Lift Smarter, Get Bigger
Your body won’t change unless your workouts do. “Your need to find new ways to stimulate your body to boost your strength,” says Mark Philippi, C.S.C.S., a former America’s Strongest Man. Use Philippi’s techniques to overcome these common barriers.
You’re Unable to Bench More Weight
Fix It with Heavier Loads
Try “eccentric lifting,” in which you focus on lowering the weight during a bench press rather than lifting it. Load the barbell with 80 to 120 percent of your 1-rep max (for example, 110 to 160 pounds if your 1-rep max is 135), and take 4 to 5 seconds to lower the weight while keeping tension in your chest. Have your spotter help you press the bar back up as fast as possible, and then repeat. Do 2 to 4 sets of 3 to 5 repetitions each.
Why it works: Your body can handle more weight as you’re lowering the bar than as you’re pressing it up. Repeated lowering of a heavy weight will slowly help your body adapt and learn to handle more weight in general. Eventually, you’ll be able to press a heavier load too, says Philippi. The slow lowering also creates a lot of tension in your muscles as they work hard to keep the bar stable. That builds more size.
Your Legs Need a Boost
Fix It with Partial Reps
Set up a box about 2 inches behind your body. As you squat back, sit on the box so your upper thighs are parallel to the floor. Then stand back up. Complete 1 to 3 sets of only 1 to 3 reps each. As you become stronger, use higher boxes and add weight, which creates more tension.
Why it works: The box removes all momentum where the lift is most challenging, which forces your muscles to work harder to start back up. And by limiting your range of motion, you learn to handle heavier loads.
Your Program Needs an Upgrade
Fix It with New Rep Counts
Eliminate the 10-rep, 3-set routines.
Why it works: Your body quickly adapts to the number of reps you perform, but it takes a while to adjust to the exercises you do. (That’s why you can keep using the same exercises.) By changing your rep ranges on a weekly basis, you’re gaining benefits from the repeated movements while always pushing your body in new ways—and that helps you increase strength. When you improve in each workout, you add new muscle.
You’re Building Strength but Losing Flexibility
Fix It By Lifting Through a Full Range of Motion
Stretching isn’t the best way to improve flexibility—lifting weights through a full range of motion is, according to a recent study at the University of North Dakota. Pausing for 2 to 3 seconds at the “down” position of the lift (where you feel the stretch) without relaxing your muscles is even more effective.
Why it works: During resistance exercise, your muscles first contract, and then stretch to their full range between each repetition, increasing overall flexibility, says study coauthor James Whitehead, Ed.D.
Your Strength Gains Have Plateaued
Fix It By Leaving a Little in the Tank
Training to failure slows your results, say Spanish researchers. They found that lifters who performed each set of a workout until they couldn’t complete a repetition had smaller gains in strength than those who left a bit in reserve. End each set when your lifting pace starts to slow, suggests Men’s Health fitness advisor Mike Robertson, C.S.C.S.
Why it works: As your muscles fatigue, they use fewer fast-twitch fibers, which have the greatest potential for size and strength gains. Using a weight that allows you to finish all of your repetitions will focus your training where it counts the most—on those fast-twitch fibers.