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Regardless of whether you’re a bodybuilder or a strength athlete, sometimes plateaus happen. This may be due to a variety of reasons including genetics, nutrition, and/or technique to name a few. In this article we will review a couple of interesting and recent scientific articles that show you that conventional techniques may not always be best. Making a few small changes and keeping an open mind may lead to some extra gains in both your strength and muscle size.

Rep Speed

Surely, you do not just rock up to the gym and pick up some metal in an arbitrary fashion. For the best results, you need good form and structure. But sometimes it’s not enough just to make sure you can lift a weight through its full range of motion. A recent study conducted by Italian researchers has highlighted the importance of the speed in which the motion is performed (Padulo et al, 2012). In this study, a group of 20 experienced weight lifters were split into two groups. The first group (let’s call them the “experimental group”) were instructed to lift weights during bench press training as fast as they could (while still maintaining control on the way down), while the second group (control) were allowed to lift the same weights at whatever pace they were comfortable with. After only three weeks, a notable difference was observed between the two groups. The experimental group increased their one rep max (1RM) by over 10% and the number of reps performed by 29%, while the control group saw no improvements. The authors of the paper attribute this improvement to a greater activation of muscles with more rapid lifting movements. A potential downside for this technique is that although it may provide rapid increases in strength, it is not suitable for everyone. A beginner not familiar with proper technique or without improper conditioning may injure themselves if they try to rush the motion. This technique is therefore only recommended for more experienced lifters.

Cheat Reps

It is well accepted among bodybuilders that cheating a rep (eg, providing momentum and swinging) is frowned upon as it is “poor form” and does not lead to muscle growth because you are not stimulating the right muscles. However, recent research by a Welsh University has shown that this may not be the case in the context of bodybuilding (Aarandjelovic, 2012). It was concluded that initially providing moderate amounts of momentum during a shoulder lateral raise can result the use of heavier weights and provide a better overload for muscles in the right positions, which in turn provides increased stimulus for muscle growth. However, the authors also caution that excessive use of momentum leads to reduced loading and hence stimulus for growth, while also potentially leading to injury. Have a look at our “Cheat Curls” and “Overload Techniques” articles for applications of this technique and more information.

The problem with this pioneering research, is that it was performed through a complex series of computer simulations. Studying the concept of cheat reps when applied to bodybuilding is completely foreign in the scientific community, and there are very few other studies. It would be interesting to follow this development and see if similar such studies will be conducted, but on real human subjects.

Again, much like rep speed, cheap reps are not recommended for beginners. During that stage, beginners should concentrate on fundamental techniques and learn to master proper form before attempting to experiment with cheat reps.

Supplements & Nutrition

Sure, there’s not much you can do about your genetics, but you have a high degree of control over your nutrition. Without proper nutrition, it is difficult to meet your goals, whether they be strength or lean gains. We have a huge library of articles here to teach you all you need to know about nutrition and supplements. For example, have a look at some of the following articles:

Aarandjelovic (2012), Does cheating pay: the role of externally supplied momentum on muscular force in resistance exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol, DOI: 10.1007/s00421-012-2420-y
Padulo et al (2012), Effect of Different Pushing Speeds on Bench Press, Int J Sports Med, 33: 376–380

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