The 11 Greatest Bodybuilding Training Methods!


High-intensity bodybuilding techniques are as old as the sport of bodybuilding itself. Way back in the 1960s the first-ever Mr. Olympia was using tri-sets with post-failure partial repetitions to build up his legendary arms! 

If you want to build muscle as quickly as possible then you must begin experimenting with the 11 greatest bodybuilding training methods of all time!

Introduction

  • Method #1: Supersets
  • Method #2: Tri-sets
  • Method #3: Giant Sets
  • Method #4: Drop Sets
  • Method #5: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets
  • Method #6: Rest-Pause Sets
  • Method #7: Forced Reps
  • Method #8: Partial Reps
  • Method #9: Isometric Training
  • Method #10: Eccentric Training
  • Method #11: Escalating Density Training

I am a huge fan of using high-intensity bodybuilding techniques to rapidly boost muscular hypertrophy.

Training methods such as tri-sets, mechanical advantage drop sets, rest-pause sets, and eccentric training are all superior to traditional straight sets for building muscle.

The one thing that all of these training methods have in common is they prolong the total time under tension of a set.

This is critical because muscular hypertrophy is largely a function of the training load and the total time under tension. For example:

Hypertrophy = (Load) x (Time under tension)

If you can use a training technique such as giant sets or forced reps to prolong the total time under tension without sacrificing the load used then you will build muscle significantly faster.

I believe all of these training methods are viable options in a bodybuilder’s long-term program design.

Some lifters will build muscle faster by focusing on just one or two of these techniques. Other individuals will get their best results cycling through many different training methods during their accumulation phases.

Regardless of which approach you take it is critical that you use at least some of these bodybuilding techniques in your hypertrophy training program.

Note: all of the routines listed are written with all of the loading parameters clearly defined. If you are new to this type of routine format then I suggest you consult this article.

Now let’s get down to business…

Method #1: Supersets

Supersets are easily one of the oldest high-intensity training techniques. Supersets were invented as a way to prolong the time under tension on a muscle and thus make it work harder.

The steps for performing a superset are very simple: you perform 2 exercises for the same body part with only 10 seconds rest in between sets.

The 10 second rest break is critical as it gives your high-threshold motor units just enough time to recover and be recruited again for the second set.

If you try to perform 2 exercises back-to-back with literally no rest between exercises then your performance on the second exercise will be compromised. 

Origin-Insertion Supersets

One of my favorite ways to structure an arm workout for a bodybuilder is with origin-insertion supersets. This is a special type of superset that takes advantage of the anatomy of muscles to inflict maximum muscular damage.

Every muscle has an origin and an insertion.

The origin is the part of the muscle that is closer to your spine while the insertion is the part of the muscle that is furthest away from the spine.

For example, for the biceps the origin is near the shoulder while the insertion is near the elbow.

Origin-insertion supersets involve super setting two exercises that overload both attachment sites of the muscle. This is a brutal training technique that results in a ton of muscle damage and soreness!

Of course if you are properly recovering outside of the gym this will equate to new muscle growth.

Here is a complete origin-insertion arm workout:

  • A1: Close pronated grip pull ups, 5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral preacher zottman curls, 5 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A3: Decline close grip bench press, 5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Decline ez-bar extension (to chin), 5 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest

Here are the exercise videos for this workout: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise A4.

This workout is designed to maximally overload the brachialis and the lateral head of the triceps.

The brachialis is easily one of the most neglected muscle groups in the human body. Most people use a supinated (underhand) grip for the majority of their curling exercises. This probably has something to do with the fact that you are stronger when you curl with a supinated grip.

The supinated grip works the biceps brachii very hard but largely neglects the brachialis muscle. This is a huge mistake as a well-developed brachialis muscle can add inches to your upper arm size.

The lateral had of the triceps is also a rather neglected muscle group. It is strongly activated during decline compound and isolation exercises which explains the exercises chosen for this routine.

When fully developed the lateral head of the triceps really adds width to the triceps and gives you the coveted “look of power.” Just look at pictures of Kevin Levrone to see what I mean!

Now let’s look at a killer lower back superset featuring rack pulls and back extensions.

Helen Maroulis is an American free-style wrestler and Olympic gold medalist. She trained directly with the world-renowned strength coach to prepare for the 2016 Olympic games where she won the gold medal in her sport.

Immediately after the Olympic games Charles decided that Helen’s lower back was too weak relative to the rest of her body. He designed the following superset for Helen to add slabs of muscle to her lower back and posterior chain.  Check it out:

Helen Maroulis’ Lower Back Superset

  • A1: Rack Pull (mid-shin height), 5 x 8-10, 2/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 90 degree back extension (holding DB at chest), 5 x 10-12, 2/0/1/2/ 120 seconds rest  

If your posterior chain is falling behind in development to the rest of your physique then I highly recommend you give this routine a shot.

Of course there are many other ways to design superset workouts. I believe the two superset workouts provided here will provide you with enough information to start designing your own.

Method #2: Tri-sets

As the name suggests, “tri”-sets involve performing three exercises back-to-back for the same body part with only 10 seconds rest in between sets.

The extended time under tension of the set works like magic for boosting muscular hypertrophy.

I have to admit I have a soft-spot for tri-sets. They work INCREDIBLY well for a large percentage of the training population.

Performing three exercises in this manner seems to hit the sweet-spot for many trainees.

In this section I am going to show you three tri-set workouts that you can use in your training right now. Let’s kick things off with a brutal chest tri-set featuring 3 extremely effective chest exercises for mass.

Brutal Chest Tri-Set

  • A1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 5 x 6-8, 3/2/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 30 degree incline DB press, 5 x 8-10, 3/2/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Machine pec-dec, 5 x 12-15, 2/1/X/1, 180 seconds rest

Each of the exercises in this tri-set were chosen to overload your chest in unique ways.

The first exercise in this routine is v-bar dips. This exercise is not just for training the triceps! In fact, when you use a forward leaning torso the v-bar dip becomes one of the very best mass-building exercises you can do for your chest.

The key to making this exercise work for you is to go as far down as you safely can. The stretch you get in the bottom position of this exercise is absolutely insane!

The second exercise is the 30 degree incline DB press. There isn’t anything fancy about this exercise. However, the use of dumbbells and the slight incline allow you to overload the upper chest really well.

Finally we end the tri-set with the machine pec-dec. This exercise works extremely well for bodybuilding purposes when it is used at the end of a chest workout and for higher reps.

You really want to focus on getting a full stretch and contraction on this exercise. These are the two parts of the movement that matter the most.

Here is another fantastic arm workout that you may want to try. This workout features a special type of tri-set: uni-angular tri-set.

This simply involves selecting three different exercises that work the target muscle in the same muscular plane. This will make more sense when you see the exercises below. Check it out:

Biceps Uni-Angular Tri-Set

  • A1: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 5 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 5 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Bilateral preacher DB curl (supinated grip), 5 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

Here are the training videos for this tri-set routine: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3.

All three of these exercises are performed on the preacher bench. You simply change the grip or the type of equipment (ez-bar vs dumbbells) on each exercise.

Each of these three variations taps into a different portion of the motor unit pool of the biceps. This just means you will recruit and fatigue more muscle fibers thanks to the variety of exercises chosen. This is very similar to the tri-set routine Larry Scott used to build his legendary arms!

The Ultimate Quadriceps Tri-Set

I don’t believe there is any such thing as the ultimate quadriceps hypertrophy routine. After all, a routine is only as good as the time it takes for you to adapt to it.

Most people’s bodies will get “bored” after 3-6 exposures to a specific workout. After 3-6 workouts you will normally have to switch to a different type of workout to continue making progress.

That being said I am particularly fond of the following quadriceps tri-set.

I know from experience that almost anyone who is having trouble growing their quadriceps can jump on this routine and start making screaming fast progress!

It uses a wide-variety of exercises, rep ranges, and tempos to thrash all of the muscle fibers in the quads! In fact, this routine can be thought of as the ultimate cure to “chicken-leg syndrome.” Check it out:

A Brutal Quadriceps Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Leg press, 4 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Seated leg extension, 4 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

The key to making this routine work for you is to take every single set to one rep shy of failure. This means that your last rep on every set should be a “grinder” but you will find a way to finish it.

This is much more challenging than it sounds as high-rep quadriceps work tends to produce an absolutely horrible amount of lactic acid.

If you perform this routine correctly you will feel like you are going to throw up your breakfast after the very first tri-set!

I highly recommend you keep a “puke bucket” near you if you are going to attempt this routine. Just remember, the results are more than worth it if you have the guts to attempt this type of routine.

Method #3: Giant Sets

Giant sets are easily one of the most extreme bodybuilding training methods that you can use in the gym.

Unlike a superset or a tri-set, a giant set involves performing at least 4 exercises back-to-back for the same body part with only ten seconds rest in between sets.

Please keep in mind that 4 exercises is the absolute minimum for a true giant set.

Guys like Milos Sarcev and Ben Pakulski used to use as many as 10 separate exercises in their own giant sets routines during the peak of their competitive bodybuilding careers!

Giant sets work similarly to superset and tri-sets. By prolonging the time under tension of a set you can recruit and fatigue a much greater number of muscle fibers. The amount of lactic acid and metabolic stress that you can accumulate on a true giant sets routine is absolutely horrifying.

There are two major disadvantages to giant sets that you need to be aware of.

First of all giant sets can be relatively difficult to recover form. This makes sense as the total volume (sets x reps) that you are performing is astronomical.

The other major disadvantage is that they are difficult to perform in a busy commercial gym. This is because you will need to hog multiple pieces of equipment to make it work.

There are some ways around this though. For example, the shoulders giant set routine featured below can be performed with nothing but an adjustable incline bench and some dumbbells.

Giant sets can be used for every body part. However, in my experience they tend to work best for the upper back, shoulders, and legs. Let’s kick things off with a giant set workout for the upper back.  Check it out:

Upper Back Giant Set Routine

  • A1: Barbell dead stop row, 4 x 10-12, 2/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: DB chest-supported row (on 30 degree incline bench), 4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/1, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Seated cable row (v-handle), 4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Wide pronated grip cable pull down, 4 x 10-12, 2/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A5: Wide neutral grip cable pull down, 4 x 10-12, 2/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest

This workout heavily emphasizes rowing exercises and is highly effective for increasing the “thickness” of your upper back.

As you may know upper back exercises can be divided into two separate categories for bodybuilding purposes: width exercises and thickness exercises.

Back width exercises primarily target the lats and teres major and include things such as pull ups and cable pulldowns. Back thickness exercises primarily target the traps, rhomboids, and spinal erectors and include things such as rows and deadlifts.

After four rounds of this giant set your entire backside will be thrashed and primed for growth!

Next let’s take a look at a sample shoulders giant set workout. Check it out:

Deltoids Giant Set Workout

  • A1: Seated DB overhead press, 4 x 6-8, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Poliquin DB lateral raise, 4 x 12-15, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Prone rear delt DB raise (on 45 degree incline bench), 4 x 12-15, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Seated DB partial lateral raise, 4 x 20-30, 1/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A5: Prone rear delt DB partial raise (on 45 degree incline bench), 4 x 20-30, 1/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest

Here are the training videos for this workout: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise A4, exercise A5.

As I mentioned earlier this workout can be performed using nothing but an adjustable incline bench and an assortment of dumbbells. This routine can be performed even in a busy commercial gym.

It may seem strange to perform a giant set workout for a relatively smaller muscle group such as the deltoids. In reality there are two reasons why the deltoids respond fantastically to a well-designed giant sets workout.

First of all the deltoids have a huge variety of fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers. The deltoids really need a large variety of rep ranges for maximum development.

The second reason is that the deltoids are an incredibly complex muscle group. Most people believe there are three heads to the deltoid muscle: the front delts, the lateral delts, and the rear delts. While this is a useful mental “shortcut” there are actually seven seperate heads to the deltoid muscle! 

If you want to fully develop each of these seven muscle heads then a large variety of exercises is called for.If you are looking for some quick growth in your deltoids then I highly recommend you give this routine a shot. You won’t regret it!

Giant Sets For The Hamstrings

The hamstrings are another muscle group that respond quite well to giant sets training.

Part of the reason for this is the fact that the hamstrings have two major functions:

  1. Bending the knees
  2. Extending the hips

In order to maximally develop the hamstrings you need to include exercises that work both of these functions. With that in mind here is a fantastic hamstrings giant set workout you may want to try. Check it out:

A Terrifying Hamstrings Giant Set Routine

  • A1: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointed straight), 4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Romanian deadlift, 4 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: 45 degree back extension (holding DB at chest), 4 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Standing barbell good morning, 4 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest

This routine can be thought of as a pre-exhaust workout.

The hamstrings are first isolated with the lying leg curls. Next you move into three separate compound exercises that are sure to thrash every remaining muscle fiber in the hamstrings!

Actually this routine is also fantastic for developing the glutes and the spinal erectors.

By the end of this workout you may feel like you are a full 2 inches shorter thanks to the lower back pump!

Method #4: Drop Sets

Drop sets are easily one of the oldest hypertrophy training methods. After all, what could be more natural than performing a set to failure, then stripping some weight off and continuing to bust out more reps?

Drop sets are a fantastic training method for pumping a lot of blood into the working muscle and achieving a very deep level of muscular stimulation. As an added bonus you don’t need to hog multiple pieces of equipment like you do with giant sets.

There are many ways to design a drop set workout. Of course when most people think of drop set workouts they think of higher-rep drop set protocols.

There is nothing wrong with this but in the routines below I want to open your eyes to some highly effective fast-twitch drop set protocols.

These can be an awesome way to target the fast-twitch muscle fibers and develop impressive levels of functional hypertrophy.

Let’s kick things off with a 12/6/6 drop set workout designed to blow your arms up. Check it out:

12/6/6 Drop Set Arm Routine

  • A1: Standing ez-bar curl (close / supinated grip), 3 x 12/6/6***, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Dead stop skull crusher, 3 x 12/6/6***, 2/1/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Incline cable curl, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated ez-bar french press (close / supinated grip), 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

***Performed as a 12/6/6 drop set. Perform 12 reps, reduce the weight by approximately 10% and rest 10 seconds, perform 6 reps,  reduce the weight by approximately 10% and rest 10 seconds, perform 6 reps, DONE!

Here are the exercise videos for this workout: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

This is a relatively straightforward drop set workout. The higher rep ranges are designed to thoroughly exhaust the lower threshold motor units in the upper arms and to give you a tremendous pump.

I am quite confident you are familiar with standing ez-bar curls. However, the other exercises might be new to you. Dead stop skull crushers are an invention of the ever-creative Dante Trudel.

They are designed to allow you to really isolate the triceps and do a fantastic job of overloading the long head of the triceps.

Incline cable curls are a great exercise for targeting the long head of the biceps. Of course the long head is strongly activated any time you do a curling exercise with the elbows held behind the torso, such as with incline DB curls and incline cable curls.

Finally the french press is an exercise designed to isolate the long head of the triceps. You will get a tremendous stretch and pump with this exercise. It tends to work best when it is performed at the end of your routines and with higher rep ranges.

Japanese Drop Sets

This is going to be the first of two fast-twitch drop set protocols covered in this article.

This drop set protocol was first developed and tested by a team of Japanese researchers in the early 21st century.

On a Japanese drop set workout you are going to perform five sets of five reps on an exercise. On the last set of five reps you are going to perform the following drop set.

For example:

  • Perform 5 reps with your 5-rep max, drop the weight by about 10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 5 reps, drop the weight by about 10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 5 reps, drop the weight by about 10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 5 reps, drop the weight by about 10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 5 reps, DONE!!

This technique is absolutely brutal! Your fast-twitch muscle fibers get absolutely mauled but you also accumulate a tremendous amount of metabolic fatigue.

All in all Japanese drop sets represent a powerful hypertrophy stimulus. Here is a lower body routine you may want to try:

Lower Body Japanese Drop Set Workout:

  • A1: Back squat (narrow stance / heels slightly elevated), 5 x 5**, 3/1/X/1, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Seated hamstring curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointed out), 5 x 5**, 3/1/X/1, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Leg press, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Reverse hyperextension, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**The fifth set is performed as a Japanese drop set as described above.

Trust me, this routine is far more demanding than it looks!

Method #5: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets

Mechanical advantage drop sets are one of my absolute favourite bodybuilding training methods for packing on slabs of muscle in record time.

They are also a favourite of world-class stretch coaches such as Christian Thibadeau, Josh Bryant, and Wolfgang Unsold. 

Mechanical advantage drop sets are similar to supersets, tri-sets, and giant sets.

Multiple exercises are performed back-to-back for the same body part with minimal rest in between sets. This makes the target muscle groups work longer which is fantastic for stimulating hypertrophy gains.

However, the unique thing about mechanical advantage drop sets is the fact that you are going to perform 2-4 variations of the same exercise!

You may want to change things such as your grip, your stance, the angle of the incline bench etc. from one exercise to the next.

The other wrinkle is you are not going to change the load used from one exercise variation to the next! The key to making this work is to sequence your exercises correctly.

You are going to start with the exercise variation that you are weakest on and end with the one you are weakest on.

Because you are constantly progressing to movements where you are stronger you can continue to bust out reps without changing the load used!

This training method is especially useful if you train in a busy commercial gym because you don’t need to hog multiple pieces of equipment to make it work. 

Let’s kick things off with a brutal upper back mechanical advantage drop sets workout. Check it out:

Upper Back Mechanical Advantage Drop Set Workout

  • A1: Wide pronated grip pull ups, 5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Medium supinated grip chin ups, 5 x AMRAP***, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest 
  • A3: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 5 x AMRAP***, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: T-bar row, 3 x 8-10, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest

***Perform as many reps as you can with the same load used on exercise A1. 

Here is a great training video for the first part of this routine:

This is a fantastic routine for adding mass to your lats. Charles Poliquin does a fantastic job of walking you through this workout step-by-step.

You may need to decrease the load used from one mechanical advantage drop set to the next.

For example, if you are using your bodyweight plus 25 pounds for the first circuit, then you may want to try your bodyweight plus 15 pounds for the second circuit etc.

If you have any interest in performing this workout then I highly recommend you watch the following video in its entirety:

Brachialis Mechanical Advantage Drop Set

One of the very best ways to increase the size of your elbow flexors is to perform a mechanical advantage drop set on preacher curls. 

This routine will thrash all of the muscle fibers in the elbow flexors but it is especially useful for developing the brachialis muscle.

The brachialis tends to be underdeveloped in most trainees as very few people dedicate a lot of training time to reverse curling exercises. Check it out:

Preacher Curl Mechanical Advantage Drop Set

  • A1: Preacher ez-bar curls (narrow / pronated grip), 4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curls (wide / pronated grip), 4 x AMRAP***, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Preacher ez-bar curls (wide / supinated grip), 4 x AMRAP***, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Preacher ez-bar curls (narrow / supinated grip), 4 x AMRAP***, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

***Perform as many reps as you can with the same load used on exercise A1. 

This routine is very simple to perform. I said simple, not easy!

All you have to do is change your grip on the ez-curl bar from one exercise to the next. This is possible because each time you change exercises you are moving to an exercise that you are stronger on.

Do not be surprised if you only muster a few reps on your last 1 or 2 exercises. This is completely normal.

Now let’s look at a mechanical advantage drop set for everyone’s favorite muscle group: the chest. mechanical advantage drop set that you can perform for your chest. This routine specifically targets the muscle fibers of the upper chest with a variety of incline pressing movements.

If you are like most bodybuilders your upper chest could use some extra attention so this routine will serve you well. Check it out:

Mechanical Advantage Chest Routine

  • A1: 75 degree incline DB press, 5 x 10-12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 45 degree incline DB press, 5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: 15 degree incline DB press, 5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same load used on exercise A1. 

You are obviously much stronger on more horizontal pressing movements than you are on overhead pressing movements.

Therefore as you progress to the second and third exercise you should be able to continue busting out reps without changing the dumbbells that you are using.

I know a lot of people will scoff at the idea of performing high-incline pressing movements for targeting the chest.

This is a serious mistake as the chest is still activated during high-incline movements. For example, here is Ben Pakulski talking about the benefits of performing a wide variety of incline pressing exercises for chest:

Of course if you think you know more about chest training than Ben Pakulski (one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry) then feel free to skip this video!

I’d like to share with you one final mechanical advantage drop set that you can perform. This one is for the legs and is absolutely AWESOME for boosting functional hypertrophy. Check it out:

Quadriceps Mechanical Advantage Drop Set Routine

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3-5 x 4-6, 5/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B2: Walking DB lunges, 3-4 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Lying leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / neutral), 3-4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • D1: Romanian deadlift, 3-4 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same load used on exercise A1. 

The key to making this routine work is that you literally use the same exact weight on the front squats and back squats!

You just rack the weight after your set of front squats and then immediately get under the bar and prepare for your set of back squats.

The time it takes you to walk the weight out should be around 10 seconds so there is no need to deliberately rest between these exercises. If you can get 1-3 total reps on the set of back squats then you are doing just fine.

Of course this routine can be combined with some additional hamstrings work to make a more complete leg workout (this is what I usually recommend). There are a variety of ways to do this so I will leave it up to your imagination!

Method #6: Rest-Pause Sets

Rest-pause sets are an unbelievably effective way to train for size.

They were invented by Dante Trudel in the mid-1990s although they really grew in popularity in the early 2000s when Dante posted his training ideas online.

The procedure for performing a rest-pause set is pretty straightforward:

  1. Perform a set to technical muscular failure. Dante usually recommends you get anywhere from 7-15 reps here.
  2. Rest 20-30 seconds. As an alternative you can take in 10-15 deep breaths.
  3. Go to failure a second time with the same weight.
  4. Rest 20-30 seconds. As an alternative you can take in 10-15 deep breaths.
  5. Go to failure a third time with the same weight.
  6. Done!!

Rest-pause sets may seem simple but they are incredibly effective. Josh Bryant has called rest-pause sets the “universal gainer” because they seem to work well for nearly everyone.

Christian Thibadeau, on the other hand, has called them the single greatest hypertrophy training method.

Here is a rest-pause routine that you may want to try for the chest, shoulders, and triceps. I find this type of routine works extremely well when performed as part of a 4 days per week push / pull / legs split. Check it out:

Chest / Shoulders / Triceps Rest-Pause Workout

  • A1: 15 degree incline DB press, 1 x 7-10***, 3/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • B1: Dips (forward torso), 1 x 7-10***, 3/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • C1: Hammer strength overhead press, 1 x 9-12***, 3/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • D1: Seated Poliquin lateral raise, 1 x 12-15***, 3/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • E1: Flat ez-bar extensions to forehead (narrow grip), 1 x 9-12***, 3/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • F1: Overhead rope cable extensions, 1 x 12-15***, 3/0/X/0, rest as needed

***Performed as a rest-pause set as described above. Go to failure in the listed rep range, rest 20-30 seconds, go to failure a 2nd time with the same weight, rest 20-30 seconds, go to failure a third time with the same weight, DONE!

Every exercise is trained with two rest-pause sets which is more than enough to cause a horrifying amount of muscle damage. I highly recommend you record all of your training weights in a logbook and try to beat your numbers at the next workout.

The Five-To-Eight Rest-Pause Method

Charles Poliquin developed his own rest-pause training protocol for his athletes.

This protocol is more geared towards developing functional hypertrophy and strength but it still may be of interest to a bodybuilder, particularly in an intensification phase.

Charles calls his method the “five-to-eight method.” Here is the exact protocol:

  • Perform 5 reps with your 5-rep max, rest 15 seconds.
  • Perform 1 rep with the same weight, rest 15 seconds.
  • Perform 1 rep with the same weight, rest 15 seconds.
  • Perform 1 rep with the same weight, DONE!

All in all you are completing eight total reps with your five-rep max.

As Charles liked to say, “your spleen should come out through your left eye on the fifth rep. Your left eye, not the right eye! This is very important.”

Here is an awesome upper body routine featuring the five-to-eight method. Check it out:

Upper Body 5 To 8 Method Workout

  • A1: Narrow neutral-grip pull ups, 3 x 5***, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Seated behind the neck press (shoulder-width grip), 3 x 5***, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Unilateral seated cable row (D-handle), 3 x 8-10, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: V-bar Dips (upright torso), 3 x 8-10, 2/2/1/0, 60 seconds rest 

***Performed as a “five-to-eight” rest-pause set as described above.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

Method #7: Forced Reps

Forced reps were a hypertrophy training method popularized by the 6 x Mr. Olympia winner Dorian Yates. He used forced reps for literally every body part as a way to build his super-human physique.

The procedure for performing a forced rep set is as follows:

  1. Perform a set to technical failure. Usually you will fail in the 5-10 rep range.
  2. Immediately after reaching failure your training partner will help you through the concentric range of an additional 1-3 repetitions. These are the forced reps. You are responsible for controlling the negative phase of these extra repetitions on your own.

Forced reps are really a form of eccentric training as they allow you to exhaust your eccentric strength levels after reaching failure.

Dorian is the only person in the world that I have seen make this observation.

For example, here is Dorian talking with Joe Rogan about overloading the eccentric portion of an exercise with forced reps:

There is a reason Dorian has been called the “mad genius of bodybuilding.” He truly was ahead of his time.

Here is a sample chest and biceps workout featuring forced reps. It is based off of the exact workouts that Dorian used in his prime to build his super-human physique. Check it out:

Dorian Yates’ Forced Reps Chest / Biceps Routine

  • A1: 30 degree incline bench press, 1 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • B1: Flat machine press, 1 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • C1: 30 degree incline fly, 1 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • D1: Standing cable crossover, 1 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • E1: 60 degree incline DB curl (supinating grip), 1 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • F1: Standing ez-bar curl (wide supinated grip), 1 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • G1: 1-arm preacher machine curl (supinated grip), 1 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed

**Perform 2 additional forced reps with the help of a partner after reaching technical failure.

On every exercise you are going to perform as many warm up sets as you need to get ready for your 1 working set. On the incline bench press that may be 4-5 warm up sets.

However, the other chest exercises may only require 1 warm up set as your chest is already warmed up from the incline presses.

On your 1 working set your job is to give absolutely everything you have and then some!

As Dorian Yates says in the above video your muscles should be completely shot after that one set. It’s one-and-done. Don’t leave anything left in the tank!

Method #8: Partial Reps

Partial repetitions are an extremely under-rated hypertrophy training technique. They have been used successfully by bodybuilders for a very long time although it is rare to see them being used properly in today’s modern era.

For example, Larry Scott was using partial reps to build his legendary biceps way back in the 1960s!

One of the best ways to use partial repetitions is to perform them in the stretched position of an exercise after first reaching technical failure (or something very close to it).

For example, here is the exact arm workout featuring partial reps that Larry Scott used to become the first-ever Mr. Olympia champion. Check it out:

Larry Scott’s Partial Reps Arm Workout

  • A1: Dumbbell Preacher Curls, 3 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Barbell Preacher Curls, 3 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Reverse Ez-Curl Bar, 3 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform 6 full range of motion reps then 4 partial “burns” out of the bottom position.

You can click right here to watch a great training video for this workout.

This is really a type of uni-angular tri-set. Of course the unique wrinkle to this routine is the partial reps in the stretched position.

Most trainees actively avoid the fully stretched position of preacher curls. I’m not sure why anyone would do this as the stretched position of preacher curls is the most beneficial part of the exercise!

In fact there is an abundance of new research supporting the use of loaded stretches to spur on additional muscle growth.

You will get your best results if you literally contract your triceps in the bottom position of preacher curls to place the greatest possible stretch on the biceps.

Another great exercise to perform partial reps on would be leg curls.  John Meadows has done a lot to popularize this technique in recent years and I have to agree that it is a fantastic way to stimulate growth in the hamstrings.

Here is a hamstrings training routine that you may want to try.  Check it out:

Partial Reps Hamstrings Routine

  • A1: Lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing in), 5 x 5-7**, 2/0/X/2, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Snatch grip Romanian deadlift, 4 x 10-12, 3/1/1/0, 120 seconds rest 

**Perform 5-7 full range of motion reps then 4 partial “burns” out of the bottom position.

These partial reps on lying leg curls are extremely painful but the results are more than worth the investment.

For example, here is John Meadows coaching one of his bodybuilding clients on how to perform partial reps on the lying leg curl:

Method #9: Isometric Training

And now for something completely different! Isometric training is an extremely powerful training method that you can use to spur on additional muscle growth.

However, if you are like most trainees I am willing to bet that you have never intentionally used isometric methods in your own program design.

I promise you that if you use any of the following techniques in your own training that you will make some of the best gains in your life.

Isometric Training Method #1: Isometronics

Let’s kick things off with a bench press isometronics routine.

Isometronics can be thought of as a combination of partial range of motion repetitions and full-bore overcoming isometric contractions.

You are going to need a power rack and two sets of safety pins in order to perform this method. Let’s take a look at the exact routine and some training videos before discussing it further. Check it out:

Bench Press Isometronics Hypertrophy Routine

  • A1: Bench press bottom-position isometronics (medium grip), 3 x 6**, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Bench press mid-position isometronics (medium grip), 3 x 6**, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Bench press mid-position isometronics (medium grip), 3 x 6**, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Bench press (medium grip), 1 x 6, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • E1: Decline ez-bar extension w/ chains (close grip, to chin), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest

**Perform 6 partial reps in between the safety pins (see video). On your fifth rep perform an overcoming isometric contraction into the top pin for 6-8 total seconds. You are trying to break the pins in half on this isometric!

**After the 6-8 second isometric contraction you lower the weight down to the bottom pins and attempt a seventh repetition. If you are able to complete this 7th rep then you need to increase the weight on the next set. If you fail on the 7th rep then the weight was just right.

Here is the training video for this isometronics workout:

The idea behind this routine is to pre-fatigue your muscles with several partial ranges of motion repetitions before performing one all-out overcoming isometric contraction for 6-8 seconds.

This combination is particularly nasty and will cause a tremendous amount of muscular damage to the fast-twitch muscle fibers.

The overcoming isometric contraction is very beneficial for hypertrophy purposes as you will be able to recruit a lot of otherwise dormant muscle fibers.

If you are going to perform this routine then you may want to perform it only every other chest workout.

For example, you could perform a simple 5 x 5 bench press routine in between every isometronics workout. This will help to prevent you from overtraining.

Isometric Training Method #2: Iso-Dynamics

An iso-dynamic set involves supersetting an isometric contraction with more traditional lifting. I learned this exact routine from Josh Bryant.

I can attest to its effectiveness as I have had some of my online coaching clients run it with outstanding results. Check it out:

Josh Bryant Triceps Iso-Dynamics Routine

  • A1: Close grip bench press overcoming isometric (3 inches shy of lockout)***, 3 x 6 seconds, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Close grip bench press w/ bands, 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Decline DB extension, 3 x 10, 5/0/1/0, 300 seconds rest

The overcoming isometric contraction in exercise “A1” will prime your nervous system and allow you to lift more weight in the second and third exercises. Overall this is an absolutely fantastic hypertrophy routine for the triceps.

Here is Josh Bryant taking two of his personal training clients through this exact workout:

I highly recommend you watch this video in its entirety if you are interested in using iso-dynamic training in your own training routines.

Josh Bryant could easily be regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on isometric training for bodybuilders and powerlifters. When Josh talks isometric training you would be wise to listen.

Isometric Training Method #3: Yielding Isometrics

Yielding isometrics are another way to utilize isometric training. Unlike the other two isometric training methods covered so far yielding isometrics involve preventing a weight from lowering down to the ground.

For example, if you hold your arms straight out to your sides then you are performing a yielding isometric contraction for your shoulders.

Yielding isometrics can be thought of as another form of eccentric training and are fantastic for stimulating hypertrophy gains.

One of the best ways to take advantage of yielding isometrics is to perform them at three separate points in a movement at the end of a set. Check it out:

Yielding Isometrics Upper Back Routine

  • A1: Shoulder-width supinated chin ups, 5 x 5-7***, 4/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • A2: Seated cable rope face pull, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/2, 120 seconds rest 

***Perform 3 seperate 8-second isometric pauses on the eccentric portion of your final repetition. You should perform these pauses near the top, at mid-range, and near the bottom of the exercise.

In my experience the upper back and biceps respond extremely well to yielding isometric protocols. If you give this upper back routine an honest try I am sure you will be pleased with the results!

Method #10: Eccentric Training

And now we’re getting to the really good stuff: eccentric training!

Eccentric training is probably the single best training method for boosting hypertrophy and strength in intermediate to advanced trainees.

This isn’t just my opinion though: the scientific literature has repeatedly demonstrated eccentric training to be a superior hypertrophy training method.

There are many different ways to incorporate eccentric training into your own program design.

In this article I will cover two of the most effective eccentric training methods. If you want more information then you can always check out my article on the 11 best eccentric training methods.

Eccentric Training Method #1: The 12+3 Method

I first learned about the 12+3 method through the writings of Dan Duchaine. The idea is simple: you first perform a set of 12 repetitions on an exercise.

After the 12th repetition you increase the weight on the exercise by approximately 5-15% and perform 3 additional eccentric-only repetitions.

You will probably need a training partner to assist you through the concentric range of these 3 additional repetitions. Of course there are ways to get around this if you are training arms or another smaller body part.

Here is a fantastic 12+3 method arm routine written by the body composition expert Nick Mitchell. Check it out:

Nick Mitchell’s 12+3 Method Arm Workout

  • A1: Parallel bar dips (upright torso), 3 x 12**, 2/0/1/0****, 90 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3 x 12**, 2/0/1/0****, 90 seconds rest
  • B1: Flat DB triceps extension, 3 x 12**, 2/0/1/0****, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: 60 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3 x 12**, 2/0/1/0****, 90 seconds rest
  • C1: Unilateral low-pulley lateral raise, 3 x 12**, 2/0/1/0****, 90 seconds rest
  • C2: Seated rope rows to neck, 3 x 12**, 2/0/1/0****, 90 seconds rest

**Perform 12 reps, then increase the weight by 5-10% and perform 3 eccentric-only reps.

****Use a 5/0/1/0 tempo for the 3 extra eccentric-only reps.

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1, exercise C2.

The 12+3 method can be thought of as an extreme version of forced reps training that Dorian Yates famously used.

Rather than just performing a few additional eccentric-only repetitions with the same weight we are actually INCREASING the weight!

This is a brutal way to overload the eccentric phase of an exercise. If you have the guts to complete this routine you will be rewarded with some explosive muscle growth.

Eccentric Training Method #2: Weight Releasers

Weight releasers are an extremely popular tool that allow you to perform eccentric training on exercises such as the bench press and back squat.

Weight releasers are basically giant hooks that attach onto either end of a barbell.

In the bottom position of a rep they fall off the barbell. This allows you to lower more weight eccentrically than you are lifting concentrically!  Here is a great bench press cluster sets routine featuring weight releasers. Check it out:

Bench Press Eccentric Cluster Sets Routine

  • A1: Close grip bench press w/ weight releasers**, 5 x 5****, 8/0/X/0, 240 seconds rest
  • B1: 45 degree incline DB press, 3 x 6-8, 2/1/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: 60 degree incline DB extension, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest

**Load the barbell with 70% of your 1-rep max. The added weight on the weight releasers depends on your eccentric strength levels. I suggest you start with an extra 20-30% of weight on the weight releasers and adjust upwards if possible.

****Performed as cluster sets as described above. Rest 10-15 seconds in between reps on each set of five  reps. After the fifth rep you rest for 4 total minutes then perform your next cluster set.

Here is a great video demonstration of this training method:

 

 

If you are interested in performing this routine then I recommend you watch the first video in its entirety. The athlete gives a perfect demonstration on how to perform a set of bench press clusters with weight releasers.

The added eccentric stress from the weight releasers will do a marvelous job of hypertrophying the high-threshold motor units in the pressing muscles.

You know, the motor units with the greatest potential for growth.

Method #11: Escalating Density Training

Here is one last bodybuilding training method that you may want to try: escalating density training. I first learned about this novel training method through the writings of Charles Stacey.

On most routines you are trying to add weight to the bar or perform more repetitions every time you repeat a workout.

Escalating density training turns this idea on its head by forcing you to perform more and more total sets on each subsequent workout! As you perform more sets in a given time period the density of your training increases. 

Here is a great upper body escalating density training workout you may want to try. Check it out:

Upper Body Escalating Density Routine

  • A1: 45 degree incline bench press (close grip), sets of 2**, 3/0/X/0, no rest
  • A2: Medium pronated grip pull ups, sets of 2**, 3/0/X/0, no rest
  • B1: 15 degree incline DB press, sets of 8***, 2/0/X/0, no rest
  • B2: T-bar row, sets of 8***, 2/0/X/0, no rest
  • C1: Flat DB fly, sets of 20****, 1/0/1/0, no rest
  • C2: Seated cable row (v-handle), sets of 20****, 1/0/1/0, no rest

**Use your estimated 10-rep max

***Use your estimated 20-rep max

****Use your estimated 40-rep max

Yes, you read the routine correctly: you are not taking any rest between sets on this routine! On each pair of exercises you are going to perform sets back-to-back with as little rest as possible.

You are going to perform the “A” exercises for the fist 30 minutes of the workout, the “B” exercises for the next 15 minutes, and the “C” exercises for the final 15 minutes.

All in all this workout should take you about 60 minutes to complete.

I want you to pay special attention to the recommended weights on this routine. It is extremely important that you use the correct weights!

For example, if you use more than your 10-rep max on the “A” exercises you may find that you need to drop the weight about 15-20 minutes into the routine.

At each subsequent workout I want you to focus in increasing the number of sets that you can perform within the 30 or 15 minute time frames.

There is of course much more to talk about for escalating density training but this should give you more than enough information to get started.

Here is a lower body workout you may want to try:

Lower Body Escalating Density Routine

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), sets of 2**, 3/0/X/0, no rest
  • A2: Lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing out), sets of 2**, 3/0/X/0, no rest
  • B1: Machine hack squat, sets of 8***, 2/0/X/0, no rest
  • B2: DB stiff-legged deadlift, sets of 8***, 2/0/X/0, no rest
  • C1: Bilateral machine leg extension, sets of 20****, 1/0/1/0, no rest
  • C2: 45 degree back extension (holding DB at chest), sets of 20****, 1/0/1/0, no rest

**Use your estimated 10-rep max

***Use your estimated 20-rep max

****Use your estimated 40-rep max

Conclusion

You are now equipped with 11 of the greatest bodybuilding training methods of all time!

The one thing that most of these training methods have in common is they prolong the time under tension of a set.

As you may already know it is critical that your sets have enough time under tension if you are training for hypertrophy.

These methods jack up the time under tension into the stratosphere for maximum hypertrophy gains.

Always remember: the mind is more important than the body. Where the mind goes the body will follow.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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