Superior Training Tactics for Explosive Growth.
As the New Year begins there’s a good chance that you’ll be seeking to radically change the way you look and feel. Like all self-respecting lifters, your overarching goal will be to exceed your former physique and physical state. As such, more cuts, more muscle, and more energy and vitality top your 2020 wish list.
This is not to say 2019 was not a year of great gains. You simply want more. This is normal for most high achievers and, as such, you are constantly on the lookout for new insights and ideas to keep your progress continuing at a time when others are most likely confused, depressed and anxious about the year ahead.
If you’ve followed my steps on how to enjoy a productive holiday season, your fitness and physique will already be well ahead of the game. But there’s always more work to be done and like any results-focused lifter, you are ever ready to soak up more unique insights to continue your hardcore training ascent.
The advice given in this article will make 2020 your best gaining year yet. Here you’ll learn the importance of striving for strength, de-stressing, partnering up to train, intensifying your training and hitting your muscles from all angles. In addition, you’ll receive three weeks’ worth of unique plateau-busting workouts to kick your New Year off the right way.
A wish to build the best physique of your lifting career without solid direction and a willingness to work to full capacity is simply that: a wish. With that in mind, let’s get to work adding to where you left off in 2019.
1. Strive for Strength
As outlined in the first part of this article series, heavy resistance training remains essential for keeping the metabolism high, sustaining fat loss, and stimulating muscle gains. Increasing the weight on the bar is also, by default, crucial to keeping training intensity and motivation levels higher than when working with more modest poundages.10
With lighter, or so-called recovery sessions, there will naturally be less urgency to stay focused on controlling the weight through a full range of motion. On the other hand, with heavy weights (80% plus of a one repetition maximum) the lifter is forced to keep training focus high. With a heavily-loaded bar of unforgiving iron bearing down, every muscle fiber must be ready to perform. Autopilot, or half-hearted intensity, will not get the job done. Here you need to be in complete control from the first rep to the last.
By keeping incremental strength increases central to training progression, the incentive to maintain a high level of focus and drive will always be there to keep you accountable to your training mission. Unless otherwise planned for (such as when working around an injury), never simply go through the training motions. Instead, keep intensity and constant progression at the forefront of your training mission by maintaining a heavy lifting bias.1, 2, 3, 11, 12, 15
Despite the best of intentions and a workable plan that promises great results, achieving your best physique in 2020 may only lead to frustration and disappointment should chronic stress threaten to insidiously undermine your progress.
Indeed, prolonged and unrelenting stress remains one of the biggest barriers to training success. By keeping stress low, however, your body is able to make best use of its nutritional resources to recover and grow. Rather than remaining on ‘high alert’, an extremely taxing state where unessential processes (like muscle growth) are superseded by a consistent state of agitation and readiness for action (the famed fight or flight response), you’ll be relaxed and calm, ideal conditions for muscle gains to flourish.
Chronic stress, left unchecked, may also lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, immune system dysfunction, Type 2 diabetes and even cancer.14 While each of these will no doubt substantially affect one’s physical health and energy levels, there is another stress factor that has been shown to more specifically interfere with muscle gains while setting the stage for the above-listed ailments: cortisol.
An energy conservation hormone that is released during periods of high stress, cortisol is critically important to preparing the body for various environmental threats. Indeed, the “stress hormone” not all bad. In actuality, cortisol is released to counter the effects of acute stress, notably by helping to drive down inflammation. More nefariously, cortisol earns its catabolic hormone status with its excessive accumulation in those who exist in a constant state of psychological stress (including those who worry incessantly over things beyond their control).8
By rallying energy resources, cortisol prepares the body to respond to environmental stressors (real or imaginary). However, because it may stifle the normal utilization of nutrients, cortisol requires another energy source to meet physical demand. Can you guess where this energy source comes from? If you said muscle tissue, you are correct.
By activating a process called gluconeogenesis (literally, glucose from new sources) cortisol increases blood glucose levels to prepare for or to sustain physical output. Unfortunately for bodybuilders, this process requires that amino acids be pulled from muscle tissue to produce the much-needed glucose. As we would expect, this severely compromises muscle growth, as amino acids are central to the formation of muscle tissue.
In addition to depleting muscle amino stores, chronic stress may change the composition of the gut’s ecosystem of bacteria (collectively known as the microbiome), thus interfering with proper digestion and the normal uptake and utilization of growth-inducing nutrients.
So, to make the following plan work to your advantage and to keep the gains coming through all of 2020, limit cortisol production by reducing unnecessary stress.
3. Partner Up
While there are distinct benefits to training solo, there are as many if not more advantages to teaming up to train. Having a reliable training partner (someone who shares your passion for training and has complementary goals and the same willingness to fully commit to the iron) can aid motivation, provide encouragement, and increase enjoyment, each of which is heavily associated with training adherence, increased training output, and quality gains.
Simply having someone in your corner who is supportive and willing to assist when needed may enable you to go further than when training alone. Having someone to spot you when lifting heavy is not only advantageous to enhancing one’s motivation to lift a little more than before, but also important for ensuring a safe training experience, and ongoing training progression
Choosing the right training partner, one who is as invested in the training process as you are, can make your New Year’s training goals that much easier to achieve. Indeed, a good partner can hold you accountable to your training mission when motivation is flagging, and you can do the same for them. So, to stay on task into the New Year and beyond, double your intensity by teaming up and sharing the benefits of fitness with a like-minded lifter.
Training intensity can be boosted by various means besides lifting heavier and incrementally increasing training weights. Indeed, there remain a number of beneficial intensity methods that have been proven to maximize training effectiveness. But before we get to the best of these, why should we seek to boost intensity in the first place?
You would think by the large number of well-meaning trainees who plod through their sessions barely raising a sweat that intensity has become a take it or leave it proposition. This is misguided thinking. In reality, such lifters are simply doing what most of us are compelled to do: staying in our comfort zones in an attempt to avoid pain and discomfort.
But if you have been around long enough and have accumulated enough life experience you will know that a degree of pain is necessary for ongoing progress. This holds especially true in the world of weights. Provided safety is placed first we must therefore look for newer and more effective ways to inflict as much pain as possible on our muscles to initiate the all-important super-compensatory growth response.
To generate maximum (muscle) pain means to train with maximum intensity. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, training intensity refers to the level of effort a person exerts during exercise relative to his or her maximum effort. Simply put, intensity is the gold standard measure of the amount of applied effort taking into account one’s existing physical capabilities.4 Such vigorous training is also the only way to truly simulate impressive mass gains.
One of the best ways to enhance training intensity is to increase Time Under Tension (TUT). Here, a muscle is placed under a maximum amount of tension for the longest possible timeframe relative to a given training goal. For pure muscle building, such sustained tension may last for up to 40 total seconds (12 reps with a two-second eccentric, one-second concentric and a powerful prolonged squeeze upon full concentric contraction).5, 6
By slowing down your reps in such a way, the muscles are forced to do more work (each must work harder to reach the final rep in a set). This automatically increases the difficulty of a set and thus forces to muscles to build more fibers to overcome similar such challenges.17 Bonus tip: combine TUT training with shorter rest periods between sets to enhance muscle pumping and to further increase training output and intensity.
A popular way to increase training intensity is to use a variety of intensity methods. These are ways to make an already intensive movement even more challenging. Here are five intensity methods I have found useful with my training clients.
- Supersets: complete a second set with a different movement immediately following the first set.
- Trisets: complete a third set with a different movement immediately following the completion of two separate movements performed back-to-back.
- Single Drop Sets (SDS): complete one set, reaching failure within the prescribed rep range; reduce weight by 30% and complete a further set.
- Double Drop Sets (DDS): complete one set, reaching failure within the prescribed rep range; reduce weight by 30% and complete another set; reduce weight by a further 30% and complete a final set.
- Rest/Pause (RP): upon reaching failure, rest for 2-3 seconds. Complete another rep. Rest for a further 2-3 seconds. Complete a second rep. Rest for a final 2-3 seconds. Complete a third, and final, rep.
5. A Multi-Pronged Attack
“Attacking” a muscle from a limited number of angles may result in a lack of three-dimensional “pop”; the very antithesis of a complete muscular development. However, by employing a wide selection of effective movements, areas that may previously have been resistant to growth will begin to fill-out to create a degree of thickness that only the truly inventive possess.
For example, by using benches and inclines exclusively, an impressive degree of pec mass can be built. But true thickness and depth can only be established when a maximum number of such muscle fibers are adequately targeted in the same workout via sufficient volume and number of unique movements (or angles of resistance).7, 9, 13 This can best be achieved by diversifying our angles of attack on each of our go-to movements and by incorporating new movements which hit the muscles in unique ways.
Each muscle grouping is comprised of thousands and thousands of individual fibers, each fiber being 1-4 inches long. Since each of these fibers seldom runs the length of a given muscle, hitting this muscle from a limited number of angles will invariably fail to adequately stimulate the entire muscle grouping.
To awaken your physique to its full growth potential its therefore important that the angle of attack is shifted not only from movement to movement but also from set to set. To do this, select the widest range of movements possible for each muscle grouping, alternate these from session to session (this can be done for a minimum of three weeks or for as long as needed), and use 3-4 such movements per workout.
Secondly, engage in small angle training. A favorite of famed trainer Charles Glass, small angle training requires that each movement be sequentially (and often subtly) changed over the course of 4-6 sets. For example, a bench press may be performed conventionally (medium width grip; lowered to the bottom pecs) for one set before changing to an ultra-wide grip for a further set. The next set may employ a reverse grip and the final set may be lowered to the neck with elbows flared out. Each of these movements will hit different parts of the chest in unique ways to create more overall growth (or “three-dimensional pop” reminiscent of multi Olympia champ Phil Heath).
6. Superior Supplementation
Following the above-listed advice will surely put you on the path to muscle-building success, but only if you are willing to feed your muscles the best nutrition, including superior supplements that have stood the test of time.16 Begin your New Year with a supplement stack that’ll really pile on the mass.
Topping the list for its anti-catabolic benefits is AMINOCORE, today’s preeminent amino formula with an optimal ratio of muscle preserving BCAAs. AMINOCORE furthermore keeps muscle tissue anabolic by expediting muscle protein synthesis and staving off muscle degradation during times of stress. For best results, take before and during training.
As an in-the-trenches lifter you’ll be well aware of the importance of quality carbs for enhancing strength, performance and, ultimately, muscle gains. Along with low glycemic, quality carbs such as sweet potato and oats, the lifter stands to benefit from the power of carbs by incorporating ALLMAX’s new high performance CARBION+.
Unlike most other carb products, including the popular sugar-loaded sports/energy drinks, CARBION+ includes a phase-delivered blend of both rapidly absorbed and sustained release carbs, with zero simple sugars and no unwanted additives. In addition, CARBION+ contains a full complement of the best electrolytes to enhance hydration and extend performance under all training conditions.
Among the many benefits of the superior pre-workout product IMPACT PUMP is its ability to enhance blood flow to the muscles to optimize the sought-after pump while enhancing mental focus and the mind/muscle connection crucial to improving training effectiveness.
A non-stimulant workout companion, IMPACT PUMP does not produce the wired or jittery feelings that may have an adverse effect on workout performance. Instead, it contains only today’s most potent nootropic compounds, including the famed Alpha-GPC, to enhance focus and drive while keeping energy levels steady. With its ability to motivate and energize, this product will make you fall in love with training again.
The subject of over 6000 clinical trials, collagen comprises around 75% of the dry weight of skin and is a hefty component of most other tissues. Considered the body’s scaffolding, this ubiquitous protein has been shown to improve skin elasticity and hydration while reducing the formation of deep wrinkles. ALLMAX COLLAGEN is ultra-high in the amino acids proline and glycine and is thus also effective in helping to repair and support tendons, bones and joints.
Supplemental collagen, comprised of protein-chains called collagen hydrolysates, has become the go-to product for helping to offset the normal signs of aging. Comprised of small collagen chains (peptides), this form of collagen is fully absorbed intact and shuttled directly to the tissues where it repairs and optimizes tissue function and appearance.
Hard and heavy weight training inevitably takes a toll on the body, particularly the joints, which may, over time, lead to serious injury and, at best, fewer results than might otherwise be expected. Notably for hard training bodybuilders, supplemental collagen repairs and rejuvenates joints to lessen joint pain and enhances range of motion and overall joint function, thus keeping the lifter in the gym and training harder, for longer.
Among the ALLMAX Essentials range is the highest quality Monohydrate product on the market today. The most heavily researched of supplements, Creatine Monohydrate is a bodybuilding staple of unparalleled effectiveness when it comes to enhancing anaerobic output, volumizing muscle tissue, and improving strength and size gains. It belongs in any good training stack.
Alternating Workout Plan
Now that you are aware of the right ways to train, it’s time to put your newfound training wisdom into practice.
Each of the following intermediate to advanced level (1-2 years of training experience) weekly training schedules increases in intensity from week-to week.
Perform each schedule back-to-back, then repeat the cycle until you are satisfied with the gains you have achieved. Adjust weight according to rep range. Also aim for the heaviest weights possible (achieving muscular failure on the final rep and optimal time under tension for all reps) with good form.
Note: beyond six weeks (two back-to-back cycles), and depending on training stage, more intensity techniques and a greater degree of small angle training can be incorporated to optimize the effectiveness of each training schedule.
This plan can also be used to break the monotony of your regular training program to provide a unique training stimulus to bust the most stubborn plateau.