Featured story July 14, 2015
When it comes to fitness, there are certain exercises that have stood the test of time and will always be recommended. Exercises like drop sets, work-stretch sets, and the ever-praised squat have proven their success over and over. For consistent, sure-fire muscle gains, try these four no-fail exercises.
Drop sets are a technique where you perform an exercise and then reduce the weight and continue for more reps until you reach failure. They can be performed with any exercise that involves moving weight around, like the bench press. Free weights are even easier.
The reason why drop sets are so effective is that in any given set, you are only recruiting a certain amount of muscle fibers. Reducing the weight and going lighter engages different muscle fibers, which helps muscles achieve growth that couldn’t be achieved by sticking with the same weight.
Typically, you drop off 10 to 30% of the weight per set. “The primary focus of drop sets is to shock the muscle by adding stress to a standard set. This added stress induces hypertrophy within the muscle amplifying muscle growth,” Valeria Fazio advises in an All Max Nutrition article.
A work-stretch set is a fancy name for stretching in between your lifting sets. It’s a simple technique, but one that works wonders for your body. Stretching between sets counteracts the muscle stiffness that lifting can cause, keeping you flexible and loose.
When stretching is properly integrated into a weight-training program, it can actually speed up your muscle growth; it stretches the connective tissue that surrounds the muscles and enables the muscles to grow bigger and stronger. It also improves the shape of your muscles and is a major player in injury prevention.
“It is the ultimate for preventing injuries; in fact, at least 50% fewer over-extension injuries are reported with athletes who use a regular stretching routine compared to those who don’t,” Brian Klepacki, MS, CISSN, CSCS explains.
Try to stretch your whole body equally throughout your workout, as focusing on only one part of your body could cause an imbalance.
Squats are almost always recommended and for good reason: they work. Squats are one of the most effective exercises you can do, using weight or body weight. Squats call for the use of your whole body, not just your legs.
As a heavy, compound exercise, it takes a lot of core power to push through a squat, making it a must-do exercise for six-pack chasers. Unlike most other exercises that involve big weights, squats help improve flexibility, especially when you go for the full, deep squat.
And, most obviously, squats put on the muscle. It’s one of the best exercises for building and trimming. Because your leg muscles are so large, working them with squats will leave your body burning calories even after your workout.
Supersets involve doing two exercises, one after the other, with no rest in between. You can either superset within the same body part or you can train two different body parts. Research suggests lifting in supersets can be just as effective as normal sets at building strength while adding an additional cardio component.
“Typically, you’d do three or four supersets in this fashion, resting between each superset. This is a very common practice as a means of exhausting a single muscle group to promote the muscle fiber breakdown that can lead to muscle growth,” said Joe Wuebben and Jim Stoppani, PhD in their book, Stronger Arms and Upper Body.
Unlike a straight set, supersets require your body to lift twice as much weight in the same amount of time, keeping your heart rate up. Because of this, supersets provide a better cardio workout than other traditional lifting techniques.