re always following the same program? Here are four ways to mix up your training and get you powering forward. Simply choose your goal and then start incorporating the technique into your program.
Your Goal: Get Stronger
How To Do It: Cluster Training
When trying to build strength and/or muscle, logic dictates you should lift heavier. To accomplish this, try cluster training. Cluster training involves taking short, inter-set rest breaks (10 to 30 seconds) to partially recover, allowing you to do more repetitions with a heavy weight than you could typically do with a straight set. For example, if you normally do 10 reps of heavy barbell biceps curls, you could do three smaller sets of four reps each, with a 10- to 30-second mini-break in between sets. In the end, you get in two more reps per set than you usually do using a heavy weight, increasing overall training volume and boosting gains.
Try it: Standing Barbell Strict Press
Use a challenging weight with which you can normally get about 10 reps. Do three rounds of three to four cluster sets. Rest two to three minutes between each set (depending on how heavy you’re going).
Setup: Load a barbell in a rack (if available) and step underneath it so it rests across your shoulders and clavicle. Take an overhand grip on the bar outside your shoulders, lift your elbows in front of you and unrack the weight. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, abs tight, elbows high.
Move: Without using momentum, press the barbell straight up overhead to full extension, then lower slowly to the start. Protocol: Do four reps. Rest 15 seconds. Do four reps. Rest 15 seconds. Do four reps. Rest two to three minutes. Repeat two more times.
Tip: Between clusters, place your barbell on a rack (if available) or on the floor so you can fully benefit from complete rest. Start your rest time when the barbell hits metal or the floor.
Variety Is The Spice Of Life
With cluster training, you can endlessly manipulate the variables to keep things interesting: Shorten/increase the rest time, decrease/increase the number of reps per cluster or change the amount of rest time between sets.
Your Goal: Torch Fat
How To Do It: Contrast Sets
Contrast sets are a great way to extend a traditional set to train for conditioning and fat burning. They add volume to your workout without overly taxing your central nervous system. Simply pair a standard strength movement with an explosive variation of the same kind of movement without weight, such as a heavy squat paired with a bodyweight squat jump. The unloaded exercise “tricks” the muscles into firing as strongly as they did when they had to lift a heavy weight seconds earlier, incorporating more fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are those most responsible for improvements in physique and performance.
Try it: Deadlift + Standing Broad Jump
Use a moderately heavy weight for your deadlift. Go right from the deadlift to the standing broad jump with no rest. Rest one to two minutes between sets. Do a total of four sets.
Setup: Load a barbell on the floor and stand with your toes underneath it, feet hip-width apart, toes turned out slightly. Squat down and take an overhand grip (or flip grip) on the barbell just outside your legs. Your back should be flat with your hips lifted, your head neutral and your shoulders over the barbell with your weight in your heels.
Move: Extend your legs and hips and pull the barbell up in a straight line from the ground, pressing your knees back as you come to a full standing position. Reverse these steps to return to the start.
Tip: When performing the contrast exercise, give it everything you’ve got. Explosive exercises work best when you force the fast-twitch fibers to be fully involved.
Standing Broad Jump
Setup: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides.
Move: Bend your knees and lower quickly into a half squat, swinging your arms behind you as you load up. Extend your legs and throw your arms forward to explode off the floor and leap forward as far as you can. Land softly and compress immediately into the next rep.
Protocol: Do 10 reps of deadlifts. Do 10 reps of standing broad jumps. Rest one to two minutes. Repeat three more times.
Other Great Contrast Sets
- Squat/Squat jump
- Bench press/Plyometric push-up
- Standing shoulder press/Medicine-ball overhead throw and catch
- Split squat/Jumping switch lunge
Your Goal: Metabolic Makeover
How To Get It: Ladder Sets
Ladder training offers the ultimate in metabolic conditioning: Extended sets of continually increasing repetitions paired with short rest intervals means your body will be in a state of EPOC (excessive postworkout oxygen consumption), trying to recover for hours afterward. This recovery process burns a ton of fat and calories and means faster results. Ladder training is also a brain buster: With each rung of the ladder, the intensity will increase and mental focus becomes key in order to power through.
Try it: Push-Up, Bent-Over Dumbbell Row, Dumbbell Thruster
Do all three moves in a row with no rest in between to complete one rung. Rest 30 seconds between each rung. Do a total of six to 10 rungs. Do three total ladders.
Setup: Place your hands shoulder-width apart on the floor and extend your legs behind you.
Move: Bend your elbows and lower your body toward the floor. When your chest nearly touches, extend your arms to return to the start.
Bent-Over Dumbbell Row
Setup: Hold a set of dumbbells at your sides, palms facing inward. Bend forward from your hips with a flat back until your torso is about 45 degrees to the floor.
Move: Drive your elbows skyward to pull the weights into your rib cage. Pause at the top, then lower slowly to the start.
Setup: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes turned out slightly, and hold a set of dumbbells at your shoulders with your palms facing inward.
Move: Kick your hips back and bend your knees to lower into a deep squat, keeping your torso upright and your shoulders back. Power through your heels to extend your legs and return to standing, using the force generated from the upward thrust to quickly press the dumbbells straight up overhead. Lower the weights back to your shoulders to complete one rep.
Tip: Pace yourself. The last thing you want is for your form to slip, so it’s better to underestimate your abilities rather than overshoot and get injured.
Bonus round! Go back down the ladder: Do 10 reps of each move, rest, then nine, rest and so on until you return to one.
Protocol: Do one rep of each move. Rest 30 seconds. Do two reps of each move. Rest 30 seconds. Do three reps of each move. Rest 30 seconds. Continue in this fashion until you complete 10 reps of each move.
Your Goal: Strength and Power
How To Do It: 1.5 reps
Extending your time under tension is one of the best ways to elicit change, and the 1.5-rep technique is an excellent TUT formula. The idea is to double the workload in the bottommost portion of a move — the part where strength and force production are usually at their weakest — helping you developing strength where you had none before. The measured pace of this technique also eliminates the “rebound” effect on things like squats and descending motions — that bouncing at the bottom of the move that generates momentum to help you return to the start. This way, your muscles are forced to work harder and your joints and connective tissues are protected, translating into better results.
Try It: Sumo Deadlift
Use a slightly lighter weight than normal because you will essentially be doing two deadlifts in one. Do four to five sets of six to eight reps. Rest two to three minutes between sets.
Setup: Load a barbell and stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, toes underneath the bar. Bend your knees and drop your hips with your back straight until you can take an overhand grip on the bar.
Move: Stand up and pull the bar upward, keeping it close to your body throughout. Pause at the top and squeeze your glutes, then lower the bar down halfway to a point at knee level or slightly below and pause. Extend your legs and come to the start once more, then lower all the way back down to the ground to complete one rep.
Protocol: Stand all the way up. Pause for one count and squeeze. Lower to the halfway point. Pause for one count. Stand all the way up. Pause for one count and squeeze. Lower back to the bottom to complete one repetition. Repeat for six to eight reps. Rest two to three minutes. Do three to four more sets.
Tip: Don’t rush with this technique. Do each portion slowly and deliberately to fire and tax the most muscle fibers possible.