Want to get crazy gains in muscle mass? You’ll have to get a little crazy in the gym. Carefully crafting a weight training program full of scientific research, the latest craze or doing what you’ve always done will only get you minimal results at best.
It’s time to change it up – and I mean big change. It’s not enough to just add a few additional sets, do a few more forced reps or increase your load by five or ten pounds. Sure, slow and steady does do your body good over the long haul but sometimes you need to throw your current mindset out the window and try something crazy – and not just a little crazy.
Below are nine game-changing battle tactics to help you win the war in the gym. These aren’t safe and conservative methods proven from the lab. These are bare-bones, raw approaches just waiting to determine your mettle. Some may seem like cake on paper, but put into practice they are real s.o.b.’s.
Battle Tactic #1 - Get Heavy (The Right Way)
No, I don’t mean throw a bunch of weight on the bar and lift like a contortionist. I mean put some weight on the bar that scares you – a lot. Of course having a spotter and using proper technique is a must but c’mon, don't be afriad...go lift some big weight!
Try doing a series of sets like a 10 sets of 3 or 8 sets of 5. You’ve played around with the light stuff long enough; put some English on sets of curls, rows and shoulder work. Go big and bang out multiple sets of multi-joint moves such as bench presses, rows, squats, leg presses, shoulder presses, curls, weighted dips and deadlifts.
A push/pull/legs routine may look like this:
- Day 1 - Push Workout
- Day 2 - Pull Workout
- Day 3 - Legs Workout
|Incline bench press||8||5|
|Standing push press||6||3|
|Dumbbell upright row||3||12|
|Close-grip bench press||5||5|
|High cable rope face pull||3||15|
|Barbell cheat curl||5||5|
|Walking lunge||3||20-30 steps|
|Seated calf raise||5||5|
The amount of weight you use should be challenging enough during your holds. Don’t lock any joints, use a spotter and use a power rack.
Battle Tactic #2 - Hold On With Walk-Outs & Static Holds
Sometimes you need to put enough weight on the bar to threaten your pride. How else will you be able to go somewhere you’ve never been before? Exposing your body to a new weight without lifting it will go miles toward training your nervous system to handle heavier loads.
Holds will do just that. A hold is simply loading the bar with way more weight than you can ever dream of lifting and feeling that weight on your entire body. For example, in a power rack with the pins sets at a few inches lower than shoulder level, un-rack the weight as if your are about to squat. With your knees slightly bent and the feeling the load in your legs and back hold the weight for a count (10-20 seconds or more).
The amount of weight you use should be challenging enough during your holds. Don’t lock any joints, use a spotter and use a power rack with the safety pins positioned close when possible.
Some suggested exercises are (holds in the top position):
- Bench presses
- Overhead presses
- Incline bench presses
- Smith machine squats
- Dumbbell deadlifts
Battle Tactic #3 - Double and Triple Your Pyramids
You’re probably all too familiar with the traditional pyramid. Start with a light weight for a lot of reps and then increase the weight on each set while decreasing reps. Well, let’s take it a step further and double and triple the onslaught.
With a double pyramid you will start with a lighter weight and higher reps and increase weight and decrease reps as with the traditional method, however, you will again decrease the weight and increase the reps once again before increasing the weight once again and lowering the reps. It’s like performing two series of pyramids back to back.
For a triple pyramid you would simply add yet another pyramid during the same exercise. A triple pyramid for a bench press may look something like this:
- Set 1: 185 x 10
- Set 2: 205 x 8
- Set 3: 225 x 6
- Set 4: 205 x 8
- Set 5: 185 x 10
- Set 6: 195 x 8
- Set 7: 205 x 6
- Set 8: 195 x 8
- Set 9: 185 x 10
- Set 10: 185 x 8
- Set 11: 195 x 6
Battle Tactic #4 - Run the (Whole) Rack
This is yet another intensity technique you’ve most likely heard of. Running the rack, a form of strip set, is accomplished by starting your sets heavy and then picking a lighter load continuing your sets. After each set is complete, simply pick up a lighter weight and keep going until you’ve reached exhaustion.
Let’s take the “running the rack” trick to an extreme level. Instead of three, four or even five sets done back-to-back let’s go for the whole enchilada. Start with the heaviest dumbbell weight you can manage for a particular exercise and perform a low rep set with good form. Re-rack those dumbbells and move down to the very next weight. Continue this until you’ve reached the very last set of dumbbells on the rack.
This may be the 10s or even the 5s but keep going until you’ve reached the end. Oh, and don’t worry if others are looking and making you feel embarrassed about using small dumbbells; your muscles will be too busy screaming to notice.
A typical dumbbell side lateral raise series may look like this:
- 45lbs. x 2 reps, 40 x 4, 35 x 6, 30 x 8, 25 x 10, 20 x 12, 15 x 15, 10 x 20, 5 x 20
Some excellent dumbbell moves to try this technique on are:
- Lateral raises (front, side and rear)
- Upright rows
- Biceps curls
- Incline bench biceps curls
- Concentration curls (off bench and knee)
- Lying triceps extensions
- Seated overhead extensions
- Triceps kickbacks
- Flat and incline chest presses
- Bent-over rows
- Romanian deadlifts
Battle Tactic #5 - Prime the Muscle With Pre-load Sets
Just like an engine needs a flush of fuel to prime it so it can forcefully start, so does the body sometimes to reignite gains and build muscle and strength. Pre-load sets do just this – prime the muscle with a heavier than normal load sub-maximally before moving on to the regular work sets.
What exactly does that all mean? If you perform a heavy set well short of muscular failure prior to your regular set it will not only prime the muscle with blood it will also activate the nervous system to a heightened state. To take advantage of this heightened state perform your normal set soon after and you will find your strength skyrocket instantly.
How? The nerve innervations detecting a heavier than normal load will be temporarily programmed to lift the heavy load. Since the prime set doesn’t reach failure you can perform your regular set with this excited nervous system carryover with an advantage. Your normal weight will feel lighter in the process. Just be sure to wait around 30 seconds to a minute before moving on to your regular work sets after the pre-load set.
For example, if you normally do 225lbs for 10 reps on squats, after a thorough warm-up start with 275lbs for 2 or 3 reps. These should be relatively easy reps. Rack the weight and rest for 30 seconds to one minute. Reduce the weight to 225 and rep out to failure. You should knock out more than 10.
The important thing to remember is to not go to muscular failure for any plyo exercise. You don’t want to completely exhaust the muscle before your core lifts.
Battle Tactic #6 - Go Plyo Before Going Heavy
Much like pre-load weight sets used prior to a lift to enable you to hoist more weight, pre-load plyometric sets can do similar wonders. Performed much the same way, pre-loading a lift such as squats with an explosive exercise like jump squats will cause the nerves to prime its fast-twitch fibers and increase muscular stimulation.
It’s obvious this is a bit easier to put into practice for lower body exercises since most lower body plyometric exercises are more convenient to perform in a crowded gym. Jump squats, split jump squats, box jumps, leg tucks, bounds and depth jumps are just a few that can be done at most gyms without monopolizing too much equipment and space.
Upper body plyometrics are also effective for multi-joint lifts such as medicine ball chest passes and plyo push-ups for pressing lifts and ball slams and overhead throws for pulling lifts. The important thing to remember is to not go to muscular failure for any plyo exercise. You don’t want to completely exhaust the muscle before your core lifts.
Battle Tactic #7 - Turn Your Pyramids Into Super Pyramids
Most pyramid sets go like this: 12, 10, 8, 6. While the reps decrease, the weight amounts increase. Let’s take it a step (or several steps) further. Try super pyramids on for size – literally. Extending your normal pyramid scheme past your comfort zone and into the heavy, low-rep zone will skyrocket not only your muscle gains but your strength as well.
The idea of training specificity (the notion that in order to get better at something you must train that something specifically) should be applied to weight training as well as traditionally to sports performance.
For example, if you are lacking in the upper pec area and want to pack on some mass try a super pyramid doing incline barbell presses to add muscle and strength. Go with a rep scheme of 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1, 1 slightly increasing your weight on each set. Instead of performing endless angles for a particular body part you will just need one for the upper pec area and one for the lower area – simple and straightforward.
Of course, you can adjust your super pyramid to fit your personal needs by increasing or decreasing the reps overall but just be sure to increase weight on each set and utilize a spotter when needed.
Concentration curls are great. They can fill-out your arms and improve the overall look of your physique. But as Arnold said, “You can’t carve a pebble.”
Battle Tactic #8 - Make Your Workouts Explosive
Explosive training doesn’t have to be reserved for the powerlifting community. Using explosive lifting techniques can easily and effectively be added to your bodybuilding plans as well. Explosive lifting can add a much-needed element to your training in that it will help increase strength levels, stimulate more muscle fibers and help with sticking points on certain lifts.
Traditionally, performing explosive lifts has you picking a certain multi-joint exercise and using a submaximal amount of weight and lifting that weight explosively with speed. Adding such lifts to your muscle-building routines will only help you develop new muscle and strength and blow way past those weak points.
For your purposes after your normal sets are completed for bench presses, for example, lighten the load significantly. Lower the weight at a pace of around 6 to 10 seconds, once you reach the bottom position explode the weight up with as much force and speed as you can give. Do 1 to 3 sets of 6 to 10 reps.
Battle Tactic #9 - Get Brutal, Lift Brutal
Concentration curls, triceps kickbacks, cable crossovers and leg extensions are great. They can fill-out and add muscle in small areas of muscle groups increasing symmetry, balance and the overall look of your physique. But as Arnold once stated, “You can’t carve a pebble.”
Before a sculpture can carve his masterpiece he must start with a huge chunk of stone. Rough, brutal-looking and solid building your physique of your dreams must first start with a proper foundation. If you don’t have that big foundation to begin with you won’t see much benefit from “shaping” exercises.
Be sure your program is chalk-full of the big multi-joint moves like bench presses, rows, shoulder presses, barbell curls, dips, squats and deadlifts. In addition to these compound exercises try out some explosive lifts such as hang cleans, power cleans, push presses and jerks. Oh, and get brutal, put some weight on the bar and get at it!
"you can't carve a pebble" - new motto.
good article, definitely going to try the holds tip and bust out some heavier weights. Its to easy to get complacent and stagnate in the gym.
Hi I would just like to ask the rest period on each exercise? Thanks
Wouldn't the Dumbbell Upright Row be considered a pulling exercise?
You do pull with upright rows but they are performed with shoulders to support your shoulder workout and presses.
Upright rows hit your anterior and lateral delts. So its muscle-building effect is closer to that of a press, than that of most pulls.
Can I use this program if I al trying to lean out?
Can I use this program if I am trying to lean out?
Of course. : )
Thank you for replying, great article by the way.
On battle tactic #1, how do you schedule your 3 day routine over the whole week, i mean by wich days to rest and wich ones to work. Examp: monday day 1, tuesday day 2 etc. Thanks.
Yes, you could do Mon, Tues. Wed and then repeat for the the next 3 days or take a day off before 3 days in a row again or you could do Mon, Wed, Fri type routine as well. It depends on your availability and recovery ability.
Will this routine improve your muscle mass or only your strenght?
I love this article. I love lifting heavy so this routine fits me perfectly. I will tailor it to fit me better. Great article and great routine.
Thanks, David! I appreciate it!