Warning: the techniques contained in this article have been battle tested and proven to cause massive muscular stimulation. Side effects may include severe skin stretching pumps, roadmap vascularity, bar bending power and explosive workout sessions!
With progressive gains to both strength and muscle size you will encounter plateaus along the way, in other words a period of stagnation where your muscles adapt to your training. When you hit a training plateau your progress ceases and it can happen for a variety of reasons. These plateaus can be frustrating and discouraging and can sometimes lead to less intense sessions and possibly skipping certain body parts or workouts all together. There are ways to solve this conundrum and get back on the path to hypertrophy. Contained in this article are 10 of the most effective shock training techniques, which will stimulate growth unlike anything you have ever tried before.
In nature, each stimulus has a response. The response by the human body to resistance training is to add an increased amount of muscle to repair the damaged area to compensate for the amount of stress placed on it during the previous training session. This is the reason we build muscle – so the body doesn’t have to work as hard at the same task each time. If the amount of resistance is increased along with variations in the exercises from session to session, the body will continue to adapt and add muscle mass as a result of this. However, if the stimulus remains constant, the body will become conditioned to it and over time the increase in muscle will plateau. Theoretically, if the trainer adheres to the above by changing the order of exercises and increasing the amount of resistance from session to session, applying maximum intensity, the amount of muscle mass added should continue to increase at a steady level for an indefinite period of time. Unfortunately, in most cases, despite the trainer’s best efforts to do the former, a plateau at some point is almost inevitable.
Common Causes of Training Plateaus
- Using the same amount of weight/resistance in each session
- Performing the same exercises in the same order in each session
- Not fully taxing the muscle or working to failure
- Overtraining – not allowing the body enough time to recover
- Inadequate nutrition
During a period of steady progress, the improvements in size, strength and physical appearance are the motivation to push harder week in and week out. Conversely, during a period of plateau, the trainer can become discouraged and often be mentally defeated even before entering the gym. Fear not! If you are experiencing one of these training debacles of your own, it can be easily overcome by employing a “shock technique” to present you with a new mental and physical challenge and radically stimulate your muscles- igniting hypertrophy!
Below are ten of the most effective shock techniques used in resistance training for body builders, fitness competitors, power lifters, mixed martial artists and a wide variety of competitive athletes. All are uniquely effective. Sample each and rotate them into your routine. Not only will using new shock techniques help break through frustrating plateaus, but by constantly changing up your training techniques, your muscles will not have the opportunity to become conditioned to any one type of training and will remain on a consistent path of progress.
1 – German Volume Training
The goal of German volume training is to perform 10 sets of 10 reps using the same weight for each successive set. Rest between sets should be limited to 60-90 seconds. When selecting a weight for this, one should use roughly 60% of their 1 rep maximum, or one you could use to achieve failure at 20 reps. For the first 3 sets, 10 reps should be achieved easily. Sets 4-7 should become challenging and a voluminous pump should already be achieved by this point. By the time you have arrived at sets 8-10, completing 10 reps should be quite challenging and a searing pain in the muscles will be felt on each and every rep.
Since this is a is such an extreme shock technique, a maximum number of muscle fibres will be worked in the target area, stimulating the body to respond by adding slabs of muscle to compensate for the next impending workout.
Only use this technique once per session per body part and give ample recovery time before attempting again. Examples:
- 10 sets of 10 – Seated Dumbell Shoulder Press
- 10 sets of 10 – Overhand Triceps Press Downs
2 – 100 Rep Sets
As the name implies, the 100 rep set is just that. Sound ridiculous? Perhaps to some, but to others, this may just be the mental and physical challenge your mind and muscles need to shock you into massive gains!
After two to three warm up sets, select a weight that you believe you can perform 100 repetitions with. Be sure that this is not a weight that is too light, but also one that will not cause failure long before your target number of reps. If failure occurs prematurely, then take a minimal amount of rest and continue along until 100 reps have been completed. Rest a maximum of 3 times for the duration of the set. One hundred rep sets are fantastic to totally annihilate a muscle group. It should be noted that these sets are extreme and can be very taxing. Be sure to take this into consideration when selecting the exercise. Only do this for one body part per workout and allow ample recovery (at least 48 hours before training the same body part again).
3 – Super Sets, Tri Sets, & Giant Sets
A straight set is a single exercise performed on it’s own. A super-set is a combination of two exercises performed back to back, with minimal rest from one to the next. A tri-set is a combination of three exercises performed back to back and a giant-set is any combination of four exercises or more.
Shock Value: Combining exercises back to back with minimal rest in between is a great way to maximize pump, target and fully fatigue all areas of an individual muscle, or, target multiple muscle groups within the same set. Some examples:
- Back and Chest (Super Set): Seated Row + Incline Flyes
- Shoulders (Tri Set): Front Raises + Side Laterals + Bent Laterals – will fully fatigue all three heads of the deltoids (anterior, medial and posterior)
- Biceps (Giant Set): Cambered Bar Curls – wide grip 10 reps, shoulder width 10 reps, narrow grip 10 reps, reverse grip 10 reps.
4 – Ascending Sets
An ascending set is one in which the trainer selects a number of sets and weights for an exercise and performs a predetermined number of reps at each weight, moving from the lightest to heaviest with minimal rest between sets. As the weight is increased the number of repetitions remain constant or can be decreased.
Example: Side Lateral Raises starting with 10lb dumbells for 20 reps, then, 15lbs for 15 reps, 20lbs for 10 reps and 25lbs for 8 reps.
Shock Value: due to the high number or repetitions performed in a single ascending set while increasing the weight, the muscles are pumped well beyond where they would normally be after a straight set of 15 reps. Furthermore, all available muscle fibres can be stimulated and recruited in the target muscles to complete the set. Choose one exercise per body part per workout and do 1-3 ascending sets to totally annihilate the muscle and pump it into new dimensions. This is a very old school, but extremely effective, shock technique which is not commonly used any more. Perhaps you’ll be brave enough to introduce it in to your next workout?
5 – Modified Alternating Isometric Hold Technique
Time under tension (TUT) is often under-rated and not taken into consideration when training. The longer the muscle is under tension, the greater the muscle stimulation – which will result in increased muscular development. An “isometric hold” is one in which the trainer resists against an immovable object until complete muscle failure has been achieved. A unilateral exercises is one where each side works independently against individual points of resistance, like dumbells.
In this modified version of the isometric hold, the trainer would begin a unilateral exercise by contracting both sides, then maintaining a peak contraction in one side, while the other begins to work through the motion. As the working side returns to the fully contracted position, the other side begins to work through the motion, alternating back in forth in this fashion until the desired number of repetitions have been completed. These sets can be extremely gruelling due to the extended period of time that the muscles are in the contracted position, often taking from 1-2 min to complete.
Shock Value: This technique is awesome for adding detail and hardness to the muscles by using prolonged peak contractions. Furthermore, since each side is working independently, imbalances in size and strength can be eliminated by forcing both sides to work equally.Examples
- Dumbell Chest Press
- Standing Hammer Curls
6 – Drop Sets
A drop set is one in which the trainer performs a number of reps at several different weights from heaviest to lightest with minimal rest in between drops.
Typically the trainer selects a weight with which failure can be achieved within 5-8 reps and is then immediately dropped by 30%, continuing to work until once again achieving failure at 5-8 reps and then finally decreased a last time by 30% and working until no more repetitions can be completed at that weight. Drop sets are a safe and effective way to fully exhaust a muscle without necessarily needing a spotter. Also, if working on a machine each drop can be performed very quickly by just moving the pin in the weight stack.
- Seated Row – starting with 100lbs for 5-8 reps, immediately dropping to 70 lbs for another 5-8 reps and finally dropping the weight to 50lbs to failure.
7 – Plyometrics
Plyometrics is a form of training designed to create quick, powerful, movements and improve the function of the nervous system, typically for the purpose of improving performance in sports. Plyometrics consists of a rapid stretching of a muscle (eccentric action) immediately followed by a concentric or shortening action of the same muscle and connective tissue. The stored elastic energy within the muscle is used to produce more force than can be provided by a concentric action alone. Therefore, Plyometric movements, in which a muscle is loaded and then contracted in rapid sequence, use the strength, elasticity and innervation (nerve supply) of muscle and surrounding tissues to jump higher, run faster, throw farther, or hit harder, depending on the desired training goal.
Shock Value: To really shock and fully fatigue the muscles try super-setting a biomechanically similar plyometric exercise after a resistance exercise . Examples
- Incline Dumbell Press + Plyometric Push-ups
- Squats + Jump Squats
8 – Compound Exercises
Several of my past articles have discussed in detail the benefits to performing heavy resistance training and compound lifts in order to stimulate massive whole body growth through muscle exhaustion and the natural production and release of testosterone. Simply stated, a compound exercise is one that involves several major muscle groups. The activation of several muscle groups simultaneously through heavy and intense compound exercises sends an onslaught of chemical messages through the body signalling increases in:
- Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (iGF-1)
- Growth Hormone (GH)
- Leutenizing hormone (LH)
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
All of these are responsible for muscle hypertrophy (growth).
Begin your session with a compound lift when energy levels and focus are at their peak. Channel 100 percent intensity into your working sets, using heavy weight, and reap the benefits of this natural testosterone booster!
Multiple exercises fall into this category, for example: Deadlifts, Squats, Walking Lunges and Stiff Leg Deadlifts.
9 – Pyramid Sets
One of the most frequently used training techniques. Pyramid sets typically consist of 3-5 sets. Just as the name suggests – the trainer will begin with a high number of reps with a light weight and pyramid up to heavier weight and less reps on each consecutive set. Rest periods between sets should range from 1-2 min depending on your training goals.
They are begun by selecting a light weight that the trainer can easily perform 30 repetitions with, but only doing 15 to warm up. Set 2 should be performed with a weight that could achieve failure at 20 reps but only doing 15. Set 3 should be a working set – selecting a weight that will achieve failure between 12-15 repetitions. Set 4 should be a weight that will achieve failure between 5-8 repetitions. After the heaviest/low rep set has been completed, one may also choose to pyramid down in weight and increase the repetitions in reverse order from the way up. Pyramid sets allow the trainer to sufficiently warm up the muscles by using light resistance for the first 2 sets and then safely push the muscles to failure during the heavier working sets. Additionally, the body is exposed to a number of different weights and rep ranges- improving both muscular strength and endurance.
Shock Value: It is highly beneficial to add another shock training technique on the fourth or fifth set of a pyramid set, such as a drop set, 10 sets of 10, a 100 rep set, or negative reps.
10 – Negative Repetitions
Negative repetitions, or eccentric training, is a technique that enables you to push your muscles further than their regular point of failure. An eccentric, or negative repetition, involves the lengthening of a muscle. In contrast, a concentric movement involves the contracting of the muscle. For example, on a bench press after unracking the barbell the lowering motion is the eccentric movement – where the pectoral muscles are stretched or lengthened. Once the bar begins to be pushed up, it becomes the concentric part of the motion where the pectorals fully contract at the top.
The key is to resist and lower the weight very slowly (4-5 seconds) to derive the full benefit of this technique. Negative reps allow your muscles to lift eccentrically 30-40 percent more than you could regularly handle concentrically. Select a weight that will achieve failure in the muscles by 5-8 repetitions (roughly 60% of your single rep maximum). Once you have performed 5-8 reps and reached failure, have your spotter assist in raising the bar to the fully extended contracted position and then focus on resisting the weight during the eccentric part of the motion for an additional 2-3 reps to push the muscles far past their normal point of failure.
Shock Value: Try adding negative reps on the last set of each exercise to fully fatigue the muscles
Note: Always use a competent spotter when employing negative repetitions and keep safety foremost in your mind. It should also be noted that joints are easily overloaded once target muscles have reached failure, so pay close attention to form and minimize stress to joints.
Knowledge is power, literally and figuratively in this case. The techniques detailed above are the most effective shock training techniques that have been used for years by top pros in a broad range of disciplines, to acquire the power, performance ,and physiques that made them champions. Take this information, apply it to your own regimen and translate it into massive gains!
- Asmussen, E. and Bonde-Peterson, F. (1974) Apparent efficiency and storage of elastic energy in human muscles during exercise. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 92, 537-545.
- Baechle, T.R. and Earle, R.W. (2000) Essentials of strength training and conditioning, 2nd edition. Champaign, IL: National Strength and Conditioning Association.