5 Techniques to Speed Up Muscle Growth

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5 Powerful Training Methods for Muscle Growth

These 5 Powerful Training Methods will help to increase muscle growth and break through plateaus. If you’re stuck and struggling to see muscle growth you need to try something new.

These gym exercise strategies can be used by anyone to shock your muscles and stimulate them to bulk up. So-called “hard gainers” can also really benefit from these techniques.

#1: Eccentric Overloading

The first powerful technique I want to start with is known as eccentric overloading.

Eccentric overloading is when you deliberately make the muscle lengthening portion of the exercise more challenging than the concentric part.

Guy lifting heavy weights for muscle growth

The muscle lengthening—or eccentric part—is when you’re lowering the weight. Whereas, the concentric part is when you’re lifting the weight.

Benefits Of Eccentric Overloading for Muscle Growth

The benefit of eccentric overloading is that muscles can produce about 20 to 60 percent more force in the eccentric portion compared to the concentric portion of the contraction [1].

During eccentric contractions, a component of the muscle called titin activates and produces a passive elastic force due to its stiffness [2]. This leads to increased tension on the muscle fibers, which speeds up muscle growth [3].

Research paper on eccentric overload and its impact

To put it simply, eccentric overloading allows you to reach higher levels of muscle activation than you would with traditional sets, and this is what speeds up muscle growth.

There are studies that show that training with machines with eccentric overloading, increase muscle growth more than training with regular, consistent-resistance machines [4].

The Drawbacks…

The problem with these machines is that they’re rare in gyms because they’re expensive.

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Techniques For Eccentric Overloading

But the good news is that there are other options.

Option 1:

If you have a partner, choose a weight that would normally be too challenging for you. And then lower the weight down as slowly as you can for the eccentric portion. As you get to the bottom, have your partner help you up. Then repeat by slowly lowering down again.

Eccentric overloading with partner

Option 2:

Another option is to lift weights with two limbs and then lower with back down with one. This works very well on certain machines, like the leg extension, leg curl, calf raise, chest press, and overhead press. But this won’t work on unilateral equipment where each side moves independently. It will only work on machines where the left and the right sides are connected.

Man using unilateral equipment

Option 3:

Another way to incorporate eccentric overloading is to cheat during the concentric phase. This way you’ll be able to overload on the way back down.

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An example of this would be to push press a barbell over your head by using momentum from your legs. Then slowly lower the weight back down using only your arms. Repeat for reps.

The Bottom Line…

It’s important to note that eccentric overloading is more taxing on your body than regular sets, so you will need more time to recover. That’s why you should only use this technique occasionally.

Do not use it on all or even most of your exercises because it could put too much stress on your body.

#2: Cluster Sets

Another advanced technique to increase muscle growth is a cluster set.

To do these, rest between every rep or every ‘cluster’ of reps instead of resting only between complete sets.

For example, do two reps of deadlifts. Rest for ten seconds. Do another two reps. Then rest for ten seconds. Do your final two reps. After, rest for three to four minutes and repeat the cycle.

But… Why Are Cluster Sets Better Than Doing All Reps At Once?

By now, you might be wondering why you would choose to do cluster sets instead of doing all your reps in one shot.

Well, studies show that cluster sets are better than straight sets for developing the strength and power needed to speed up muscle growth [5].

Researchers also suggest that you’ll continue to experience the benefits without compromising muscle growth [6].

With cluster sets, you can build the same amount of muscle while gaining more strength and power. Cluster sets are so beneficial for strength and power because they lead to a higher total training volume. In turn, this speeds up muscle growth.

Since you’re allowed to take short breaks in the middle of each of your sets, you should be able to get in extra reps with a heavier weight load, leading to more volume.

Things to Remember

Now, there are two important things to keep in mind.

First, it’s not practical to use cluster sets for certain exercises. Especially those that require constant racking and unracking of weights. Examples include the bench press, dumbbell overhead press, or back squat.

Instead, reserve your cluster sets for exercises like deadlifts or weighted chin-ups since those exercises don’t require you to rack and unrack the weights constantly.

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The second thing to remember is that cluster sets seem to only be effective when training with high weight loads.

One study compared 3-5 sets of 10 reps performed either with or without a 30-second break halfway through the set. They found that the traditional straight set protocol resulted in more strength and muscle development [7].

How To Set Up Cluster Sets Effectively for Muscle Growth

Well, I recommend doing only two reps per cluster for a total of six to eight reps per set.

Remember to take a ten-second break in between each cluster. Then take a three to five-minute break in between sets.

#3: Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) for Muscle Growth

For our next technique, we have something known as Post-Activation Potentiation or PAP.

PAP refers to the concept that you can perform better after first generating a high level of muscle activation, which, in turn, speeds up muscle growth.

The 1-6 Method

The 1-6 method is one of the more common PAP methods.

To begin, perform a very heavy one rep set. Take some of the weight off the bar. Rest for three to four minutes. Finish by doing a heavy set, aiming for 6 reps.

This doesn’t work for everybody.

But many people do notice that their performance is better after they’ve done a heavy single a couple of minutes before their regular set. This is especially true for really strong trainees with a decent amount of gym experience under their belt [8]. Researchers were even able to observe this in a lab setting [9].

The Bottom Line…

I’m not saying you should use the 1-6 method on all exercises. But you may want to take advantage of it on your big, compound movements like the squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press.

As an added benefit, working up to a heavy single or one rep can help you gain more strength over time. This means you can use more weight during your exercises, leading to more tension on your muscle fibers and increased muscle growth.

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#4: Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) Training

We now come to Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) training. This is also known as KAATSU.

The Origins of BFR Training

It was discovered by a Japanese sports scientist whose legs went numb while sitting on the floor in the traditional Japanese seated position at a Buddhist memorial service [10].

He massaged his calves to relieve the pain. Then he realized that the blood circulation was blocked in his calves. Due to the blood flow restriction, he felt a “pump” in his calves.

He felt this when performing calf exercises at the gym too. This led him to question whether you could replicate lifting heavy weights by using light weights in combination with blood flow restriction instead [11].

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While experimenting on himself using bicycle tubes, ropes and bands, he noticed enhanced muscle growth. This came as a result of the restricted blood flow to different muscle groups. Other scientists confirmed his results in labs.

The Research Behind BFR Training

A 2017 systematic review found that using blood flow restriction training with intensities as low as 20% of your one rep max can produce similar muscle growth as heavy strength training [12].

20 percent of your one rep max is a very very lightweight load.

Researchers note that blood flow restriction training is effective in promoting strength and speeding up muscle growth in different populations—from athletes to individuals with severe chronic diseases [13].

The researchers didn’t find that blood flow restriction training causes more muscle growth than heavy resistance training.

While it’s not better, it’s still very impressive that it produces similar results.

The Benefits of Using BFR Training

You can use lighter weights with this technique, so it’s especially beneficial if you:

  • have achy joints,
  • are recovering from an injury; or
  • are older

According to the evidence, using lower intensities for your exercises places much less strain on your joints, tendons, and ligaments [14].

Using BFR Training for Muscle Growth

To set up BFR training you don’t need fancy or expensive equipment. Even though you can buy specific wraps, you can also use powerlifting knee wraps. Wrapping these around your limbs can work just as well as other wraps.

There are two main sites that you want to wrap around.

For the upper body: Wrap them right under your shoulders above the biceps.

For the lower body: Wrap them at the top of your thigh under your glutes.

When wrapping your limbs, you don’t want to completely block blood flow so wrap tight. But on a scale from 1 to 10, don’t exceed a pressure of 7.

Tips For Getting It Right

For the best results, it’s recommended that you use at least 30 percent of your 1 rep max [15]. This is a weight which is light, but heavy enough for you to be unable to do more than around 30 reps. If you’re using anything lighter than that, move up in weight.

Stick to rest periods between 30 and 60 seconds as research has proven this works.

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Based on the research, it doesn’t matter whether you keep the wraps on or take them off between your sets – you’ll still experience similar results [16].

Is BFR Training Safe?

The answer is yes. Data indicates that this training method is very safe for your muscles and your cardiovascular system [17].

#5: Staggered Sets

Let’s move on to our fifth advanced training method—staggered sets.

A staggered set can be set up by alternating between exercises that train opposing muscle groups.

For example, your biceps flex your elbows, while your triceps extend them. In this case, biceps and triceps are considered opposing muscle groups.

Some others include your chest and back, quads and hamstrings.

Staggered Set for Biceps and Triceps

An example of a staggered set for biceps and triceps is performing bicep curls, then doing tricep extensions with no break, resting for a minute, and then repeating the two exercises together for sets.

The main benefit from this is that you get more training volume without interference on performance.

Your triceps won’t be impacted by bicep curls, so you can perform a set for your triceps immediately after. This allows you to spend less time in the gym while still making optimal gains.

The Pros of Staggered Sets

Staggered sets are very great.

Research shows that performing a whole-body workout with staggered sets increases work capacity compared to doing straight sets [18].

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It also shows that performing rows before an explosive chest exercise increases power output [19]. And doing rows immediately after the bench press improves performance in both exercises [20]. All of this speeds up muscle growth, leading to big gains.

How To Set Up Staggered Sets

To set up staggered sets correctly, make sure the exercises you’re combining don’t interfere with each other.

So don’t combine an overhead press with a bench press because both are taxing on the shoulders. This will impair performance.

A couple of exercises you can combine include:

  • dumbbell chest presses with dumbbell rows;
  • chin-ups with overhead presses;
  • bicep curls with tricep extension; and
  • leg extensions with leg curls.

Another option is to simply alternate between a lower-body exercise like the squat and an upper-body one like the bench press. But this can be a little tougher to get right.

But Remember…

Even if two movements seem unrelated they can still stimulate similar muscle groups.

For example, both the squat and the bench press require the use of your core for stabilization. They both require your leg strength.

So just be mindful of these things when performing your sets.


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References

[1] The benefit of overloading the eccentric is that muscles can generally produce about 20 to 60% more force during eccentric compared to concentric contractions of the same movement.
https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2007/02000/MAXIMAL_ECCENTRIC_AND_CONCENTRIC_STRENGTH.7.aspx
https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2015/04000/Comparison_of_Concentric_and_Eccentric_Bench_Press.23.aspx

[2] That’s because during eccentric contractions, a component of the muscle called titin produces passive elastic force due to its stiffness.
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095254618300462

[3] While this is passive force production, it leads to biomechanical tension on muscle fibers, which is why it contributes to muscle growth.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6300359/

[4] For example, studies show that training with machines that have eccentric overloading produce more muscle growth than training with regular, consistent-resistance machines.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19937450/
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15329060/
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1440244019300015

[5] For example, one study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that cluster sets are superior to straight sets for developing strength and power.
https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2013/11000/Greater_Gains_in_Strength_and_Power_With_Intraset.26.aspx

[6] Results indicate that hypertrophy training with ISR produces greater gains in strength and power, with similar gains in lean mass.
https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2013/11000/Greater_Gains_in_Strength_and_Power_With_Intraset.26.aspx

[7] For example, one study comparing 3-5 sets of 10 reps performed either with or without a 30-second break halfway through the set found that the traditional protocol resulted in more strength and muscle development.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15947720/

[8] That’s especially true for strong trainees with a decent amount of gym experience under the belt, as shown by a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal Sports Medicine.
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-015-0415-7

[9] A larger PAP effect is observed among stronger individuals and those with more experience in resistance training.
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-015-0415-7

[10] While this is passive force production, it leads to biomechanical tension on muscle fibers, which is why it contributes to muscle growth.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6300359/

[11] I wonder if purposefully constricting blood flow could artificially replicate the physiological conditions of hard training. If this were true, could benefits be realized by only lifting no loads or only light loads instead of heavy weights?

[12] For instance, a 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal Sports Medicine found that using blood flow restriction training with intensities as low as 20% of your one repetition maximum can produce similar muscle growth as heavy strength training
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-017-0795-y?wt_mc=alerts.TOCjournals

[13] Specifically, low-load resistance training (20–50% 1RM) associated with blood-flow restriction (BFR-RT) has been demonstrated to be effective in promoting increases in muscle strength and mass in different populations, from athletes to severely diseased individuals [6–9].
https://sci-hub.se/10.1007/s40279-017-0795-y

[14] The reduced intensity will place much less strain on your tendons and ligaments, making it a much less strenuous training method for your joints, as shown by a 2016 paper published in the Journal of Applied Biomechanics.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16871002/

[15] For maximum muscle growth, it’s advised to use at a weight that represents at least 30% of your 1RM.
http://europepmc.org/article/med/20360434

[16] It doesn’t matter whether you keep the wraps on or take them off between sets. You’ll experience the same amount of muscle activation, muscle damage, muscle growth, and strength development.
https://shapeamerica.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02640414.2017.1283430#.X-T0YdhKjic

[17] Data indicates that this training method is very safe for your muscles and cardiovascular system.
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2010.01290.x

[18] Performing a whole-body workout with staggered sets increases work capacity compared to doing straight sets.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31113178/

[19] Doing rows before bench throws increases power output
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15705035/

[20] Performing rows immediately after the bench press improves performance in both exercises.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28933712/

My passion for fitness began when I was 14 years old. I naturally fell in love with training and haven’t stopped since. At 18 years I acquired my first personal training certification from ACE after which I opened my first of 3 transformation studios in 2011. I love to share my knowledge through personal training, my online courses, and youtube channel now with over 3,000,000 subscribers! I can happily say that we've helped over 15,000 people get in great shape over the years. I'm always here for my customers so if you need help don't hesitate to send your questions to support@gravitychallenges.com

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