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Breakthrough Training Ideas
How to Set New Personal Records

Breakthrough to become your best.
Breakthrough to become your best.

Whenever I finish a workout, I have a training app that pops up on my phone and lets me know if I’ve accomplished any personal bests. That’s where I’ve broken my previous record doing a particular exercise.

I’ve been working out for several decades, so personal bests don’t happen that often anymore. Fortunately, as we learn more about the human body, scientists keep figuring out new ways to do better. If you want to push your workouts to the next level, try one of these breakthrough-training ideas.

Breakthrough Number 1: Post-Activation Potentiation

Lift very heavy, with very few reps to start, then resume your normal workout. You’ll discover you’re suddenly much stronger. This works with almost any weighted exercise including almost all barbell work, bench presses or deadlifts.  Here’s how to do it.

Begin by warming up, so your body is ready to move a lot of weight. Then do a warm-up set or two of the chosen exercise. When you’re ready, pack on the weights until it’s between 80-93% of your one rep max. Now do two sets of the exercise, but only 1-3 reps. You read that right, only 1-3 reps of that extremely heavy weight.

Rest 3-5 minutes between the sets. Once you’ve completed the second set, rest 5-7 minutes, until you don’t feel any fatigue. Now start your regular routine.

When you do a regular workout, your muscles get tired. The longer you exercise, the more fatigued you get and the weaker you are.

What the lift very heavy does, is activate all those muscles you need for your workout, but it doesn’t tire them out. So when you start your regular workout, your muscles are primed to go, but not tired. You should be able to lift more weight, for more reps, than you’re used to.

Breakthrough Number 2: Muscular Irradiation

Although it sounds like a medical procedure, it’s all about creating tension in your muscles. In order for muscles to generate force and move, they have to contract. The way muscles contract is by creating tension. The more tension you create in your muscles, the more force you can generate and the more you can lift.

Here’s how to put that idea into practice. (If you have a device that tests grip strength, called a dynamometer, you can measure the effect of this technique.)

Start by making a fist. Clench your hands together as tight as you possibly can. Then relax.

Now squeeze the muscles in your butt (your glutes) along with your forearms, upper arms and chest when you clench your hands together. This time you should be able to squeeze your fists together tighter than the first time.

What you’ve just experienced is the Law of Irradiation discovered by Sir Charles Scott Sherrington. When you make a fist, you recruit all your “fist” muscles to make it happen. However, if your fist gets help, if it can recruit the tension of nearby muscles, it can grip stronger.

Moving weights increases the effect of this principle. Tense not just the muscles you’re hitting in an exercise, but all the nearby or adjacent muscles. That’s irradiation.

You will see the best results on exercises that recruit multiple muscle groups, also known as compound movements. The bench press, deadlift and squat are prime examples. Isolated exercises like curls work, just not as well. This technique is least effective on weight machines.

Most machines isolate the muscle they’re working so much, they block the ability of nearby muscles to help. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it on a machine. Let's say you have a chest press machine that allows you to work half your body at a time. If you’re working your right side, put your arm in position and tense the left side, but don’t move it. Your body is automatically more stable with the left arm balancing you. Plus, the non-working side boosts strength in the working side.

Muscular irradiation is best used near the end of a long set, to pump out a few more reps. It’s also effective when you’re doing heavier sets, with fewer reps. Skip this if you’re working on building endurance, because it exhausts the muscles too quickly.

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