When it comes to building muscle effectively, one of your greatest priorities needs to be on shocking the muscles and trying something new, which is why we want you to check out these intense workout techniques to build muscle fast.
One of the biggest mistakes I see guys making when they hit the gym is going there and doing the same workout over and over again. They occasionally add more weight to the bar, which is great, but once that new plate is added, it takes them a considerable amount of time before they can up the weight again.
This is normal. In the beginning of your training career, it’s typical to add weight almost every week because your body is rapidly getting stronger and adjusting to the stimulus being applied. Eventually however, as you move into intermediate and advanced status, it becomes harder and harder to continue to get stronger. We all can’t just keep gaining strength linearly or sooner or later, we’d all be lifting cars.
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This is when intensity techniques become key. Just because you can’t add weight to the bar yet doesn’t mean you need to just maintain the status quo. Switching things up and trying a new intensity technique will shock the muscles, get them responding, and have you getting stronger in no time.
Let me share with you my favorite seven intensity building techniques so you can start to use these in your own workout session.
The protocol we just spoke about – gradually adding more weight over time – is often referred to as progressive overload. And, it’s something that’s very effective up to a point. I wanted to mention it again here though because one must remember that weight is not the only way to add progressive overload. Also consider doing things such as adding more reps or adding more sets1.
All of this increases your overall volume and if volume is going up, you are applying progressive overload. Don’t get caught up in tunnel vision thinking that the only way to provide progressive overload is to do more weight.
For some guys, adding more sets is wiser, especially if your joints are crying out in pain from doing such heavy weight. Sometimes you just need to give your body a break from all the pounding.
Mirror Rep Drop Sets
One of my absolute favorite intensity building techniques and one that is called into play in my Balloon Method is mirror rep drop sets. These will challenge you like never before and you can be virtually guaranteed they’ll get your body responding with growth and definition due to the lack of rest being taken.
What you’re going to do here is perform 8-10 reps until failure on an exercise and then drop the weight by 30% and do another 8-10 reps at that weight. During the second 8-10 reps, you’ll want to focus as much as you can on doing slow eccentric portions of the exercise. This will help to push the muscles to more damage, which then triggers the growth response.
If you’ve ever done negative rep sets before, you probably saw just how sore these can make you and that’s why. When you start focusing on the eccentric rather than the concentric, you place great strain on the muscle. Most people don’t train in this manner and are thus leaving a great deal of results on the table.
Time Under Tension
Are you guilty of counting reps in the gym? If so, it’s time to break free. While hitting your target reps is good and reps do provide a very accurate way of assessing volume and progression, sometimes, you need an alternative approach.
Enter the time under tension technique. I love using T30 second sets for example where rather than counting how many reps I do, I continue doing reps until my allotted time period is up. In this case, 30 seconds. Rarely do I go beyond 60 second sets as that would push the stimulus into a much greater endurance one (and not one primed for growth and strength development), but you can if you really wish.
30 seconds does seem to be the sweet spot I’ve found though for yielding amazing results.
Same Muscle Supersets
Supersets are another intensity workout technique that’s great for helping to force your muscles into growth and development2. If you want to feel the burn, this one’s for you.
This protocol is quite similar to my mirror rep drop set in that you will be working past the point of fatigue with little to no rest the only difference being here, you aren’t dropping the weight but changing the exercise for another one.
By nature, you will probably find the weight on that second exercise does drop lower than what you would do if you were fresh, just because you simply are in the fatigued state, but your mission is to lift as heavy as you can on it while still maintaining good form.
So for example, if you are training chest, you might do a flat bench barbell press and then immediately move into a dumbbell chest fly.
If you’re training lats, you might do some pull-ups and then move into some pull-overs.
Working your biceps? Consider a barbell curl followed by a dumbbell hammer curl.
If you are targeting larger muscle groups with this technique, you’ll always want to do a compound exercise first followed by an isolation if you can. While you could attempt two compound lifts, realize this is very intense and could become dangerous if you are aiming to lift heavy.
In some cases you may also reverse the order and perform an isolation exercise for a smaller muscle group that assists the larger muscle group in the compound move you plan to do. This would then be known as a pre-fatigue set and can be great for helping increase the tension on a large muscle that’s hard to target.
For instance, if your triceps are so strong it’s hard to really push your chest press to fatigue on bench, you might do some overhead tricep extensions first so they are tired and then do your flat bench. Now, they won’t help out as much so more of the stress load will be strictly on the chest.
Another intensity building workout technique to build muscle to try out is half reps, which is where you’ll perform just half of the typical range of motion, usually doing the harder half of the exercise.
You might do a full set doing the full range of motion and then stop and do your half reps for another 5-10 reps. If you really want a challenge, from there you can then move into full reps once again and do 3-5 more, or however many you can do. By this point you will be very fatigued however so don’t expect to get much in before you reach the point of full exhaustion.
What is very important is that you maintain good form on this exercise when doing half reps. As fatigue builds, it’s easy to let proper form slip.
Another superset variation you can do is upper/lower supersets, which are designed to help increase metabolic output while allowing you to still lift maximally. Here you will alternate between upper and lower body exercises, so the upper can rest while the lower is working.
Most people choose to do compound exercises for this protocol however isolation is also acceptable as well. You will get more overall metabolic output with compound moves though as the heart rate gets higher and your body has to work considerably harder.
Again, proper form will be key in this type of set-up. You’ll be systemically fatigued despite the fact the upper body rests while the lower works, so poor form can still occur.
If you fail to maintain good form, particularly while doing compound exercises, injury will be right around the corner.
Finally, the last protocol you’ll want to consider trying is pause sets. This is a great intensity builder you can do on your last rep (or last two if you are brave). What you’ll do is perform the set as normal and then at the very end, take a pause while you hold the rep at the peak of contraction. This then becomes an isometric contraction and will call into play every single muscle fiber in your body and place you under greater time under tension3.
As you hold this pause set, remember to keep the core tight and spinal column in proper alignment. The biggest mistake made here is shifting out of good form and letting the midsection go weak, so that must be avoided.
So there you have the top intensity workout techniques to build muscle that I highly suggest you consider. Do these (just not all in the same workout!) and you will be well on your way to seeing massive progress with your workout protocol. Check out our massive workout database as well.
- Ramírez-Campillo, Rodrigo, et al. “Effect of progressive volume-based overload during plyometric training on explosive and endurance performance in young soccer players.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research7 (2015): 1884-1893
- Kelleher, Andrew R., et al. “The metabolic costs of reciprocal supersets vs. traditional resistance exercise in young recreationally active adults.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research4 (2010): 1043-1051
- Burd, Nicholas A., et al. “Muscle time under tension during resistance exercise stimulates differential muscle protein sub‐fractional synthetic responses in men.” The Journal of physiology2 (2012): 351-362.
I’m Troy and I’m the creator of SuperHuman You and Co-Founder of Alpha Lion.
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