The following are advanced weight training techniques. Most techniques should only be used by trainees with years of weight training experience. Many techniques can only be effectively executed when orchestrated with larger, strategically-planned regimens. Several techniques should only be used on occasion, if at all, during brief periods of planned overreaching, whereas, other techniques, such as periodization, are implemented year-round. A few of these techniques are relics from the past with questionable efficacy. Many advanced weight training techniques may actually stagnate progress, increase risk of overtraining or injury, or decrease exercise adherence when used by beginners and some intermediate trainees. Beginner and intermediate weight trainees are referred to Weight Training Guidelines.
A training technique that uses near maximal resistance with very few repetitions, typically 1-3 reps. This technique is used by athletes such as powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, and strength and other athletes to develop maximal strength and force by improving intramuscular and intramuscular coordination at heavy loads. Maximal Effort training has limited ability to induce muscular hypertrophy. (Zatsiorsky & Kraemer 1995)
Maximum Effort Training is typically reserved for the most basic exercises, including Clean & Jerk, Snatch, Deadlift, Squat, Bench Press. It is rarely used for auxiliary exercises, particularly isolated movements, or abdominal training.
It can be part of a periodized program for peaking for maximal strength or it may be paired with complementary training stimulus such as Dynamic Effort Method on alternating training days (See Westside Barbell System).
Its primary limitation is its high risk of injury compared to the repetition method. Acquiring proper exercise technique and adequate muscular conditioning is paramount before this method is employed. For this reason, Maximal Effort Training is not appropriate for beginners.
Contrary to what its name implies, maximum effort training is usually not performed to failure. In fact, the efforts exerted at competition (eg: Powerlifiting, Olympic-style Weightlifting) are typically greater than Maximum Effort training. However, Maximal Effort should only be intermittently to avoid accommodation and overtraining. (Zatsiorsky & Kraemer 1995)
A technique used to increase the rate of force development, by moving light to moderate loads as quickly as possible. Forms of training traditionally include plyometrics, however, Dynamic Effort training has also been applied to weight training ideally implemented with the use of elastic bands and/or heavy chains attached barbells or other weight training equipment. See Westside Barbell Program and Louie Simmons Video Seminars.
Plyometrics is used to develop explosiveness in sports conditioning programs. It should only used after a solid strength base has been developed, particularly in squat strength. High intensity plyometrics should not be performed year round (NSCA, 2000). Also see Power Training Tidbits.
Performing an exercise set immediately after a different exercise set. Nearly no rest is taken between exercises (sets), only that which is taken to get in position for the second exercise.
Antagonist Super Set
Pre-exhaust Super Set
Performing three (Tri-set) or more exercise sets in succession with nearly no rest. Also see somewhat related circuit training method.
Performing as many reps as possible, resting for several seconds, then performing additional repetition(s).
Utilizing short, inter-set rest periods (eg: 10–30 seconds), which permit use of heavier resistances. Cluster training does not appear to offer any advantage for increasing maximal strength but it may be effective in power training (Fleck & Kraemer 2014).
A rest pause technique using progressively decreasing resistance after no further repetitions can be performed. The exerciser only rests long enough to permit the resistance to be decreased safely so more reps can be performed. For example, the exerciser performs a few to several reps on a selectorized weight machine with a heavy weight until they can no longer perform another rep in good form. They continually decrease the resistance, allowing them to perform a few more reps on each drop in weight. One or more drops in weight may be performed.
A form of drop sets with a loaded barbell. After performing as many reps as possible, typically two spotters remove the weight simultaneously from each side. The exerciser is then able to perform additional reps.
Down the Rack
Another drop set technique using fixed dumbbells or barbells. The exerciser performs as many repetitions as possible in good form, immediately places the weight back on the rack and grasps a lighter weight, allowing them to perform additional reps after each drop in resistance.
Generally, full range of motion is recommended. Partials involve performing less than full range of motion on a particular exercise for a specific objective. Similar to Isometric Training, strength is increased throughout the specific range of motion exercised with up to 15-20% overflow surrounding joint angles. The rational for partials vary.
- An older adult performs a particular exercise through a limited range of motion to avoid a known pain or discomfort in a specific joint. See Recommendations for Resistance Training Exercise (ACSM, 1995)
- A personal trainer has their client begin by performing the easier range of motion of a challenging calisthenic (push-up, single leg split squat, pull-up), and later increase the range of motion as strength increases.
- A physician suggests to their patient to avoid a specific range of motion due to an orthopedic concern.
- Physical therapist prescribes partial range of motion for rehabilitation, strengthening only a specific range of motion.
- A powerlifter performs a specific portion of a lift in which they have a known sticking point.
- Powerlifter has difficulty locking out, so he performs the upper portion of bench press through lock out on a power rack, emphasizing triceps strength
- A bodybuilder performs a limited range of motion to target a 'weak' muscle.
- Half squats may emphasize quad over glute development
- Quarter squats may emphasize Vastus Medialis development
- A gymnast executes iron cross partials, several degrees in and out of form
- An advanced weight trainee performs a few partials at the end of a set, incorporating an exercise with an ascending tension curve after full range of motion can no longer be continued (see The Burn).
- A powerlifter performs a specific portion of a lift in which they have a known sticking point.
Typically performed for arm curls. 7 repetitions are performed in the lower range of motion (arms straight to 90 degrees) immediately followed by 7 repetitions in the upper range of motion (arms 90 degrees to flexed), and finally 7 repetitions through the full range of motion. The high number of repetitions performed primarily challenge muscular endurance.
Forced repetitions are assisted movement by a training partner, or spotter. They are typically performed with heavy weight or near the end of a set at the onset of failure.
Like other similar advanced-training methods, forced repetitions may lead to overtraining if overused or implemented for an extended period of time. Forced repetitions may bring about short-term progress, but more sustained progress can be achieved with small, systematic increases of repetitions and resistance (see Systematic Progress Methods and periodic exercise changes. Our bodies generally adapt well to small progressive increases of intensity and duration. The intensity put forth on forced reps is difficult to regulate in a progressive fashion and, consequently, may hamper long-term progress. Long-term progress comes from coaxing progress with subtle intervals of varied incremental overload rather than attempting to force progress. More experienced trainees often utilize more advanced techniques such as periodization with varying workouts to avoid stagnation. See adaptation criteria and Variations.
Drinkwater (2007) found no benefits in performing forced reps for strength or power development. You will not see top level powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters performing forced reps. In fact, high level strength and power athletes attempt to avoid training to failure. Instead, they systematically vary their workloads and typically know exactly how many reps they will be performing on each set. However, many people in the gyms still continue to use this technique despite more effective protocols for long term progress.
Even for bodybuilding-style training, more sustainable and productive techniques exist that allow more manageable long-term progressions. In the 80's, Dr. Franco Columbo wrote an article condemning the use of forced reps. Franco Columbo, former Mr. Olympia, was once considered the world's strongest bodybuilder. In the article, he suggested overuse of forced repetitions with very heavy weight may essentially teach the muscles to prematurely fail. Strength training involves a neurological adaptation (motor development, contraction efficiency), as well as a morphological adaptation (muscle growth). Repeated use of forced repetitions with very heavy weight had been thought to prematurely activate the Golgi tendon organ. It was proposed that activation of the Golgi tendon organ inhibits muscular contraction to protect the muscle from perceived injury. See Tony Shield's rebuttal.
Prolonged abstinence from forced repetitions appears to increase the potential for the exerciser to complete the very difficult last repetition, possibly in effect, reteaching the body to succeed rather than fail during the final challenging rep. If forced reps are to be performed, it is suggested to reserve their use to only once a month, immediately before tapering, changing exercises, or at the end of a meso-cycle. Also see Asking for a Spot and Cheating.
Drinkwater EJ, Lawton TW, McKenna MJ, Lindsell RP, Hunt PH, Pyne DB (2007). Increased Number of Forced Repetitions Does Not Enhance Strength Development With Resistance Training, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2007, 21(3), 841–847.
The exerciser slowly lowers a very heavy resistance through the eccentric phase of an exercise. Although, not considered a negative, a training partner assists the exerciser through the concentric phase of an exercise (See Forced Reps above) so the exerciser can complete additional negatives. The exerciser can lower (requiring eccentric contraction) approximately 20% greater load than they would be able to lift (requiring concentric contraction). Negatives are commonly used with submaximal repetitions near the end of a set after exhaustion and immediately following forced repetitions.
Generally, attention to strict biomechanical form is highly recommended when performing exercises. This is particularly true when a trainee, not familiar with a new movement, is learning proper technique (see Skill Acquisition and Proficiency). Cheating involves compromised form, implementing unintended momentum, altered alignment, or angle of pull in effort at specific points of the exercise in effort to complete repetitions.
Cheating may increase the risk of injury, since it exposes the bodily structures to forces to which they are not accustomed. Interestingly, someone who consistently performs an exercise in a manner that would be considered cheating (yet abiding by the 4 Adaptation Criteria), theoretically, would have less risk of injury compared to someone who cheated in the same manner, but inconsistently. So it is the inconsistent nature of cheating, or lack of adaptation, that presents a much greater risk than the actual movement and resulting bodily forces. Also see Specific Adaptation and Dangerous Exercises.
Trainees may choose to employ slight cheating techniques for the last repetition or two of a set. It has been suggested that very advanced trainees use cheating to increase training intensity, whereas most other trainees use cheating as a means to decrease training intensity. Cheating should be considered an advanced training technique with inherent risks. Other safer and possibly more effective training techniques should be considered.
Isometric exercise involves contraction against an immovable resistance. Strength is increased at the specific angle of exertion with up to 20% overflow surrounding joint angles. At other joint angles, there is no corresponding increase in strength. The use of isometric exercises is widely practiced in injury rehabilitation or reconditioning. Isometric training is typically implemented when full range of motion exercises may otherwise exacerbate a condition or ailment if introduced too early in the rehab process. Isometrics are also used by powerlifters to break sticking points, a specific angle in the range of motion at which smooth movement is difficult because of insufficient strength. They may use an isometric contraction against an immovable resistance to increase strength at this sticking point, so that a smooth, coordinated lift can ultimately be performed through a full range of motion. Also see Isometric Contraction.
Super slow training involves performing repetitions in a very slow, controlled manner. This longer tension times enhance continuous tension muscular endurance. Studies that demonstrated enhanced muscle mass gains have been criticized for faulty methodology (Fleck and Kramer, 2004). Like other training techniques, altering training speed may re-stimulate progress by introducing variation, if training goals are closed to this type of sustained muscular endurance in those particular muscle group exercises by this means (See Variation Deviation). Performing exercises slowly can impair power development. This technique may be useful for individuals susceptible to an injury (i.e.: osteoporosis, past injury) and cleared to exercise by a physician.
Prioritization involves emphasizing the development, strength, power, or other specific fitness component of a particular muscle group or movement. Prioritizing may be implemented in effort to overcome a weakness or just to emphasize a particular movement/motor skill to reach a specific goal. Prioritization techniques may include:
- Programming exercise(s) that emphasize the desired muscle group or movement/motor skill closer to the beginning of the workout
- Greater intensity can be expended on exercises in the beginning of workout when the body is not as fatigued
- Programming exercise(s) that emphasize the desired muscle group or movement/motor skill on first workout after rest day.
- Greater intensity can be expended on a workout that follows a rest day.
- Performing additional exercise(s) for the target muscle group or movement/motor skill.
- Implementing other advanced techniques to the exercise(s) that involve the specific muscle group or movement/motor skill
Intermediate to advanced trainees may implement prioritization techniques. Beginners should wait until they have developed a base level of fitness and have learned which muscle groups or movement/motor skills have not responded as favorably to a balanced training program.
The Conjugate System involves frequent cycling of a large variety of exercises and/or exercise variations. It is suited for advanced athletes whose sport require general preparedness (eg: Martial Arts, Wrestling, Strong Man Competitions, etc). The Westside Barbell Program is probably the most popular conjugate strength training system. The program calls for changing exercises or variations every 3 weeks. In contrast, elite powerlifters are urged to change exercises or variations every week. Variation can be as simple as varying an exercise's range of motion, grip, or stance. However, switching to a different exercise is generally more effective than switching to a variation of the same exercise.
The Conjugate System allows the advanced athlete to avoid accommodation and boredom. Altering exercises circumvents exercise staleness at any level (See Restimulating Progress by Changing Exercises). However, altering them frequently can elicit other benefits for the advanced trainee.
Choosing from a large number of exercises and switching them frequently allows the body to be taxed in a variety of ways within a shorter period of time. This includes varying muscles emphasized, fluctuating loads, and altering resistance curves. Cycling exercises allow movement patterns to be varied that may otherwise be over or undertrained on program involving a limited pool of exercises. It also allows adaptation to occur more uniformly and synergistically. The progress brought about from a newly added movement can carry over to related exercises performed in subsequent workouts, each cascading benefit to the following set of exercises. Dropping an exercise for another can assist in restoration and make training more interesting.
Keep in mind that changing exercises too often may not allow for adequate adaptation to transpire, particularly for someone with less than several years of training experience. Also, keeping track exercise progress and looking up the resistance and number of reps performed for every exercise and variation can be quite daunting with so many exercises to monitor. Performing exercises so infrequently also make it difficult to make instill systematic increases or variations in resistance (eg: increase weight 2.5-5% if upper rep range has been achieved). The last known load for a particular exercise is more likely to be inaccurate, the more time that has passed since it was last performed. By the time a new load has been re-identified, another exercise takes its place! See Shorthand Weight Training Log Implementing Varying Workloads.
Periodization is the practice of varying training stimuli to enhance long-term fitness and performance gains. For advanced trainees, periodization is more effective than training at a fixed intensity and duration (Bompa 1990). See Periodization Examples. In contrast, beginners appear to achieve greater progress in a program with a simple linear, progressive resistance program (Hoffman 2003). Also see Variation. Traditional periodization programs varied intensity and volumes between mesocycles. More modern periodization programs implement variations between microcycles (daily undulating periodized programs) as well, and appear to be more effective (Rhea 2002).
Light Heavy Training
Light/heavy training incorporates variation of alternating workout intensities, or workloads. See Light/Heavy Weight Training and Low Volume Light Heavy Workout Template. Intermediate to advanced trainees appear to make greater progress on light/heavy workouts as compared to workouts with a single repetition range. One study found older adults who performed light/heavy workouts experienced less discomfort between workouts and achieved similar training result than those older adults who did not perform light/heavy workouts (Hunter 2001).
Overreaching and Tapering