Whether you are new to training or a seasoned weightroom veteran, advanced training techniques can be used to spice up your routine. There are many reasons why advanced techniques can make a great addition to anyone’s routine: Maybe you don’t have the time available to devote to a traditional workout, or maybe you find a change of scenery motivating, or are just curious to try something new.
Whatever your reasons, it can be difficult to understand what advanced training techniques are available and how to best incorporate them, so I’ve put together a one-stop shop for you on the most common advanced training practices that anyone can use. When programmed correctly, they offer many of the same muscle-building advantages as traditional straight-set training in a fraction of the time and can be used effectively to break those pesky plateaus you run into.
Advanced training techniques come in many fitness flavors: supersets, dropsets, traditional rest-pause, and cluster sets being among the most popular. Let’s look at each of these and find out how to program them properly into your routine!
Supersets are a great way to increase work volume when time is limited. They involve performing two exercises rapidly (forming a couplet) with little to no rest in between. Supersets are composed of either exercises that work the same muscle group or opposing muscle groups (agonist/antagonist) with no rest between the couplet of exercises themselves. They are also easy to program as they feature similar set/rep ranges as straight-set training.
I recommend choosing agonist/antagonist supersets (such as pairing biceps:triceps or quads:hamstrings) since using two exercises of the same muscle group leads to greater soreness, decreased work volume, and may require more recovery for no extra benefit. Antagonistic, on the other hand, does not negatively impact training volume or muscle activity.
As an example, you may program a superset of four sets of 10 reps of biceps curls and triceps overhead extensions. In practice, you would perform 10 reps of the biceps curls then immediately jump to 10 reps of triceps overhead extensions with no rest between the two exercises. Once both exercises are completed in succession, that would be considered one set and then you rest as you would between conventional sets before moving on to your second round of the previously discussed four sets.
|A1. Biceps Curls||4||10||201||–|
|A2. Triceps Overhead Extension||4||10||201||1.5 min|
Dropsets are one of my favorite ways to make sure I fully work a muscle, and are particularly beneficial when improving lagging musculature. They really force you to thoroughly exhaust the muscles worked in a time-efficient manner.
Performing dropsets involve completing an initial set in a conventional manner, then immediately lowering the weight lifted by anywhere from 25-50% and performing a second set until momentary muscular failure, then (optionally) dropping the load a third time by 25-50% of the second set’s weight and performing a final set until momentary muscular failure.
Using this, you have one conventional set with one to two “drops” counting as a single overall dropset. After each dropset, rest as long as you would between conventional sets. I recommend incorporating one to three sets of these as the last exercise of the training day in a muscle group or movement you wish to advance.
Rest-pause is another great way to increase work volume. It has been shown to yield similar strength and size improvements compared to traditional sets while decreasing total training time.
Rest-pause converts a single set into multiple mini sets with very little rest between each (usually 15-30 seconds). Technique varies from coach to coach, so I’ll share my methods to help you set these up for either hypertrophy or strength.
For hypertrophy, I recommend shooting for a rep goal. The number of reps you achieve on your first mini set will determine how many reps you will do combined for the entire rest-pause set. Choose a weight that is 80-85% of your one rep max. Take that weight and lift until failure, then note how many reps you achieved. Double that to identify your total rep goal (ex: if you reached eight on your first mini set, then your total rep goal for all mini sets combined will be 16). Rest 15-20 seconds, then take your second mini set to failure. Add the number of reps achieved in that second mini set to those from the first. Repeat the lift:rest cycle until you have reached the rep goal for the entire rest-pause set.
For strength, I aim for a rep goal of 10-12 reps. Choose a weight that is 85-93% of your one-rep max. Perform a single rep each mini set, rest 20-30 seconds, then repeat the cycle until you have reached your rep goal.
You will typically not perform more than one rest-pause set per exercise.
Cluster sets are a distinct variation of rest-pause that involve heavy weight lifted in a triplet fashion with very little rest between the exercises within the triplets (usually 10-15 seconds). Each triplet ultimately counts as a single set in your programming. Similar to rest-pause, each triplet is taken to momentary muscular failure.
There are a variety of schemes used in cluster sets, but they typically involve 3-5 sets of 1-5 reps. Volume of either sets or reps is progressed weekly, over 4-8 weeks, to increase training demand.
As an example of a scheme that I use: Let’s start with a cluster set of front squats with three sets of 2-2-1 reps. Choose a weight that greatly challenges you for two reps. Start the triplet off with 2 reps, rest 15 seconds, perform 2 more reps with the same weight, rest 15 seconds, then perform oje last rep to complete the first cluster set of the three total. After each completed cluster set, rest as long as you would between conventional sets
|Week 1 – Front Squat||3||2-2-1||Rest 15 sec. between reps||2 min.|
|Week 2 – Front Squat||3||2-2-2||Rest 15 sec. between reps||2 min.|
|Week 3 – Front Squat||3||3-2-2||Rest 15 sec. between reps||2 min.|
|Week 4 – Front Squat||4||3-2-2||Rest 15 sec. between reps||2 min.|
Time to Hit the Gym With Advanced Training Techniques
There you have it! A variety of new tools for your training toolbox ready if you find your progress lagging or simply want to try something new. I recommend using only one or two of these in any individual training cycle, but have fun incorporating them as you see fit.
Over time, you’ll be able to try all of them out to find which work best for you. Happy lifting!
Allan Bacon, DDS, is an online personal trainer specializing in training powerlifters and body composition clients, He can be found at @drallanbacon or at mauiathletics.com.