Fitness : Strength Training Solo

Training to the point of failure is a time-honored way of giving your muscles a loud and unmistakable message to grow. Your brain and body both scream at you to stop, and what was once a light weight suddenly feels like it’s in danger of crushing you.


Here are some intensity-boosting techniques to push limits when going solo in the weight room:

Task 1 Rest-Pause

Though there are numerous variations of this technique, essentially it consists of dividing a set into segments, each separated by a very short rest period.

A preferred variation is to bang out enough reps to bring you close to muscle failure, 7-8 reps with 8RM—and start again after a short rest of just 10-15 seconds or less. Perform as many reps as possible, take a brief pause, then continue to rip out more reps.

One caveat when using rest-pause: choose exercises where you can quickly get into the start position. When doing seated overhead dumbbell presses for shoulders, for example, it takes some effort to get into the start position. Performing that same movement on a machine is a more user-friendly alternative.

Task 2 Dropsets

When performing straight sets, you simply rack the weight and call it a set when you’ve reached failure. That doesn’t mean you have no strength left in the muscle, though. With dropsets, you simply reduce the working poundage when you achieve muscle failure, and keep going until you’ve reached failure again.

Here’s how to make it work with the most popular equipment:

  • Cables and pin-loaded machines: Just move the pin and keep going.
  • Barbell or plate-loaded machine: Load your weight before the set in a way that makes it easy to strip the exact right amount.
  • Dumbbell: Have a second pair of dumbbells there with you, ready to go

Remember, if you’re spending time searching for a pair of weights to use with a dropset after you complete the first half of the movement, it soon becomes a separate set rather than a dropset.

Because of the intense nature of drop sets and how they’ll effect recovery for your next set or exercise.

Task 3 Maximize time under tension

Time under tension (TUT) measures a set in seconds rather than reps. So a set in which you do 8 reps may take four seconds per rep, meaning the TUT is 32 seconds. But if that same set were done at 5-6 seconds per set, then the TUT would instead be 40-48 seconds. That’s a lot longer to be supporting the weight—and more work, tension, damage, and contraction for your muscle to be subjected to.

If you’re training for hypertrophy and using your 8RM, slow it down and make each of those 8 reps last at least five seconds. When using your 12RM, each of those 12 reps should be 4-5 seconds. These durations will push your overall TUT to over 40 seconds per set, a benchmark many feel is particularly conducive to muscle growth.

Remember, each rep includes not just the positive and negative motion in seconds, but also additional seconds if you hold the bottom (fully stretched) or top position (fully flexed) for a count or two.

Find the right head space

The value of a training partner is often the emotional support they bring, pushing you verbally through those crucial final, grinding reps. To replicate that voice while training solo is the real challenge.

It’s important to recognize that a big part of training is dealing with mental barriers. You have to be aware that the mind gives up 90 percent of the time before the body does. When you recognize this, you’re able to tell yourself that you can do more reps.

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One comment

  • Endu
    15th June 2015 - 10:34 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t resist commenting. Perfectly written!

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