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Bodybuilding Techniques

Copyright Andy Fairclough

Though by no means all of the bodybuilding techniques out there, this article covers the techniques that have the best results. Negatives, drop sets, pyramids, giant sets, twenty-ones, partial reps, forced reps, and super are the techniques we will consider. You can use one or two of these for each muscle in a given workout, and vary which ones you choose depending on the day.

These all are nice ways to end exercises for a particular muscle group, so you could add whichever ones you felt were appropriate to your standard workout. for example, if you were working your chest and triceps you could throw in a pyramid set for your triceps one day and some negatives the next time you work out. This variety will not allow your muscles to adapt to your workout and thus you will prevent stagnation.

Negatives - Negatives are an extremely effective way to add size and strength. They are so effective because they stimulate muscle fibers that normally aren’t worked. To perform a negative you need a weight that is more than you can lift up. You start at what is normally the end of the rep and slowly lower the weight. If you choose the right poundage, you will be able to hold the weight in place for a few seconds, and then you should be unable to resists its decline.

There are two ways to have a weight heavier than you can lift. The first is just to grab it off the rack, have a spotter set you up, and go at it. The second is to perform some reps to absolute failure, and then have your spotter put up the weight so you can lower it for the negative. We recommend the second technique. Both, though, are great ways to stimulate your muscles. Also note you may feel sore not one but two days after performing negatives; this is normal and even has a name: DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness.

Drop sets – These are a nice way to finish up a workout for a particular muscle, and they will give your muscles a pumped up feeling. Drop sets are easy enough to do; you start an exercise with a high weight you can only do once or twice. Do as many reps as you can, then you have a partner strip off 5 or 10 pounds quickly and again, do as many reps as you can. If you do it right you will end up using 5 pounds and barely able to lift it.

Drop sets can be performed using free weights or a machine, but using a machine is probably easier. Pyramids are similar to drop sets except if you start out doing high reps with low weight. Then, you add weight until you cant do a single rep, and finally you move back down the pyramid by stripping the weight exactly as you would in a drop set.

Giant Sets - a workout in themselves for one muscle group. For every muscle except your back you could get away with doing only a giant set as the workout for that muscle. This is because a giant set is essentially three exercises performed successively for a particular muscle. The best way to illustrate a giant set is by example: If you were to work out your biceps using a giant set you would first choose three of your favorite bicep exercises. Figure out what weights you can do for each of them and then subtract about five pounds from each. Then arrange the exercises in the order such that you lift the most weight first and the least weight last.

So for biceps if you chose barbell curls, reverse curls, and hammer curls as your exercises, and you could do 10 reps of 80lbs. for barbell curls, 10 reps of 30lbs. for reverse curls, and 10 reps of 40lbs. for hammer curls, then you would do them in this order: barbell curls, hammer curls, and reverse curls. Perform the three exercises one after another with no rest in between, and then give yourself a 2-3 minute break afterwards. 10 reps for each exercise works best. After your 2-3 minutes rest perform another giant set.

Twenty-ones - a technique used to work every part of a muscle, rather than just one range like the middle range. The full range of a rep is from a fully extended position to a fully contracted position. Using the bicep curl as an example, the low range of the rep would be having your arm fully extended and your elbow locked straight, while the high range would be with your bicep fully contracted and your hand as close to your shoulder as possible. If you are doing a regular curl, any weight you choose will not be enough to stimulate your biceps whole range. For example, if you choose 80 pounds and you can do 12 reps, by the end of the 12 reps you will too tired to continue. However, you know that if you had to lift the weight only slightly, (maybe you start resting off your leg and lift it a few inches) or if you started with the weight almost all the way up and had to lift it up to your chest you could have.

This means your bicep was fatigued in its middle range but not in its upper and lower ranges. This is where twenty-ones come in. To perform twenty-ones you do 7 reps in the low range, 7 reps in the middle range, and 7 reps in the upper range. So if you were doing bicep curls you would start fully extended, then do 7 reps where you came up 30 degrees (or a couple inches), then do 7 reps in the midrange from 30 degrees to about 60 degrees, and finally do 7 reps from 60 degrees to the point where the bar is touching your chest. Keep repeating until you cant do any reps in ANY range. So, if you couldn’t do any in the bottom or middle ranges but could in the upper range, keep going until absolute failure.

Partial reps - are an exercise in one particular range of a muscle. Maybe you feel that you want to build a particular part of a muscle or work on weakness in a certain range. To beat a dead horse, let’s use the biceps as an example. Usually, people do various types of curls for the biceps and work primarily the middle range. This builds general thickness in the bicep but neglects the bottom especially. When you see a really built bicep it has thickness right next to the inner part of the elbow (plus, its farther down from the sleeve of your tee-shirt!)

To build this thickness you would want to perform partial reps from a fully extended position to where you lifted the weight about 30 degrees. On a side note, a particularly effective exercise for the bottom range of the bicep is a decline bench curl, where you angle the seat of a bench so you sit back 20 or 20 degrees and perform dumbbell curls from a fully extended position. Partial reps are essential when you feel that you have pretty good muscularity but you really want to add thickness and definition to all parts of the muscle.

Forced reps – Forced reps, like negatives, are a way to completely tire out your muscle fibers. Its probably a good idea to save these for the last exercise of a muscle. You need a partner to do forced reps, but the rest is cake. Perform your set as you normally would, but when you can’t go on have your partner start to assist you. Keep performing reps with your partner’s assistance until the partner is lifting all of the weight. Make sure than your partner is providing enough support where you are lifting the most weight you can while the weight is still moving. So if the weight is going too fast you know the partner is helping too much and if the weight is too slow the partner is not helping enough (or you need to push harder).

Super Sets - Last but not least we come to super sets. Like giant sets, super sets are a group of exercises performed without rest in between them. However, super sets will work two separate muscle groups. When you perform a super set choose two muscles that oppose each other. A good example is a super set using biceps and triceps, which are opposing muscle groups. Two or three exercises is standard, so either one exercise for each muscle or two for one muscle and one for the other. A common super set for the biceps and triceps would be as follows: first, skull 10 reps of skull crushers followed by bicep curls (most people can use the same bar they used for the skull crushers) and finished with triceps pushdowns on a machine. Do this with no rest between sets, and 2-3 minutes of rest after the super set.

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