21 ways to maximise your weight training

Maximize weight training feature image

Follow these simple hacks to unleashing your full potential

Most weight lifters share one common goal – the journey to gain more muscle. Whether it be muscle gain for increased strength and performance or for its aesthetically pleasing nature; many lift weights day in and day out chasing their goal.

To help you achieve the best adaptations from your training regime; these top tips are a must-try. Some of these tips are aged- tried and tested; whilst some are relatively new methods of training which have aided top athletes in the industry. Incorporate these into your training programs and reap the rewards.

Do more with less and less with more

Alternate between two different exercises – the first of which is to be executed at 6-8 reps (low-rep); followed by the second exercise at 12-20 reps (high-rep). The blood manipulation in and out of the muscle aids muscle development and keeps the muscle fully stimulated. Try this technique out occasionally to alter your rep patterns and take your workout to the next level.

Get off your butt

Performing some exercises whilst standing have numerous advantages. One of which is the fact that standing strengthens the core. Increased core strength leads to better stability and also increased strength. Standing also burns more calories – which can be beneficial for anyone looking to lean down for summer.

Burn fat and build lean muscle

 Incorporate weights into your cardio session – cutting your workout time in half but by no means the easy way out. Exercises such as farmers walks and walking lunges – holding moderate to heavy dumbbells in either hand; leads to overall increased lean muscle development and are excellent cardio options. Be sure to keep your core engaged throughout the session for optimum results. Walk or lunge till failure – then put the weights down and rest for 90 seconds. Keep this going – aiming for 10-20 minutes in total.

Raise the bar – consistently aim to break your PB

Beating your previous best on a (semi)regular basis forces muscles to adapt, both in terms of strength and size. Record your lifts in a logbook – this allows you to focus on precise strength gains every time you enter the gym. Progressive overload workouts have been seen as the key to maximise muscular growth by many pro bodybuilders. Week on week – attempt to increase weights by 2.5 – 5kg on each exercise. Keep doing this ideally over a 4-6 week training program me.

Shrug it off

Your trapezius is a relatively large muscle, so treat it accordingly. Too many athletes neglect this muscle group but they don’t realise how vital it is during compound exercises like deadlifts, upright rows and shoulder presses. Even if you add  four sets of dumbbell shrugs think of it as a trapezius workout deserving of your full focus and maximum intensity, instead of merely a few sets you throw in after training your delts. Try this giant set out once a week – olympic bar front shrug, olympic bar behind the body shrug and heavy dumbbell side shrugs. Do this for 3 sets at 10-12 reps per exercise and yield the full rewards of having killer traps.

Stretch it out

Most pro athletes have a pre and post workout stretching ritual. They generally perform static and ballistic stretches before weight training or high intensity workouts. They will also perform static stretching for 60 – 90 seconds soon after training a body part, or at the end of a workout. This boosts flexibility and recovery, and may also lead directly to greater muscle size via fascia expansion. Stretching is also vital in order to keep injuries away – so it is important to find the time to stretch each muscle group out.

Clean up your training

The power clean is a compound, free-weight lift that allows you to pack on the plates and work several major body parts at once. In other words, it’s an excellent exercise and yet gym goers avoid it like distance running. So for real results add cleans to your back or trap routine.

Implement the “Rest – Pause” principle

Rest – pause is a technique that many overlook; yet it is hugely effective in pushing your sets beyond failure. When you can’t push another rep set the weight down or hold it in a resting position just long enough to regain a limited amount of strength (about 15 – 20 seconds). Then force out another two to four reps until you reach failure again. Repeat this routine a second time to get an additional few reps in. If done correctly, this technique can make a huge difference to your training and progress.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Whilst variety can spice up your workouts and shock your muscles into expansion- don’t drop a current exercise that is working for another, merely for the sake of doing something new. Find the exercises that works best for you and use them until you reach a plateau. Rather manipulate tempo, rep ranges and training principles to increase the difficulty of such exercises – instead of switching it our for another exercise which doesn’t seem as effective to you.

Prepare for WAR!

Pre-workout nutrition is vital to fuel your workout and give you the energy required to smash your session. Ensure your diet plan includes carbs around your workout – especially on larger muscle groups such as legs and back. Oats and whey, nut butter and rice cakes, cream of rice and whey – these are popular pre workout meal options for adding on size. Sipping on your favourite intra-workout supplement, during the session will minimise muscle breakdown and allows for you to push harder. For muscle gain – the ideal intra-workout consists of BCAA’s, creatine, taurine, beta-alanine and glutamine.

Optimise rest

Fuel for recovery is also a very important aspect in training. Protein and glutamine supplements can be greatly beneficial in this regard as they both build and repair the muscle. Fast absorbing carbs (in moderation) should be consumed post workout in order to replenish the glycogen stores within the muscle. White rice or potatoes are favourites amongst bodybuilders.

Slow down – form is the key

Try using a significantly lighter weight than usual, but take 5–10 seconds on the eccentric phase (downward motion) and 5–10 seconds on the concentric (upward) movement of the exercise. By slowing down the eccentric and concentric movement, you can place emphasis on getting a full stretch and contraction. In this way training lighter is much more difficult – so be prepared to be humbled.

Use active rest

You might think the best way to recover from workouts is to lie on your back and do nothing. Wrong. In fact, there are several things you can do which will aid your recover rates. Low-intensity activities like walking, swimming and cycling can increase blood flow and aid recuperation, as well as stretching and foam rolling.

Not all lifts are equal

Mass-gaining articles often say you need to squat, deadlift and bench press to maximise gains. These are excellent compound exercises which do yield the desired results. However, many people suffer from injuries which may prohibit them from doing these compound movements with good form. Try out some variations by using the machines such as the hack squat, leg press, assisted squat machines for legs; the seated chest press machines and also the lat pulldown and low cable pulley row to add size to your back.

Cardio comes last

If you pair cardio with your weight-training workouts- get your cardio in post weight training. This order of exercise ensures the cardio doesn’t fatigue your muscles. It also burns more fat, due to weight training depleting glycogen stores within the muscle. Studies also show that this order of events raises your growth hormone as opposed to completing cardio prior to weight training.

Switch it up – stance and grip

Don’t get too comfortable doing exercises the same way – all the time. There are a few ways to tweak the way you perform some exercises, which still allow for good form. Altering your stance and grip can lead to greater muscle stimulus across the muscle group, holistically. 

For example, a narrower squat stance targets your outer quads more, close-grip bench presses focus on your triceps and inner chest, and rack pulls hit your traps more than your legs.

21’s aren’t just for biceps

You’re probably familiar with 21’s – biceps curls performed by first doing seven partial reps from full stretch to halfway up, then seven from halfway up to full contraction, followed (finally) by seven full range of motion reps. Why not apply this to other exercises, such as leg curls and calf raises? (Also note that, blackjack aside, there’s nothing special about 21; you can do 15’s, 30’s or any other number divisible by three).

Flex it till you get it

Whether or not you ever intend to enter a bodybuilding contest or fitness pageant, one of the best ways to increase your mind-muscle connection is to practice posing in front of a mirror. Flex and pose between sets also ensures that the muscle is engaged fully – allowing for maximum blood flow in and out of the muscle. Posing is also an excellent way of finding imbalances in your physique and therefore allowing you to take corrective action.

Carry your weight

Some seemingly easy bodyweight lifts are an effective and convenient addition to the last half of a superset. For example, you can do pushups just after flyes, bench dips just after tricep extensions or weightless lunges just after leg presses.

Rescue a bad workout

Sometimes, for whatever reason, your workout just doesn’t go as well as planned. If you haven’t stressed a body part enough- add something like a long drop set, a superset or an additional exercise performed at high reps. This “burner” might just give the under stressed muscle(s) the kickstart it needs to get your session back on track.

Do Nothing!

When strength and/or growth gains stop – don’t keep doing the same thing the same way. You need to alter your training parameters by changing rep structure, exercises, training frequency or travel a completely different route to muscle growth. Another suggestion is to do nothing – literally. Once or twice a year spend up to two weeks away from the gym and take a well deserved rest, because when you return you should find your intensity is revitalized and your body well rested.