When training for muscle growth, recruit as many muscle fibers as possible, then fatigue the snot out of those stubborn little bastards until they grow. One of the best ways to do this is drop sets or burn-out sets.
Here's what to do: After heavier strength or hypertrophy work, like multiple heavy sets between 3-8 reps, drop the weight by 20-30% and do as many reps as possible. If you're a masochist, drop the weight another 20-30% and rep out again.
Why it works: In 1965, Harvard physiology professor Dr. Elwood Henneman created the size principle which dictates there are two ways to maximize muscle fiber recruitment by other methods when lifting: lift heavier weights, lift lighter weights, or move your body faster.
A heavy or explosive lift simply turns on more muscle fibers. Immediately following this activation, drop the weight, rep out, and fatigue the maximum number of muscle fibers to trigger massive metabolic stress and muscle growth.
Taking your exercises to technical failure is a fantastic way to build muscle and focus on squeezing each rep. One recent study found that when taken to failure, loads of 30 percent of a one rep max (very light, 20+ reps) were nearly as effective as using loads of 80 percent of your max.
By lifting lighter weights you're able to yield huge gains in muscular size. The reason? When taken to concentric failure you're pulling nearly every usable muscle fiber into action. Going lighter allows you to focus on every portion of every rep, rather than surviving the set.
Failure reps and sets aren't for beginners. The stronger the lifter the more tension they can create and more muscle fibers they'll activate. So failure reps work best with intermediate to advanced lifters with a sound base of strength.
- Keep your failure sets within reason. If debilitating soreness decreases performance over the next few workouts, you're doing too much.
- Use low-risk isolation exercises (curls, lateral raises) along with machines to minimize injury risk.
- Don't go to failure on every set or every workout.