For people with joint issues, niggles, working through injuries or just only having access to limited weights at home the following tips can be an invaluable tool in creating muscle growth. You can still create a massive stimulus to the muscle without having to use massive weights on the joints and skeletal system.
Can you get stronger by lifting less weight?
Do you have to keep lifting heavier to keep getting stronger?
Is success always measured by how many plates are on the side of the bar?
The answer is yes and no. Yes, you will get stronger if you keep progressing by lifting weights that are heavier over time. If you started lifting weights more than 10 years ago you know the answer to this. Put it like this you started lifting weights at 20 in 2008 and every month you went up 5kg in your bench press (that's only 2 small 2.5 kg plates on each side) and say your starting weight was 50 kg. By this logic, you would be benching 650 kgs today! The current world bench press champion is Ryan Kennelly, who pressed 1075 lbs (487.6 kg) on November 8, 2008. Chances are you are not him.
Your joints, the stress levels and the injury risks all go up exponentially if you keep just pushing for the max all the time. Think building strength in your training not testing it and that's half the battle to success. How can you increase your strength without just adding weight to the bar or picking up a heavier dumbbell? Try adding some of following (or all) into your program for a 4-8 week block and then test your strength and see if it has a positive effect. The more muscle you have the easier it is to move things. The following are simple ways to pack on muscle using less or no weight.
Pump up the Volume
Very simple a "lightweight" about 10-30% of what you can lift maximally and perform as many reps as you can with good form stop just shy of total fatigue take a brief rest and go again. This can easily include body weight as shown here. As the reps increase the resistance will feel heavier. There are many names for this type of training as many reps as possible (amrap) or escalating density training etc..but put simply you are trying to squeeze as many reps as possible out of a given resistance...however long it takes. Here I am completing about 300 reps with a brief 10-20 sec rest in between blocks of roughly 50-60 reps.
Top tip is to pair two exercises together using different muscle groups so you work on one while the other gets a brief rest. This is also a great time saver. Simply put you are using volume as the training stimulus and it's often overlooked. A lot of people are fixed in the rep range mentality of 4x12 or 5 x10 but if you go by honest feel you will be shocked at how many reps you can squeeze into a session. Try to go for time instead of sets reps. Try to go amrap for 5 mins. Could be a revelation of what you can achieve. I often have some of my clients perform over a 1000 reps in some sessions and they are always shocked at what they can achieve with some encouragement and sensible programming.
If you'd like to know how I can get you to do over a 1000 reps and give your muscle no recourse but to grow contact here
Creating massive muscular stress without the baggage of joint shear is a holy grail when it comes to building muscle particularly into your 30,40 and 50's etc.
The objective of Occlusion training is to occlude venous flow without significantly affecting arterial circulation. In this way, blood goes into the muscle but can't escape.”Research on the hypertrophy effects of BFR is compelling. Studies show that merely occluding blood flow to bedridden patients can prevent atrophy and weakness, without performing any training at all!
Moreover, walking with blood flow restricted to the legs – not exactly your classic muscle-building activity – has been found to significantly increase muscle strength and size. But the real hypertrophy benefits of BFR occur when it's applied in concert with resistance exercise.
Numerous studies show substantial increases in muscle growth when low-load lifting (~20-30% 1RM) is combined with flow restriction. Gains are often on par with traditional heavy-load training during early-stage training, sometimes even greater.” Brad Schoenfeld. BFR= blood flow restriction =same as occlusion.
Take everything with a pinch of salt. It seems to work best for single joint movement and as finishers. Think triceps/biceps EDT circuits at the end of a session etc not compound movements (eg. barbell squats )
Adding pauses and holds to your tempo training can dramatically increase the difficulty and amount of stress put on the muscles. These can be performed with light weights or often body weight. Progressions are simple go for a longer duration. Shown here is a chin-up 90-degree hold. You can also add 5-10 sec isometric holds into a standard set. Eg. Perform 20 bicep curls. Perform 10 reps then a 10 secs isometric hold then perform 10 reps then a final 10-sec hold. Should be challenging! Huge burn less weight. Think rep, pause, rep. Devastating but straightforward and very humbling.
Adding a timed eccentric (when the muscle lengthens ) increases the time under tension and ramps up the challenge of even simple moves. You can perform them as a single exercise or as reps example 5 sec lower on rear foot elevated split squat 1 sec concentric (up) x 5 reps. Progressions can be to increase the eccentric time or increase total reps. You can also combine eccentric and isometrics for double the fun. Eg 5 sec lower: 5 secs hold: 1 sec up x 8 reps at body weight. Give it a go and see what you think.
Go Interstellar and mess with gravity
Manipulating your centre of gravity (think trying to do a shoulder press on one leg) or the centre of mass of an object can dramatically increase the lever demands and humble even the strongest. How can you increase the resistance of a weight without making it lighter or heavier? There are tons of ways (pun intended).Here is a simple way with very light weights (6kg). Manipulate the centre of mass. Try this to appreciate it ... by placing the weight in a different position you can increase the lever length, increases the stability dimension or force greater demands on the grip. It’s science! Combining this by manipulating tempos (concentric, eccentric , isometrics, time under tension ) you have a powerful arsenal to supercharge any perceived “lightweights “ you have in the gym or at home. For people with joint issues, niggles, working through injuries this can be an invaluable tool in creating muscle growth without increasing weight on the joints and skeletal system but still blasting the muscle with a stimulus
Be Uber strict on form.
Doing it light and right. Shown here I am trying to dial into using the right muscles at the right time in these lunges and it feels twice as heavy. Focusing on the muscles being used not merely focusing on moving the weight can be a huge eye-opener for people. If you are naturally fast or play field sports you may have often used speed to compensate on movement patterns and tried to bypass your weak points. This is a natural body response to find efficiencies. If you want to grow you need to focus on the muscles you are supposed to be using on a given exercise and develop that mind muscle connect. I call them honest reps!
As head of body weight training here at FFS Gyms, I am continually looking at challenging ways to make people stronger while using body weight or less weight. Not because there is anything wrong with using more weight(I love to lift heavy weights) but because as you get older and if you want to keep packing on lean muscle you've got to find ways of creating the maximum amount of stress on the muscle with the minimal amount of stress on the joints. I know this because I've beaten up most of them over the years and learnt a lot of lessons along the way. You can still lift heavy but you have to add more layers to your training to get the most out of yourself. I am always testing out new exercises, coming up with my own and then passing on the benefits to our athletes here at FFS Gyms. I also know how to perform over 2,000 exercises using just a 10kg plate but that is another story for another day. If you'd like to know more about how to get stronger with less weight or how you can perform a 1000 reps in less than 45 mins contact me about personal training or online training here.
Try some of the above training methods and see the benefit they can have to your performance, health and body composition. Whether it's light or heavy you should always be ready to grow and if you are smart there should be no ceiling on your ambitions.
Craig is a Personal trainer at FFS Gyms and he believes “After seeing countless individuals training, common unbreakable themes are all present when it comes to success” He is head of body weight training at FFS Gyms and also offers online coaching. If you are interested in training with Craig please contact here