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They say there’s “more than one way to skin a cat”. Similarly, there’s more than one way to induce muscle growth. Sure, basic strength and hypertrophy methods of moderate to heavy weights and moderate volume pretty much always work. However, there are lesser known methods that work, too. Below are a few ways to induce muscle growth you may have never thought of, but might want to try.
Usually when you want to induce muscle growth, you have a predetermined sets and reps scheme you want to stick to. For instance, doing 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps. But what if instead, you just shot for a total number of reps, no matter how long or how many sets it took? That’s what the 40-50 total reps method is all about.
Simply put, pick a fairly big exercise – squat, deadlift, row, press, barbell curl, etc. Load up a weight that you can do roughly 8 reps with. Then just do sets of as many reps you can do, but never exceeding 8 reps. Keep a running total and stop once you’ve completed somewhere between 40-50 total reps.
Doing this ensures you not only push each set harder, but that you’re doing more total volume with a heavier weight. Normally, you might add weight every single set until your final work set. This way, instead of doing only 8 reps with your heaviest weight, you’re doing 40-50.
If you want to induce muscle growth in the legs, this one is tough to beat. After you’ve done your pre-workout warmup, do 100 reps on the leg press. This isn’t just on lower body workout days, by the way – this is before every workout.
Ideally, you’ll do the 100 reps in a single set, but feel free to take little breathers here and there if you have to. Your only caveat is that you can’t re-rack the sled – you have to rest in the “top” position. Because of this, you’ll definitely want to start off with a super light weight and work your way up.
This works mainly because you’re increasing the capillaries to your leg muscles by doing so much volume over time. This is beneficial because now you’re able to get more blood to the legs, more easily. This allows for not only greater pumps, but for that blood to bring more oxygen and nutrients to the muscle, which can enhance recovery.
Often you can’t induce muscle growth because you can’t generate enough tension in a muscle. Sometimes this is because surrounding muscle groups are stronger, such as the front delts taking over for the upper chest when doing incline bench press. Sometimes it’s a matter of not enough activation, such as often happens with the glutes. And other times still, it’s due to muscular imbalances, such as the hamstrings being too tight because they’re disproportionately weaker than the quadriceps.
To activate those muscles, strive to maximize tension. Prior to each each, squeeze and flex the muscle as hard as you can, holding a static contraction for a few seconds. After that, do your set, but with a lighter weight and a slower tempo – 2-3 seconds up and 2-3 seconds down. All throughout the set, try to continue squeezing the muscle. Think almost as if you were trying to flex it while doing your reps.
What this does is essentially radically improve muscle activation. This will help create better and more efficient neural pathways to the specific muscle so that it can be used more thoroughly. At the same time, any increase in tension tends to induce muscle growth.
This is not only a great way to induce muscle growth but train yourself to be able to do certain exercises and / or with certain weights. For example, this is a great method to build up your pullups count. And the legendary Paul Anderson used a sort of version of this to build his squat to record levels.
Essentially what you’re going to do is start off with full range of motion reps, hit failure, decrease the ROM, hit failure again, decrease the ROM, hit failure again, and so on. So for example, if you were doing this on pullups, you’d grab the bar and do as many full pullups as you could. When you couldn’t do any more full ROM reps, you’d pull yourself up half way as many times as possible. Then when you can no longer do that, you’d pull yourself up a quarter of the way. Once you fail there, you’re done.
You can take two different approaches with this. The first has predetermined ROM lengths and how many of said lengths you’re going to do, as was just described. The other approach is a little more “free flowing” in that you just complete as many full reps as you can, then keep doing as many reps as possible at any length of ROM until you simply can’t move any further. In the pullup example above, you’d keep going until you couldn’t pull yourself up at all. Read our article on partial range reps here.
Vince Gironda coached many pro bodybuilders and trained several celebrities in the ’60s-’70s. One of his favorite methods to induce muscle growth was the 6×6 method that he used with Larry Scott to help him win the first two ever Mr. Olympia contests. This is why 6×6 is sometimes called the “Mr. Olympia” workout.
Gironda was a bigger believer in density than load when it came to inducing muscle growth. As a result, many of his programs would have you working at an almost feverish pace, even if you didn’t feel like you were going that heavy. With the 6×6 program, load a weight you could do 10 reps with, but only do 6. Rest only 30 seconds and repeat for 6 total sets.
Remember that the goal here is density, which means doing as much work possible in as short of a time period as possible. When 30 seconds rest became less than brutal for his lifters, Gironda would decrease the rest even more. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for his bodybuilders to only rest 15 seconds between their 6×6 sets. Check out some old school workout routines here.
All the regular, old school methods work well to induce muscle growth. However, sometimes you just want to try something new. Whether it’s a very dense program like Gironda’s 6×6, trying to maximize muscle tension, or worrying about total reps instead of your sets and reps scheme, you can always get bigger. Pick one of these methods out, add it into your routine, and see where it takes you after a few weeks.