Brad Borland is a strength & conditioning specialist, cancer survivor and the founder of WorkoutLab.
Need a boost to your training and eating habits to get those gains going again? Want to try something a little different to help pack on some real muscle? In the spirit of Halloween here are 31 tricks and tips to shock your physique into new muscle growth. But beware; some are not for the faint of heart.
Treat Your Muscles to Gains With These 31 Terrifying Tricks
Trick #1 - Double Up Your Sets
A quick way to add instant intensity is to double the amount of sets you are doing for a particular body part. You won’t want to do this for every single workout but doubling up for a session or two can kick start new gains without risking overtraining.
Trick #2 - Double or Triple Your Frequency
Are you stuck in the one body part per day conundrum? For a start, try hitting your weak points twice or maybe even three times per week. As long as you aren’t squatting or deadlifting at each session, you will build up your recovery ability and accelerate your gains.
Trick #3 - Hammer an Angle
Do you do countless angles each workout? For a welcomed and simpler change try picking just one angle for a body part and perform a higher number of sets than normal. For example, instead of a typical routine for chest such as flat bench press, incline dumbbell press, flyes and pec deck, go with 15 or so sets of incline bench barbell press for a few workouts. Simpler is better.
Trick #4 - Pick Up the Pace
Texting and talking will eat up precious gym time as well as your gains. Start timing your rest periods. If you are already resting a predetermined amount of time, try cutting them in half and blasting through your workout. You’ll be more focused and reap big reward.
Trick #5 - Power Up Your Game Plan
Who says you can’t benefit from some power moves in your training? Don’t be afraid to pony-up to some power or hang cleans, push presses, kettlebell wings or any other fast-moving power-based move. Power equals strength equals more muscle.
Trick #6 - Go Slow to Grow
No, don’t slow down your workouts – I am referring to slowing down the cadence of actually performing your reps. Do you sometimes find yourself throwing the weight around? Slow down both the eccentric and concentric portions of each movement and make them more deliberate regarding feeling the targeted muscle being worked.
Trick #7 - Fill In the Gap
If you are resting one to two minutes in between sets that would be a good time to throw in a few sets for a lagging body part. During your rest for, let’s say, a bench press perform a set of calf raises, arms curls or Romanian deadlifts. You’ll shore-up weaknesses and save time.
Trick #8 - Compound Progress With Compound Gains
If reshaping your physique is on your radar then performing compound sets is a great way to push a muscle group to the edge. By either performing an isolation exercise first and then a multi-joint exercise (as in pre-exhaust) or two multi-joint moves back-to-back you will experience a wicked pump and a whole new level of intensity.
Trick #9 - Go With Antagonistic Supersets
Similar to the above, antagonistic (opposite) body part supersets are not only a great way to save time but will also create an intense blood pump and growth response. Pairing chest and back exercises, biceps and triceps, or quads and hams back-to-back with little to no rest is not for the faint of heart.
"With virtually an endless amount of variations bodyweight training can build some appreciable muscle and also add a surprising twist to your current routine as well." - Brad Borland
Trick #10 - Use Your Bodyweight to Grow
What good is all this lifting if you can’t use it in the real world? Be sure to include functional moves such as push-ups, pull-ups, dips, inverted rows, sit-ups, leg lifts and other variations to your arsenal. True bodyweight training will do wonders for the flow of your physique and strength.
Trick #11 - Cut the Crap
Are you still doing that weird-looking high cable, biceps pose curl thingy? It’s time to cut out the crap and focus on the grown-up exercises. Bench presses, deadlifts, pull-ups, squats, leg presses, Romanian deadlifts, barbell curls and dips should be just a few of the big-boy moves in your regimen.
Trick #12 - Take Your Form Seriously
Does your bench press form look like a dying moth? Feet flailing, arms decrepit-looking and spine twisted? Stop, decrease your weight and do it right if you want to pack on muscle. Have someone qualified observe your form, swallow your pride and work on your technique.
Trick #13 - Aim for Total Reps
The traditional way of lifting has you performing a certain amount of reps until muscular failure is achieved. Each set is an individual part of your workout. Let’s adopt a different way of thinking – try picking a total number of reps such as 50 for pull-ups. No matter how many sets it takes your goal is to complete 50 pull-ups.
Trick #14 - Become an Old School Fool
There is a lot to be taken from the bodybuilders of the 50s and 60s. Steve Reeves, for example, had a physique admired to this day and he and his training partners performed three basic, full-body workouts per week. They kept it simple with basic, multi-joint exercises done with heavy weight. What is old can be new again!
Deadlifts are another great mass-builder but are you utilizing them in every way possible. Don’t be afraid of using different variations.
Trick #15 - Temporarily Drop the Plan
Do you never miss a workout without your trusty blueprint either written down or memorized in your head? Take a few weeks and just wing it. Go into the gym without a game plan and do whatever comes to mind, never before tried moves or put yourself in someone else’s hands. The point is to let go of your old routine and really mix things up.
Trick #16 - Squat and Squat Right
It’s been said countless times before; nothing beats the squat for packing on muscle mass. Be sure to use a full range of motion, moderate weight and proper technique. Go all the way down past parallel, knees in-line with your feet and use a weight you can comfortably handle.
Trick #17 - Try Some Deadlift Variations
Deadlifts are another great mass-builder but are you utilizing them in every way possible. Don’t be afraid of using different variations such as Romanian, one-legged, sumo, rack and kettlebell among others.
Trick #18 - Do You Leg Day, Bro?
Does your lower body session include a few sets of shallow squats, partial leg presses, light leg curls and a few wimpy sets of calf raises? If so, it’s time to overhaul your leg training with full-range squats, high rep leg presses, Romanian deadlifts and serious calf training all taken to a higher intensity level than you are used to. Work legs hard and they will pay you back with more muscle.
Trick #19 - Brutalize With Rest-Pause
Some age-old intensity techniques are still worth noting. Rest/pause training allows you to lift heavier per set while breaking up your reps. Load the weight up heavier than normal and perform 2 to 4 reps. Rack the bar and rest for 5 to 10 seconds. Perform another 2 to 4 reps and continue the sequence until you have reached a total of 8 to 12 reps. That is one set.
Raising natural growth hormone levels is advantageous to your physique for many reasons – more growth potential, increased protein synthesis and an overall feeling of being a beast. Be sure to start your training with the big lifts for a greater potential release of GH such as barbell bench presses, standing shoulder presses, squats and deadlifts.
Trick #21 - Cycle Your Training Weeks
Doing the same-ole routine and getting the same-ole results (or lack of results) isn’t doing you any good. You’re going through the motions. Try cycling your training with a week of pure hypertrophy-style sessions (8 to 12 reps), a week of more strength style training (4 to 8 reps) and a muscular endurance week (12 + reps). You’ll keep it interesting and your body will stay off guard.
Trick #22 - Train Semi-Fasted
Nothing in the gym is more miserable than having a belly full of food and slogging away at the weights feeling like a Beluga whale. With a stomach full of carbs a significant amount of blood pools to your stomach and intestines to help digest all that food. Go lighter. Training either with your stomach relatively empty or a very small meal eaten at least an hour earlier.
Trick #23 - Clean Up At The Plate
Just like your training your eating habits may need some spring cleaning as well. Take an inventory; are you eating enough complex carbs, lean real-food proteins and a helping of healthy fats? Be honest with yourself, cut out the processed stuff and don’t rely solely on supplements for your protein needs.
Trick #24 - Take Your Post-Workout Seriously
Slamming some fast-food isn’t the best plan for packing on muscle post-workout. Get in some quality whey protein, simple carbs and any other specialty supplement such as creatine after training. Post-workout is a vital time to take advantage of proper recovery.
Trick #25 - Eat Real Food
As mentioned earlier relying too much on supplements isn’t going to produce the results you’re looking for. The same holds true for other macronutrients as well. Try shifting to real, natural food such as vegetables, rice, potatoes, lean beef, chicken, turkey and eggs. Stay away from fast-food, highly processed carbs and convenient pre-made foods.
Trick #26 - Creatine is a No-Brainer
The most researched ergogenic supplement around is a no-brainer when it comes to what to include in your muscle-building arsenal. Use it, be sure to properly stay hydrated and get bigger. Start with 3 to 5 grams before and after training.
Trick #27 - Double Down Using Beta-Alanine
Another supplement worth its weight. Beta-alanine is an amino acid that actually works synergistically with creatine to help increase power, strength and training endurance. Try 2 to 3 grams with creatine before and after training.
Trick #28- Vitamin D3 For More T
Directly linked to testosterone maintenance, many Americans are actually deficient in this vital vitamin. In concert with calcium (an essential component in muscle contraction) D3 is a must for anyone’s supplement shopping list. Go with 2000 to 5000 IUs per day.
Trick #29 - Get in an Extra Meal
You’re eating the right kinds of muscle-friendly foods, getting in quality protein and complex carbs but are you eating enough? Sometimes the trick is to just eat more good, quality food in order to build real, solid muscle. When in doubt, add in an extra small meal of the good stuff. Try this for about 4 weeks and monitor your progress.
Trick #30 - Cycle Your Carbs
Some days your body may need more carbs for recovery than others. For example, an intense leg day expends a ton more calories than an arm day. On those days where training seems a bit more draining, go ahead and up your carb intake slightly. Just be sure it’s full of the natural, complex kind and leave the bowl of fruit loops alone.
Trick #31 - When All Else Fails – Do the Opposite
If you’re in the mood for something a bit more extreme simply reverse your thinking and do the opposite. When you step into the gym begin with the end. If you normally start with quads, then hams and finish up with calves simply start with calves, then work hams and finish with quads. Also, reverse the order of the exercises for each body part as well.