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Whether you train at home or in a commercial gym, there's one fact you must understand if you want build muscle and get bigger as quickly as possible: Something in your workout must be progressive. In other words, you must make your muscles work harder in order for them to grow
To accomplish this, most bodybuilders strive to push more weight, but that can be frustrating. You obviously can't get stronger every workout unless you're a rank beginner, and even getting stronger every third or fourth workout is difficult, if not impossible, for the advanced bodybuilder. That means if you rely on strength increases as your sole means of progression, you'll end up with slow or no gains.
Incorporating intensity techniques, such forced reps, is another favorite means of progression. Adding forced reps to a set is one of the best ways to make a muscle work harder. The problem is, they can quickly overstress your system. To avoid overtraining, most bodybuilders should use forced reps infrequently, as a shock tactic. Include them at the end of a few sets only every so often to jolt a growth response from the muscle, but don't use them too frequently. Your nervous system burns out quickly when you take sets beyond positive failure on a regular basis, and that can send you on a downward overtraining spiral.
Remember, infrequent use is the key to effectiveness when it comes to intensity techniques. So, if you can't rely on strength increases or intensity methods, how do you stimulate growth on a regular basis? One answer is to use the set as your unit of progression, or overload. Here's how your set progression will look:
Week 1: Do one set of each exercise.
Week 2: You now want to progress somehow so that you ensure a muscle mass increase. Easy enough. Simply add one set to your first exercise-barbell curls. You're now doing four sets for biceps, a progression of one set.
Week 3: You want to progress again, so you add a set to your second exercise-incline dumbbell curls. You're now doing five total sets.
Week 4: Add a set to the third exercise-concentration curls-for a grand total of six sets. That should be your limit if you're training each bodypart twice a week. (You can do more than six sets if you're training on a schedule like the POF Super- compensation Routine, in which you work each bodypart directly only once a week)
Week 5: Use six sets again, with perhaps a few forced reps on one or two of the sets to max out your effort during this final high-intensity week. What you do over this five-week period is progress by one set every week. You use the set as your unit of growth-stimulating overload.
After week 5 you lower your set total back to three and stop all sets short of positive failure. This back-off period should last one to two weeks and is necessary for your body to heal from the stress of the higher set totals. The process is called phase training, and it follows proper stress-adaptation protocol, allowing for maximum growth from your muscular system. After the one-to-two-week medium intensity phase, it's time to start pushing yourself again.
As we discussed frequently herein the fitFLEX articles, you may want to change the frequency of the stress by moving into a three- days-per-week full-body routine or a target-overload strategy with which you hit each target muscle once per week.
Whichever routine you use, incorporating some form of set progression ensures that your muscles get the desired overload. For example, if you're using a three- days-per-week full-body routine, start with one set per exercise for two weeks; in the second two weeks add one set per bodypart; then in the fifth week add a few forced reps to one set for each bodypart. After the fifth week downshift your volume and intensity again, as described above.
This controlled progression with the set as your unit of overload creates more spectacular gains during any high-intensity phase- better than you'd get if you relied only on strength increases or infrequent use of forced reps. Give it a try and you'll achieve more visible mass gains during all of your high-intensity phases.