VARIATION TO BEAT STAGNATION
By Eric Broser
Ask yourself this question: “Have I been making good gains lately?” Seriously, look in the mirror and decide if you look very much different than you did six months ago. Have you gained any significant size…and I don’t mean “weight,” which could just be fat/bulk! I mean true lean mass. Well, if the answer is yes, then you are on a good path and should continue doing what you have been until it stops working. Don’t fix what ain’t broke, right? However, if you can honestly say, “no, I have not grown very much at all,” then something has to change my friend.
Definition of insanity in bodybuilding: Making zero gains but relentlessly doing the same things over and over, hoping for a different result.
You know, it’s funny…I see so many people in the gym that look exactly the same every year. They are always doing the same exercises and lifting the same amount of weight, and I wonder, “Are they satisfied?” Who knows, maybe they are. Maybe mediocrity and complacency rules their life…but not mine! I go to the gym with only one goal in mind every day, and that is to continually push for the next level. If I look good today, I want to look better tomorrow! Hell, if I wanted to be a “maintenance man” I would carry around a box of tools! So, if you feel the same as I do, and you have been stuck in a rut, then let’s look at a few ways to light a new spark into your training…
Out With the Old in With the New
This is perhaps the simplest way to use variation to beat #stagnation-changing exercises! I know, I know, you are very comfortable with the movements you use right now…but are they producing results? Remember that the human body is a brilliant machine that learns to adapt to almost anything thrown at it repeatedly. If you do not regularly change angles, grips, patterns of resistance (free weights vs. cables vs. machines), etc, your muscles will become overly proficient at the exercises you are using, and less muscle fibers will be forced to fire in order to move the weight. Not good!
Why in Such a Hurry?
The majority of trainees out there are overly concerned with the amount of weight that is on the bar. Yes, getting “stronger” is important in this game, but not at the expense of properly working a muscle. Simply getting a barbell from point A to point B is not going to necessarily facilitate muscle growth. When you become too obsessed with looking like the strongest dude in the gym the first thing that usually suffers is form. Generally, the weight is lifted and lowered too quickly so that momentum can be utilized in order to keep the bar moving. However, this is only serving to challenge your joints, not your muscles. A much more effective way to train is to lift more slowly, especially during the eccentric (negative) contraction. Try a lifting tempo of 4/1/2 (4 second negative/1 second pause at stretch/2 second positive), at least for some exercises, and I bet you will feel a burning sensation in your target muscles that you have never experienced before! Yes, you will definitely have to use less weight, but if you are willing to leave your ego at the door you will be rewarded with a lot of new muscle.
Rethink a Rep
When most people think of a “repetition,” they picture simply lifting a weight up and down, or down and up. But who says that this simple pattern has to necessarily define a “rep?” Every once in a while you should get a little more creative, which will serve to not only stimulate your mind, but also your muscles! Remember how I mentioned earlier just how efficient the body is at adapting to stressors that it is forced to deal with repeatedly? Well, there certainly is nothing more repetitive than a repetition! So, rethink a rep, and make your muscles face something they are not used to! This might be just the jolt you need to break through a training plateau!
Here are a few examples:
-1 and ½ reps: Pull or push the weight through the first half of the rep, then return to the beginning. Follow that “1/2” rep with a full rep. So, if you were doing a bench press, for example, you would lower to your chest…press the bar ½ way…then lower to your chest…then press to the top. That = 1 “repetition.” Alternatively, you can do a full rep followed by ½ rep, such as with a leg extension (squeeze to the top…lower ½ way…back to the top…lower all the way). This technique provides a tremendous pump and burn!
-#Eccentric/#Concentric Pauses: With these you will actually stop the repetition in the middle, either during the positive or negative portion of the rep. Using a BB curl as an example…curl the bar ½ way and pause in this position for 2-3 seconds. Then complete the range of motion and lower to the start position. For an eccentric pause, you would curl to the top, lower ½ way and hold this position for 2-3 seconds before lowering to the bottom. Real hardcore lifters might even attempt reps with both concentric and eccentric pauses in a single rep! Trust me when I say, “these hurt like a bitch!”
-5/5/5 reps: You may have heard of 21’s, which is a technique that some bodybuilders will use for BB curls, however, I like using a 5/5/5 sequence instead and I find this to be a real killer on many exercises…not just curls! In case you are a novice and have no clue what I am talking about, let me explain 5/5/5’s using the leg press. First you will perform five ½ reps from the bottom position to the midpoint of the rep. Next you will hit five ½ reps from the midpoint of the rep to the top. Finally it’s time for 5 full-range, quad-cramping repetitions! That = 1 set of 5/5/5’s. I utilize these quite often, but especially when I want to give my muscles a good kick in the ass!
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