How to train for muscle growth if you are short on time

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In most of my articles I talk about the most optimal ways to train. This is useful for a lot of people who are interested in really maximising the progress they are making in the gym. But for some people, optimal is not really an option as they do not have enough time for optimal training. In this case we need to look at the most efficient way to train instead. In this article I will discuss some advanced training techniques to help maximise your gains if you struggle making time to get to the gym.

The first tip I would give to people who can only get to the gym 2-3 times per week would be to do full body workouts. Muscle groups need to be trained 2-4 times per week and so full body workouts are the only way to ensure this happens. It may not be optimal but it is more effective than training different muscle groups in each session. If you can make the gym more frequently but can only manage 30 minute workouts then you can still workout different muscle groups on different days but you will definitely want to implement these techniques. Now let’s discuss some of these advanced techniques.

I would like to first start off by saying that these techniques are advanced in name and in nature and if you are very new to training then make sure you master your technique on exercises before attempting these training styles. With that being said, if you have good technique then these methods can work great for you when implemented correctly. The first technique I will discuss is antagonistic supersets. This sounds very complicated at first but is quite simple in meaning. What you are going to do is do two exercises back to back with little to no rest in between with each exercise working opposite muscle groups. For example, if you have an upper body session then you would do a set of bench press (working the chest mainly) and then go into a bent over row (working the back mainly). Another example might be doing a bicep curl into a tricep extension. By supersetting exercises you will be able to do twice as many exercises in the same amount of time and by choosing antagonistic muscle groups you reduce the amount of muscular fatigue that you would get if you supersetted two very similar exercises meaning that the second exercise can be more effective. This method works best for those who are working out 2-3 times per week and are doing full body workouts because you could easily train your full body doing as few as 3 or 4 supersets.

The second method is to use intensity techniques such as dropsets, rest-pause sets and a number of other methods. I will be discussing these three mainly as they are the simplest to implement. The way in which these work is by forcing you to perform more reps closer to failure. As we have discussed in my previous blogs, reps closure to failure are more effective than those further away. This is known as the effective rep theory and was first proposed by Carl Juneau. We also know that reps closure to failure carry with them more fatigue than reps further away and thus training too close to failure too often can slow down your progress. However if you are only training for half an hour at a time then it will be very difficult to do enough training volume to generate enough fatigue to have this negative effect and so training to failure can be a good option. Because these techniques allow you to do more reps closer to failure per set, you are able to get a similar or even better training stimulus with fewer sets and this can chop the length of your sessions in half. So that is how these methods work, now to discuss the different training techniques in more detail and how you might want to implement them.

The first method is dropsets. These are performed by doing as many reps as you can on an exercise with a given weight and then reducing the load by around 20% and immediately performing as many reps as you can with this weight. You would then reduce the weight again by 20% and perform as many reps as possible. As you can probably tell, you will be performing lots of reps very close to failure. The key thing to remember with this is to not make the weight reductions too small or too big because the number of extra reps you can perform will either be too high or too small. Try to use as close to 20% reductions in weight as possible. Also, I recommend starting at a weight where you can do 10-12 reps. This is the most researched way of doing supersets and so this is how I recommend you to do them.

The second method is rest-pause sets. Again you will pick a weight where you can do 10-12 reps on and do as many as you can. You will then rest for 20-40 seconds before doing as many reps as you can again. You will then rest for 20-40 seconds again before repeating the process. Different trainers give different recommendations on how many rest pause sets to do but the way Carl Juneau does them is to carry on the set until you have doubled the number of reps that you did in your initial set. For example, if you did 12 reps in your first set then you might do 5 after your first rest, 4 after the next and then 3 reps to finish leaving you with a total of 24 reps.

So we now have three training techniques at our disposal but how do we implement this into a successful training plan. What you must realise is that these techniques are of course incredibly powerful but they come with them a high degree of fatigue. If your issue isn’t how often you can get to the gym but for how long then I would still advise training muscle groups 2-4 times per week but you are going to reduce the number of sets per body part per week. The normal advice is at least 10 sets per body part per week but when using dropsets or rest-pause sets you are going to want to reduce this number to about 4 sets per body part per week. Obviously these 4 sets must be performed in the way I described earlier and will therefore still be very hard. You should do this for a few weeks and find that recovery is fine and you have enough time then consider adding an extra set to each body part and evaluate after a few more weeks.

If your issue is that you can only get to the gym 3 times per week but have an hour or two to train then I would definitely advise full body workouts but change the focus on each day. Alternate between upper body focus one day and lower body the next andhave the focus muscle group’s exercises performed earlier in the workout. I would advise trying to do most of your sets as antagonistic supersets but for some exercises this probably won’t be possible. For example, if you try to superset squats with deadlifts you will soon find that you have to reduce the load on deadlifts by so much that it will no longer be effective. For legs, I would superset an isolation exercise (like hamstring curls) with an isolation exercise on the opposite muscle group (like squats). The isolation won’t have much of an effect on systemic fatigue and therefore won’t affect your squats as significantly if you had done deadlifts before.

So to summarise, if you are short on time then you can not train like everyone else and expect equal results. You must train harder and more intense and use special techniques to maximise your gains. Use antagonistic supersets, drop sets and rest-pause sets and train hard, but remember to keep and eye on fatigue.

Speak to you guys again soon.

Albie

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