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Having a trainer partner at the gym can be beneficial in a number of ways. They can help motivate you, hold you accountable so you don’t skip training (especially on leg days) and they can help spot you so you can push heavier and harder. But some of us are unable to train with a partner as our schedules are erratic so we train whenever we get a gap.
So for those who don’t have a training partner, don’t let flying solo hold you back from achieving your true muscular potential. In this article we are going to look at 4 intensity techniques which you can use to overcome the lack of having a spotter. Unfortunately, we can’t help with the motivation aspect. All I can say is that if you are serious about making gains, seeing growth from these techniques will be motivation enough.
In order to achieve muscle growth, we need to continually subject our muscles to progressive overload, and what better way than to go as heavy as possible and train to muscular failure, or just before. While doing this with machines, cables and dumbbells is easy to do while flying solo, it becomes a bit more of a battle when performing the big critical mass exercises like squats, bench press and the overhead press. If you happen to fail on these moves, you may be in some serious trouble and risk being squashed. So what’s the solution? The power rack.
While the power rack may just look like another boring old squat rack, it has one key difference. This is the fact that it has horizontal safety bars which can be adjusted to the required height. The bars run from the front to the back of the machine on both sides. These act a “spotter” so if you fail, the can catch the bar to keep you safe from harm.
To set the bar, you need to position it at an equivalent height to the bottom of your range of motion.
|Squat:||Get into your lowest squat position without a weight and measure the height of the top of your shoulders, then position the bar here.|
|Bench Press:||The bars should be positioned at chest level when you are lying on the bench.|
|Shoulder Press:||The bars should be positioned at shoulder level for front presses and just above shoulder level for behind-the-neck presses.|
When performing the lift, lower the weight slowly until it just taps the bars and then push back up. When you are approaching your final rep (where you know you will fail), you can “bounce” the bar off of the bars to give you that little extra help needed to get out a final rep.
If you happen to fail completely, simply lower the barbell onto the safety bars. You can then exit the machine safely. Unload some weight and lift the bar back up to the starting position and repack it with the desired amount of plates. This can be a bit of a hassle, but if you want those gains, it’ll be well worth it. The way of training will allow you to test your true one-rep max without the assistance of a spotter.
We all know how beneficial drop sets are for pushing the muscle to failure and then beyond. It helps to recruit more muscle fibers in order to continue the exercise which is a great stimulus for growth. To perform drop sets, you push your weight until you reach failure and then you drop the weight by 15% – 30% and continue the set as quickly as possible. Try to rest, or drop, the weight and continue within 5-10 seconds to ensure the muscle pushes past fatigue and is not allowed to recover.
Drop sets can be performed on pretty much every exercise whether it be with fixed barbells, cables or machines. I would suggest not using this with the big compound lifts like squats, bench press and shoulder presses, unless you are using the power rack to do so.
Are you looking to amplify the release of growth hormone (GH)? Then forced reps are for you. This is because forced reps have been shown to boost GH levels more than normal sets which are taken to failure. Not only will they help you build more muscle, but they will also help you to drop more body fat. This is because higher GH levels lead to both muscle recovery and growth as well as an increase in fat burning.
This technique allows you to push beyond muscular failure with the assistance of a spotter. So to eliminate the need for a spotter, we become our own spotter by performing one-arm or one-leg exercises and then using the idle limb for help to get out an extra few reps after your reach failure. This strategy can be used on straight-arm pulldowns for lats, dumbbell or cable front and lateral raises for shoulders, one-arm preacher curls or dumbbell curl variations for bi’s and one-arm pressdowns for tri’s. It can be used on one-leg leg extensions for quads and on one-leg lying curls for hammies.
Negative reps are a tried and tested means of adding extra strength to some of the big moves. Negative reps are performed by focussing on the eccentric (lowering) movement and then a spotter helps you to lift the weight back up. They allow you to overload a muscle by adding more weight than you can usually push which causes more muscle damage than what your muscle is used to, and therefore creates a new stimulus for muscle growth. The problem comes in when you don’t have a spotter. But not to worry, we have got you covered.
For the solo trainer, this can be overcome by doing single-arm negatives on the smith machine. To perform this technique, find a weight which you can perform a single-handed bench press, and then add 20-30% more weight to it. Now unrack the weight with one arm and slowly lower the weight down to your chest. A good count for the lowering movement is roughly 4 seconds plus. Once you reach the bottom position, grab the bar with the other arm so that you are now using both hands and push it back up. On the next rep, alternate your arms so that you are using the opposite arm on the negative.
Keep alternating your arms until you have reached the desired number of negatives. This technique can be used on the smith machine for overhead presses, bent-over rows, close-grip bench presses and drag curls. You can also use it on the leg press machine.