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Is your current workout not cutting it? I hear you.
Whether you’re traveling and stuck in a poorly equipped gym or just need to supercharge your workout regimen build more lean muscle, there are small tweaks that can make a world of difference in your training.
No, I’m not talking about completely changing your program; rather, making subtle changes to how you’re performing exercises.
These tweaks will help you unlock greater strength, improve your stability, and build new muscle.
Instead of counting reps, set a timer and work against the clock. This might sound strange, but there’s a powerful benefit to it. When you’re fatigued, you’ll need to maintain your focus on the quality of each rep rather than finishing the set in a certain number of reps.
Even better, timed sets focus on two underrated factors for muscle growth: tension and metabolic stress. By keeping your muscles under constant tension, you create more muscle damage while producing by-products of muscle contractions (such as lactic acid) – which creates metabolic stress.
Focus on longer duration sets (between 30-75 seconds) to increase metabolic stress. This allows you to lift less weight but keep a better focus on each muscular contraction to build more lean muscle.
Stuck with a single dumbbell to do your squats?
Hold a dumbbell in the goblet squat position and perform as many reps as you can for four sets of 40 seconds — staying just shy of locking out at the top of the movement.
Increase Your Range Of Motion
Increasing the range of motion of any exercise requires muscles and joints to contract and stabilize to a greater extent. A greater range of motion means greater muscle activation to overcome resistance — while also requiring more stability to prevent injury.
This is a very effective trick but your technique must be perfect to reduce injury risk.
If you’re only training with barbells, start using dumbbells. For example, swap your regular bench press for a dumbbell bench press. This allows a greater range of motion for each arm while increasing stability demands.
For the lower body, try elevated reverse lunges using a small step or elevate your front foot during a Bulgarian split squat. These methods can breed extreme soreness: Proceed with 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps and plan on spending extra time recovering.
If you’ve been counting tempos and working with slow lifting speeds, lifting weights explosively can help you build new muscle andimprove your athleticism.
No, you won’t feel a crazy burn or pump from these methods — but that doesn’t mean they’re not effective.
Why do they work?
You’ll improve the efficiency of your nervous system and stimulate greater muscular recruitment. By lifting lighter weights faster or heavy weights with the intent of being explosive you can activate a greater number of muscle fibers during exercise.
In the short term, explosive exercises activate high-threshold motor units (HTMUs), which means you recruit and use more of your muscle. And that means lifting heavier and building more mass.
Before your next lower body workout, do 3 sets of 5 jump squats with 60 seconds of rest in between sets.
If it’s an upper-body day, give this push-up variation a try for 3 sets of 5 reps with 60 seconds of rest in between sets.
In the long-term, explosive exercises allow you to recruit more muscle fibers with less effort. This makes it easier to smash heavy weights. You can also maximize this muscular recruitment by lifting heavy or by lifting, jumping or throwing lighter loads faster.
Pause At Your Weak Points
Think back to the last time you saw someone squatting or benching at the gym.
Chances are, they started lowering the weight slowly and then “bounced” through their transition, right?
By adding a pause during the weakest point of an exercise, like at the bottom of a squat or near your chest on a bench press, you’re forced to stabilize your body at its weakest point. This can improve joint stability through the toughest part of lifts and prevent injury.
The pause also eliminates one huge compensation factor: elastic energy stored in your ligaments. To overcome the pause, you must generate pure strength.
This method requires you to decrease the weight you’re using but it will build tons of strength. Once you return back to your usual training, you’ll feel strong, stable and powerful.
Decrease Your Base Of Support
A narrow base of support requires greater balance and control for a wide range of exercises. Unilateral exercises like lunges are the first that come to mind, but even modifying typical bilateral exercises (like narrowing your stance on squats) triggers a new muscle recruitment pattern and fresh muscular activation.
Instead of keeping your feet apart during push-ups and planks, bring your feet closer until they’re touching. The decreased base of support creates an extra challenge to stabilize your trunk and hold the position.
If you’re stuck in a lousy hotel, chances are you don’t have access to more equipment than a few janky dumbbells, a couple of machines, and some cardio equipment.
In this case, you’ll need to do more with less and focus on training density.
Training density — doing more work in less time — is an ultra-efficient fat loss training method that requires you to combine multiple exercises with minimal rest between them. This increases metabolic stress, helping you burn more calories and build mass. According to this study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, metabolic stress is one of the primary mechanisms of hypertrophy.
When you’re short on time or equipment, create total-body metabolic circuits to challenge yourself.
Pick a push, pull, lower body exercise, and core exercise. Let’s say: Push-up, pull-up, goblet squat, and plank. Perform 4 sets of 10 reps for each exercise and hold your plank for 30-60 seconds. Keep rest time between exercises to a minimum.
And remember that just because an exercise is difficult doesn’t mean it’s effective. These methods have been used countless of times and are both difficult and effective—giving you a new training stimulus to force new muscle growth.
By Eric Bach
This story originally appeared on AskMen.