3 Strength Training Techniques To Help You Maximize Your Workout

mbg Fitness Contributor By Heather Marr
mbg Fitness Contributor
Heather Marr is a personal trainer from Canada who specializes in training models. She is the co-creator of The Model Trainer Method and co-founder of Liftologie.com.

Image by Jacob Lund / iStock

Keeping the romance alive with your fitness regimen isn't as difficult as you think. Whether you're a fitness fanatic or new to the scene, adding variety to your programs is a surefire way to bust out of, or even prevent, plateaus. Incorporating fun, challenging training techniques, like the ones below, will keep you excited to train and keep the monotony at bay. 

1. Supersets

There are several different types of supersets, which I explain below—but all of them are an extremely efficient use of gym time. Instead of breaking after every set, you're breaking after two. By reducing rest intervals, you're not only saving time, but you're increasing intensity by performing more work in less time. This makes increasing overall training volume more manageable, especially for those pressed for time. Finally, overloading the muscle is possible even when heavy training equipment might be limited. This is ideal for those traveling who might not always have access to fully equipped fitness facilities.

Here are the three different types, explained.

Antagonist superset

Traditionally, supersets pair opposing muscle groups. This is called an antagonist superset. Here, you would perform two exercises in a row, each targeting opposing muscle groups with no rest in between. An example of this would be pairing biceps and triceps together. Here, a set of bicep curls would be performed followed immediately by a set of tricep dips, for example.

Compound (or agonist) sets

Compound sets are also referred to as supersets. For compound sets, rather than pairing two exercises targeting opposing muscle groups, you pair two exercises that target the same muscle group. The execution remains the same, however. Both exercises are performed in a row with no rest in between. If we were targeting the biceps, for example, a set of bicep curls could be performed immediately followed by a set of hammer curls.

Staggered supersets

Third, of course, is pairing two exercises together that target two different muscle groups. This is an unrelated superset, or staggered superset. An example of this would be pairing legs and shoulders together. Here, a set of stationary lunges would be performed immediately after a set of dumbbell lateral raises, for example.

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2. Pyramid Training

This is a series of sets performed using one selected exercise (e.g., bicep curls). Here, you begin with a lighter weight and perform a higher number of repetitions. In each subsequent set, the resistance (or load) increases while the number of repetitions being performed decreases. When we are performing working sets, the last few reps of each of our sets needs to be a challenge or struggle. As we lower the number of repetitions, in order for our working sets to be a challenge, we need to, of course, increase the resistance. If you were able to perform a bent-over row for 15 reps with 60 pounds, for example, this certainly would need to be increased when performing the same exercise for a working set of 8 repetitions.

Reverse pyramid training is just the opposite. Here, you begin with heavy weight for a lower number of repetitions. In each subsequent set, the resistance or load decreases while the number of repetitions being performed increases. Again, the last few repetitions of each working set should be a bit of a struggle. If you were able to squat 135 pounds for 6 reps as a working set, then you surely would not be able to use that load for 12 repetitions. You would need to reduce the load as the number of repetitions increased.

Pyramid training is a really smart choice for people who might be just beginning their fitness journey and are learning about weight and resistance selection for their workouts. Certain exercises such as the flat dumbbell press can be extremely intimidating for someone just starting out. Implementing a strategy like pyramid training can help you or anyone new to fitness build comfort and confidence relatively quickly and safely.

3. Drop Sets

A "drop set" is a technique in which you perform your working set (sets that aren't warm-ups, where you are aiming to improve strength) on one selected exercise. When you get to the end of your working set, rather than stopping there, you immediately reduce the resistance and continue performing repetitions to failure. There is no break between the sets. The working set is essentially being extended. This can be done several times—many programs drop the resistance three times. Again, there are no breaks in between each drop.

This approach can be used with any type of equipment or machine and even with body weight. If you were performing a drop set on tricep bench dips, for example, your working set might begin feet elevated with weight on your lap. The first drop might be removing the weight while keeping legs elevated. For the second drop, your legs might be quickly moved to the floor and extended while you continue performing repetitions. For your third drop, your legs can be angled on the floor at 90 degrees to remove even more body weight in order to continue repetitions to failure. While this technique can be used with any equipment, if you train solo, I recommend using cables, dumbbells or other machines that are easy to maneuver on your own. If you're lucky enough to have a training partner, they can help to quickly strip plates from barbells or plate-loaded machines like the leg press at each drop. 

To be clear: This technique should not be used for every working set, all workout long. That would simply lead to overtraining. Instead, it is ideal to implement drop sets as a finisher at the end of your workout to extend your set. This allows you to fully fatigue the muscle, increase time under tension, and increase training volume.

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The take-aways

Some people think of strength training as time-consuming and boring—and if they're not making the most of their workout and switching it up, it probably is! Give these three training techniques a try—they're bound to help you level up in your fitness and make your gym sessions much more enjoyable.

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