You can train beyond muscle failure without the help of a partner. Here are three high-intensity training techniques you can use when training alone.
I’m a loner by nature. No, this is not about my marital status, but about the fact that I do not have a training partner.
Of course, I’ve tried with a partner before, but finding someone with similar training goals and the same dedication to their favorite sport, and also willing to practice for hours on end, was not easy. Add to this that the partner had to match my level of training. Who wants to take a dozen pancakes off the bar before each set so they can be re-hung in a minute?
As a result, barbell locks became my only partners, and I train in splendid isolation.
The importance of muscle failure
The downside to training alone is that it’s harder for me to push myself to work to failure. It’s almost unrealistic to do these final reps when no one backs you up or spurs you on with words of encouragement. It is not surprising that many of my approaches ended in a step away from muscle failure.
What’s bad about it? Training to failure is an important aspect of muscle growth. This is why successful bodybuilders have learned to enjoy the pain and sensation of their muscles on fire. In the end, behind this fire, the horizons of real muscle growth open up. Remember the bodybuilding motto “No pain, no gain!”
Moreover, all the evidence points to the particular importance of training after muscle failure, when you can no longer continue the approach without assistance. While science says it’s counterproductive to push every set to failure, 1-2 outrageous sets on each exercise can make a lot of progress. This will damage the muscle fibers more. This means that with rest and proper nutrition, muscles have a better chance of recovering and getting bigger.
You might think that it is impossible to train to failure without a partner, but it is not! Here are some training strategies to overcome the point of failure without assistance. Try them.
This technique exploits the ability of muscle fibers to quickly replenish the energy that drives muscle contractions. Instead of doing a heavy set of 7-8 reps and hanging the bar on the stops, because you don’t have the strength to continue, use the rest-pause technique. Take the same weight and break the set into segments separated by 20-second breaks. Such pauses will allow you to quickly restore the reserves of the intramuscular energy supply system.
Try 3-4 reps, take a 20 second break, and do 3-4 more reps. Alternate between work and rest periods until you have a total of 4-5 work cycles. By the end of a full set, you will have 12-20 reps – a lot more work than if you only did 7-8 reps without a break. The dramatic increase in intensity will cause additional muscle damage and help spur the secretion of anabolic hormones that stimulate hypertrophy.
During training. Use this intensity booster at the start of your workout before your strength drops. As a general rule, you should choose a working weight with which you can do 7-8 reps (but in reality, you are limited to only 3-4). Alternatively, you can choose a lower or higher weight and adjust the target number of repetitions. For example, try taking a weight that you can complete 12 reps with (your 12-rep maximum) and link 6-7 repetitions in 20-second intervals.
The best exercises. The best choice will be multi-joint movements, which do not require much effort when removing the working weight from the stops. Therefore, the press on the shoulders or chest in the machine is preferable to the press with dumbbells. The Smith machine is particularly well suited for this purpose.
2. Partial repetitions
Normally, you do the exercise at full amplitude, starting from the position of maximum stretch of the muscle and ending with its full contraction. As a result, the approach ends when you stop at the so-called dead center. The peculiarity of biomechanics is such that fatigue overtakes you at the point at which the muscle lever takes the most disadvantageous position. For most of us, this point is somewhere in the middle of the trajectory of movement.
In partial reps, you focus on a specific segment of the movement path. For example, when you reach failure, limit the amplitude to the top of the trajectory, and you can complete several more reps with the same working weight. This will put more stress on the muscle fibers than they are used to.
For example, when curling your legs in a 50kg machine, you can do 8 reps, but nothing else. Do not give up! From a full contraction position, lower the weight to half and tense the muscles again. Continue in this manner until you feel the strength for these partial reps.
During training. Use the technique on the last set or two. It depletes the muscles more than full-range reps performed to failure, and this affects strength in subsequent sets and reps.
The best exercises. Choose movements in which shortened repetitions after muscle failure do not increase the risk of injury. In most cases, these are exercises in simulators.
3. Drop sets
Apart from warm-ups, you are likely to get very close to muscle failure in almost every set. Now, instead of lowering the barbell or hanging it on the supports, you quickly decrease the weight by 20-30% and continue the set until you get to the second failure. You can even repeat this technique three times.
In addition to burning more calories, this technique includes additional motor units and recruits as many muscle fibers as possible during the set. At the end of your workout, drop sets can also help you channel extra fluid into your muscles. This will help stretch the surrounding fascia muscles and trigger the secretion of anabolic hormones. Drop sets are also known as strip sets.
During training. This technique should be used in the last 1-2 sets of the exercise or during the final phase of the training session. The exponential increase in fatigue negatively affects strength in subsequent sets, so it is hardly a good idea to include drop sets at the beginning of a workout.
Rest periods should be kept as short as possible so that lighter work does not become an entirely new approach. Parsing the barbell with the subsequent return to the starting position – especially if you train alone – delays the rest intervals, so it is better to have shells ready for work on hand.
The best exercises. Trainers with a hairpin for adjusting the load (it’s easy to change the weight – just rearrange the clamp) and rods will be the best choice for drop sets. When working with dumbbells, keep a second pair close at hand. Using a barbell or pancake trainer, place light discs around the edges so that you can quickly reduce the load.