If you’ve hit a training rut and are stuck in a plateau of no strength or muscle gains, it might be time to revamp your training. Everyone knows that building muscle and strength requires constantly switching things up to keep your body guessing. Here are 20 ways to amp up the intensity and get bull-strong.
Do squats and deadlifts as far apart from each other as possible in a training week—or on the same day—so that there’s ample recovery time before the next session. Both of these exercises tax your central nervous system far more than isolation movements, so spreading them out will allow for ample recovery.
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Rest Easy Before Setting Records
Your body needs to regenerate a lot of adenosine triphosphate—a cell’s main source of energy—to fuel muscle. Rest 3-5 minutes, and let your body feel fully recovered before attempting a personal record.
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Get the Band Back Together
Banded side steps are great for improving hip stability and protecting the knees from injury. They can also help strengthen the hips and glutes to prevent knee valgus, which is when the knees cave in during moves like squats.
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Down Some Joe
A study from Coventry University in the United Kingdom reports that drinking a cup of coffee approximately 45 minutes before a squat session can give you close to a 29% bump in weight lifted.
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Use a Bedtime Protein
Supplementing with casein—a slow-digesting protein powder—before you sleep has been shown to stimulate overnight muscle growth. Also, a study from the Journal of Nutrition found that protein supplementation right before sleep boosts muscle synthesis by almost 22%.
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Get a Rub
Getting a massage can reduce inflammation and swelling, and improve circulation, so sign up for regular sessions.
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Be an Ass Man
Tightening your hips and glutes can lead to better stability for moves like planks and split squats, and will help you put up more weight on any exercise.
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When bench pressing, actively push your heels into the floor and force your body backward to help turn the press into a full-body exercise.
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Work on Your Hops
On legs day, do three sets of three reps of box jumps or tuck jumps, resting 60 seconds between each set. The central nervous system recruits more muscle after explosive exercise.
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Lift, Then Do Cardio
Aerobic exercise performed before resistance training significantly reduces performance, even when unrelated muscle groups are involved.
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Lay Off the Sauce
If you booze before you exercise, muscle biopsies show a reduced activity in the chemical pathways tied to muscle growth and recovery.
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Squeezing the bar hard for 3-5 seconds before your set gives you a connected feeling throughout your body, and primes you to stay tight during the lift.
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Bend the Bar
Another great bench tip: Grip the bar tightly—hands about shoulder-width apart—before starting the lift. Then, when you have the bar up, keep squeezing firmly, trying to “bend” it in half as you press. This increases the tension in your upper body, creating more of a rubber-band effect to help your body move the weight as one cohesive unit.
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Fail Less Often
For new lifters, taking sets to failure does not lead to greater strength gains than stopping short of failure. A 2016 study published in Frontiers of Physiology broke a group of 42 lifters into two groups: those who performed three sets of their 10-rep max and those who lifted the same weight for 5-6 reps. The conclusion was that taking sets to failure was not necessary for increases in maximal strength.
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Train With a Stallion
Pumping iron with someone who motivates, or even intimidates, can force you to ramp-up your intensity.
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Adjust for Age
Train the same muscles three times a week for the first year or so, then twice a week when you get older.
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Get More Vitamin E
Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that’s abundant in almonds and avocados, is crucial because it helps heal the muscle cells that rupture during exercise.
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A study on eight weeks of training found that three-minute rest intervals stimulated significantly greater 1RM bench-press and arm-mass gains compared with one-minute rest intervals.
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Hop on a Bike
Light cardio is the best form of active recovery for pretty much any workout. Spin for 10 to 15 minutes on a bike at low resistance, and at a leisurely pace.