5 Effective Ways to Improve Your Workouts and Grow
Everyone strives for progression. I mean, who wouldn’t want to consistently make progress?
A mad man, that’s who!
We levelheaded folk love to move forward towards our goals. That’s what this guide will help you to do.
I’m going to discuss multiple options that you can implement in order to stimulate progress within your current training program. The more you progress the more gains you’ll make…so let’s get to these gains, shall we?
Method #1 – Turn Up Your Intensity
If you’re looking to workout more efficiently and improve your muscle growth then you might want to seriously consider embodying the word intensity in the gym. Intensity should be as common in the gym as the guys sitting on machines doing more texting than lifting (for the record, I HATE that guy).
Although there is research for and against training to failure, I feel it’s still something you should practice sparingly, if at all. Training to failure is exactly what it sounds like: lifting weight for a certain amount of reps until your body fatigues to the point where it is nearly impossible to continue.
First off, I would not suggest this type of training to someone such as a beginner. This is because they are still learning proper technique and training to failure might dramatically decrease rep quality at the end of a set. This can lead to injuries which is counterproductive to progress.
On the other hand, advanced lifters can benefit from training to failure – occasionally. When failure is reached, a greater activation of motor units and release of growth-promoting hormones occur. This leads to a greater degress of muscle hypertrophy. 
It’s imperative that you are training to failure with enough relative intensity as well (this is percentage of your one rep max). If not the aforementioned benefits will be, for the most part, nonexistent. Lifters have to be especially aware of their rest time while training to failure, simply because of how taxing it is. Because of the toll training to failure takes upon your central nervous system, I’d advise resting more in between training days.
Also, it’s not at all necessary to train to failure on EVERY set of a given exercise; failure training used within the last set of an exercise exclusively is optimal for greater muscle growth and strength.  Pay close attention to the words “sparingly” and “occasionally” when implementing this method into your routine. Training to failure on a consistent basis can lead to unfavorable effects on your CNS and an increased risk of injury.
Method #2 – Deload, Recover, Come Back Strong
Temporarily reducing your training volume, or “deloading” for recovery, can do wonders for your long-term strength gains. The more advanced of a lifter you are, the more vital deloading is to your arsenal.
Deloading typically lasts about a week and is can be implemented every 5th or 6th week of your current training program. During that week you allow your muscles to completely repair, and your central nervous system gets some much needed rest. It should also be noted that your hormone levels return to normal.
Some methods you can deload include:
- Decreasing the number of sets for each exercise.
- Using lighter weight for each exercise and/or decreasing the reps.
What a lot of people don’t understand is that fatigue sometimes masks your true fitness level and lessens performance. This makes perpetual progress quite a difficult task, so a deloading should be practiced routinely.
A deload week can even include taking days away from the gym, utilizing your time and energy elsewhere while fully refreshing your mind and body in preparation for some heavy lifting to come. The deload week is all about recovery. You should get ample amounts of sleep, eat properly and relax.
Also, because you’re letting up on the poundages, it’s a good time to make the most out of activities such as foam rolling. It’s also a good time to get in some extra stretching to optimize your restoration efforts.
Deloading typically lasts about a week and is can be implemented every 5th or 6th week of your current training program.
Method #3 – Consider Tweaking Your Lift Frequency
It makes perfect sense that the more you squat the better you’ll be strength-wise at squatting, right? Yes, but it’s not that simple.
As simple as just benching, deadlifting and squatting more sounds, a lot of people don’t factor in some of the most vital components surrounding an increase in frequency – that being recovery. Recovery doesn’t just have to do with what occurs inside of the gym either. Things such as age, training experience, sleep, diet and supplementation can boost or hinder recovery as well.
If you’re not efficiently recovering from your training, then performing a specific lift more than once a week may prove counterproductive to your strength gains.
Besides that, can benching, deadlifting and squatting more than once a week really improve your strength gains in these respective lifts? Scientifically, yes… but only slightly. 
There is an abundance of research available showing a slight (if any) increase in strength gains among subjects that are training a lift more than once a week. Although a majority of these studies conducted throughout the years do seem to favor the notion of higher frequency leading to better strength gains despite some contradictions. [4,5]
So I’d have to say if you’re looking to get stronger on the big lifts, squat twice a week, deadlift three times a week, etc. Do so only if you’re recovering sufficiently in the process, of course.
Method #4 – Choose the Right Bar Speed
Those who are for a faster bar speed and explosiveness claim this way of lifting recruits more fast twitch muscle fibers. Alternatively, fans of a slower bar speed claim that a greater time under tension is more beneficial.
Which method is best?
I’d say they both have their advantages, so try ‘em both out whenever possible. Practicing TUT (or time under tension) via paused repetitions (example: pausing the bar during a bench press just above your chest for a few seconds before lifting it up) can increase muscle hypertrophy when done properly, and teach an individual how to maintain form integrity during the most difficult part of the lift.
Time under tension’s claim to fame is its ability to put the muscle under strain for longer periods of time, causing prolonged muscle breakdown. This can lead to a muscle coming back bigger and stronger after repair.
Although there is research for and against training to failure, I feel it’s still something you should practice sparingly.
If you’re going to practice TUT, you should avoid locking out each rep. This will increase the extensive tension on the muscle. Also, try maintaining a steady tempo and spend more time on the eccentric movement of the lift, also known as the lowering of the weight. This will invoke more muscle damage.
If you’re looking to practice a faster bar speed using a more approach, I’d suggest using a lighter weight to reduce the risk of injury. A faster bar speed trains your ability to build momentum quickly. This comes in handy when applying a greater force against heavy weight.
This style of training seems to be the most ideal for strength athletes. [6,7] So if you’re considering TUT and/or more explosive reps and your main focus is building strength, I’d suggest incorporating a faster bar speed.
Method #5 – Employ Unilateral Exercises
If you’re looking to make strength gains, you best not overlook unilateral (single limb) exercises. These exercises complement bilateral (double limb) movements immensely, making for bountiful strength gains all across the board.
In my opinion, the primary advantage of unilateral exercises is the strengthening of a limb that isn’t quite up to par with its counterpart. Most of us have one arm that is stronger than the other.
Training your limbs independently allows their true strength to show. You will be able to assess each limb individually, because it’s nearly impossible to cheat your way through a unilateral exercise.
Some of the best unilateral exercises are single legged squats, single stiff-legged deadlifts and one arm dumbbell presses.
Not only are these unilateral exercises beneficial to developing balance and building more strength, but they also help stimulate core muscles. When you’re performing single arm bent over lateral raises, your core has to stabilize in order to counterbalance the weight that’s loaded only to one side. This causes your obliques to contract in order to resist favoring the side hoisting the weight, stimulating the core and assisting with the lift a wee bit all.
I wouldn’t jump the gun and replace all my bilateral movements with unilateral movements, but they are plenty useful to your training program especially if your main focus is getting stronger.
The Final Word
I hope this guide can help you in some way, shape or form. If it does then I’ve done my job. You don’t have to practice all these methods at once, but in the event you’re hitting a wall in your training I’d suggest trying each of them out eventually.
We’re all striving for progress, whether it be in or out of the gym, so it’s imperative that we help each other as best as we can. Pay it forward folks.
- Willardson JM. The application of training to failure in periodized multiple-set resistance exercise programs. J Strength Cond Res. 2007 May; 21(2):628-31
- Drinkwater EJ, Lawton TW, Lindsell RP, Pyne DB, Hunt PH, McKenna MJ. Training leading to repetition failure enhances bench press strength gains in elite junior athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2005 May; 19(2): 382-8.
- McKenzie Gilliam G. Effects of frequency of weight training on muscle strength enhancement. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1981 Dec; 21(4):432-6.
- Braith RW, Graves JE, Pollock ML, Leggett SL, Carpenter DM, Colvin AB. Comparison of 2 vs 3 days/week of variable resistance training during 10- and 18-week programs. Int J Sports Med. 1989 Dec; 10(6):450-4.
- Graves JE, Pollock ML, Foster D, Leggett SH, Carpenter DM, Vuoso R, Jones A. Effect of training frequency and specificity on isometric lumbar extension strength. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1990 Jun; 15(6):504-9.
- Munn J, Herbert RD, Hancock MJ, Gandevia SC. Resistance training for strength: effect of number of sets and contraction speed. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2005 Sep; 37(9):1622-6.
- Morrissey MC, Harman EA, Frykman PN, Han KH. Early phase differential effects of slow and fast barbell squat training. Am J Sports Med. 1998 Mar-Apr; 26(2):221-30.