Advanced resistance training techniques, also known as specialised techniques or overload techniques are used by athletes with the intention to enhance muscle gains. They are suitable once you have been training with straight sets for a while and are looking to up the intensity and challenge your muscles. They are one way you can apply the progressive overload principle to your training. The following techniques prolong the time under tension a muscle has to work and increase the muscle recruitment and exhaustion.

1. Super sets

Also known as: N/A

This is when you perform a set of one exercise and then immediately perform a set of a different exercise with no rest in between. You then have your rest before repeating the super set again. You can either perform super sets for the same muscle group, for opposing muscle groups (also known as antagonist-agonist muscle groups) e.g biceps and triceps or for completely different body parts e.g legs and shoulders. This way of training is very time efficient.

Example: On a glute training day you might super set 10 romanian deadlifts with 15 hip thrusts to really engage and fatigue the glutes.

2. Alternating Sets

Also known as: N/A

Alternating sets are basically the same as super sets except that you do rest in between  performing the two exercises. This technique is good because it still allows you to save time when doing your workout but due to getting a rest before performing your second exercise, strength is not sacrificed.

Example: Perform a set of barbell walking lunges, rest for 30 seconds, perform a set of leg extensions, then have a 60 second rest before repeating the alternating set again.

3. Tri-sets

Also known as: N/A

Description: These are basically the same as super sets, except there are three exercises performed back-to-back without rest. You only rest once all three exercise in the tri-set are completed.

Example: To work the shoulders you could do a trip-set consisting of the dumbbell shoulder press, dumbbell lateral raise and seated rear delt reverse fly.

4. Giant sets

Also known as: Some people would call this a circuit, although a circuit with no rest between exercises is technically a giant set.

Giant sets are when you perform four or more exercises in a row with no rest. Then you rest for 1 – 2 minutes before repeating usually 3-5 times. It is different to a circuit because there is no rest between each exercise. Like super sets, alternating sets and tri-sets you can choose exercises that all target the same muscle group or opposing muscle groups. Giant sets are quite high intensity so a decent fitness level should be established before you attempt these. They burn a tonne of calories so are great for fat loss and improving fitness.

Example: A glute giant set which includes exercise to work your muscles from different angles is as follows: straight leg deadlift, goblet squats, glute bridge and clamshells. Repeat 3-5 times rest 2 minutes between each giant set.

5. Circuits

Also known as: N/A

Circuit training is where you perform 3 or more exercises with a prescribed amount of rest in between. You then rest for 1-2 minute before repeating 3-5 times. You can do a certain number of reps of an exercise or do it for a certain amount of time. Circuit training is a great tool for fat loss and combining resistance training with a cardiovascular workout. For beginners or a general high intensity workout you could structure a circuit to include an exercise for each major muscle group in the body. For a more advanced or hypertrophy based workout you could focus on just one or two muscle groups.

Examples: Here is an example of a full body beginner workout circuit:
Fitball squat x15
Rest 15 seconds
Barbell bent over row x15
Rest 15 seconds
Knee push up x 15
Rest 15 seconds
Alternating lunge and bicep curl x15
Rest 15 seconds
Tricep Bench dip x 15
Rest 15 seconds
Basic crunch x 15
Rest 2 minutes then repeat 3 more times.

6. Drop sets

Also known as: Descending sets, stripping method, strip set, down the rack or running the rack.

This is when you do a set to failure, reduce the weight and rep to failure again (usually aiming to fail within the same rep range as you did initially). Usually you perform three to four sets in this manner. Or you could use this technique for the last set only of am exercise to really burn and fatigue the muscle. This technique works well when using a machine or dumbells, not so much plates on a bar because it takes too long to change them.

Example: When doing dumbbell bicep hammer curls as your last exercise on arms day, choose a weight which you know will result in failure by 10-12 reps. Perform 10-12 reps with that weight, immediately choose a lighter weight and lift it until failure (ideally hitting failure between 10-12), then once again choose a lighter weight and lift it until failure.

7. Partial reps

Also known as: Pulses

Partial reps are when you perform an exercise with a shorter range of motion (ROM) than normal. You can do partial reps at the end of a set of full range-of-motion reps, or just do a whole set of partial range-of motion reps. Partial reps can work on a weaker part of an exercise’s range e.g the bottom part of a squat or the lower part of a bicep curl.

Example: To burn out your glutes at the end of a workout you might do 3 sets of 30 sumo squat pulses where you stay in the bottom half of the range-of-movement.

8. 1 and 1/4 rep method

Also known as: 1/4 rep method

This technique is commonly used for squats. It involves you fully performing the eccentric (lengthening) phase of the moment. Then rather than immediately returning back to the start position you go only 1/4 of the way back up, then back to the bottom of the moment and then return to the start position of that exercise. This is counted as one rep. This technique prolongs the time under tension of the muscle.

Example: When performing dumbbell squats you drop down as low as you can (below parallel), rise up only 1/4 of the way (to parallel), go back down low again then explode up.

9. Plyometrics

Also known as: Stretch-shortening cycle training

This is a type of very high intensity exercise which involves rapid and repeated stretching and contracting of the muscles. Think of a lacky band getting stretched and then released. This is the aim for what your muscles are supposed to be doing. This technique is used a lot by athletes aiming to jump higher and sprint faster. Since it is so high intensity it can also be used for people wanting to improve their fitness and lose fat. It should only be used by people who have no injuries, have a good base level of fitness and are thoroughly warmed up.

Examples: Squat jumps, clap push ups, lateral hops, burpees.

10. Negatives

Also known as: Negative repetitions and eccentric muscle actions.

This is a great technique to gain strength. It is also a great way to get really sore since DOMS is especially associated with eccentric muscle contractions. You perform the eccentric phase of an exercise slowly and then have a partner assist you with the concentric phase of the movement. This works because you are approximately 30% stronger in the eccentric phase of a movement. This technique enables you to life a much heavier weight than normal. Normally you would only do this in your final set of an exercise or for up to 3 sets.

Example: To do negatives on a bench press, lower the weight down to your chest, then have a partner assist with lifting it back up. To do negatives with squats slowly squat down then have a partner spotting behind you to help you back up. Make sure you also have the safety bars in place.

11. Forced repetitions

Also known as: Forced reps

Description: Forced reps is when a spotter helps you to perform extra reps of an exercise when you have hit failure. The spotter should be careful to help just enough so you can perform the exercise, but not make it too easy for you. Once you have hit failure the spotter will  help you to complete a pre-determined number of reps for that set.

Example: When performing the bench press you may get your training partner to help you in your last set because you want to complete the set with your current weight but you know you are going to fail if doing it alone.

12. Pre-exhaustion

Also known as: N/A

This involves you performing a set of one exercise, immediately before performing a set of another exercise. The same muscle is used in both exercises. Commonly a single-joint exercise is performed before a multi-joint exercise. The aim of pre-exhaustion is to target one particular muscle and really activate and fatigue it.

Example: Performing a set of dumbbell tricep extensions immediately prior to performing a set of push ups. Trust me you will really feel your triceps a lot more than normal during the push ups when you have pre-exhausted them! (Need to find out how many sets you usually pre exhaust with?)

13. Pyramids

Also known as: Ascending pyramids or reverse pyramids.

Pyramid training can be ascending, descending or triangle-style.  Ascending is where each set you progress from lighter loads with higher reps to heavier loads with fewer reps. A descending pyramid is just a reverse of this. You start out with your heaviest weight for a few reps. Then you go a bit lighter and perform a few more reps and so on. The triangle-style pyramid is simply an ascending and descending pyramid put together. You start with light weights, progress to heavier weights, then work your way back down to lighter weights. You can use this technique for 3-6 sets.

Example: You could do a triangle-style pyramid on the lat pull down: 5 set of 15, 10, 6, 8, 10 reps.

14. The Rest-Pause Technique

Also known as: The  cluster-set protocol.

Description: You may already be doing this naturally when working out without realising there is an official name for it! I recommend you do this technique for your last set for a given exercise, rather than all of them. There are three variations of the rest-pause technique. For the first variation start by choosing a heavier weight than normal, which you know you will fail on. When performing a set of an exercise you rest for 5-20 seconds when you hit failure, then you can continue to complete the remainder of the reps for that set. You may even need to rest a second time before completing the set. For the second variation you perform your reps for the set as usual, with whatever weight you would usually use for the given rep range. Then once you have finished the set you rest for only 20 seconds, pick up the same weight and rep till failure again. The third variation is more suitable if increasing strength is your goal. You perform only one rep with a very heavy weight. Choose a weight which is close to your one rep max (that is the maximum weight you could lift with correct technique for 1 rep only). Wait 30 seconds then lift that weight for one rep again. Repeat this 6-8 times.

Example: When performing the last set for each exercise in your workout one day, choose a heavier weight than usual and apply the first variation. Lift the weight until failure, rest for 10 seconds, then finish the remainder of the set.