Men's Fitness Editors
For all of our fans who shoot us questions on our Facebook page, this one is for you. Each week, we will tap into our pool of editors and experts to help with any questions or challenges you are having with your fitness regimen. This week, Sean Hyson C.S.C.S., Group Training Director for Muscle & Fitness and Men's Fitness magazines, answers questions about spicing up your workouts with different training techniques. Be sure to read up on all of Sean’s articles here on MensFitness.com or in Men’s Fitness and Muscle & Fitness magazines each month. You can also catch Sean on Twitter
1) Volume and Rep Schemes— asked by Michael Smylie
What's are the differences between 5x5 training vs. something like: 12, 10, 8, 6?
“5x5 has a greater strength component. The reps are low so you can use heavier weights, and the moderate number of sets ensures enough volume to make some good size gains. The 12, 10, 8, 6 approach, sometimes called the pyramid method or ascending sets, starts off light and gets heavier. This method was very popular with bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger because it allows you to warm up to a heavy weight slowly, get some higher rep training in for muscle gains, and work strength in your later sets. The problem is that once you get to the most important sets—8 reps, 6 reps, and so on—you’re already a bit fatigued and strength gains are compromised. Both of these training methods are effective but because of this reason, I’d favor 5x5 most of the time.”
2) Supersets and Drop Sets — asked by Nick Francis
When doing supersets, can I also include doing it as a drop set (heavier weight first and drop each set) or should I do it the other way around (heavier weight on the last set)?
"You can apply drop sets to a superset. Do the drop set on your first exercise—going from heavier to lighter weight—and then repeat on your second exercise."
3) Overtraining — asked by Robby Gerard
Can you do too many supersets or drop sets in a routine? If so, what’s the recommended amount?
"Absolutely you can. You generally want to superset two exercises for opposing muscle groups, like chest and back. You could do three or four supersets like that in a workout. You can also superset two exercises for the same muscle group, like a bench press and fly, for maybe two different supersets. This all depends on how many sets you’re doing of each. The trouble here is that most people won’t be able to use much weight on the second exercise for the same body part after exhausting their muscles with the first one, so your gains will be limited. As for drop sets, use them on one or two exercises in a workout and only do one or two drops most of the time. Drop sets take you to failure, which is dangerous and can cause overtraining."
4) Most Taxing Techniques — asked by Jonathan Iyers
What training techniques are most taxing on the body, and how long can I sustain training that way?
"Going to failure is at the top of the list. Going very heavy (around 90% of your max or more). Drop sets/giant sets. Super high volume training (like 10 sets of 10). Forced reps. Negatives. Almost any technique can be too much if applied too frequently or intensely. You need to plan your training in advance and decide which weeks you’ll push yourself all out and which you’ll hold back a little. This doesn’t mean you have to train “easy” a lot of the time. There are many ways to push yourself. Try doing lots of sets with short rest periods and light weights for several weeks, gradually working your way to heavy weights, fewer sets, and longer reps. ALL effective training can be summed up in this cycle. You shouldn’t go more than three or four weeks using any one intensity technique."
5) Optimizing Workouts — asked by Thomas Pagano
My diet is extremely clean and I’m seeing great progress, but I want to optimize my training. If I work out four days per week, what lifts, rest periods and training techniques should I use to make my workouts more effective for fat burning?
“The basic lifts you use to build muscle are still the best when trying to burn fat. Compound movements like squats, deadlifts, rows and presses. You’ll get a greater calorie-burning effect if you shorten your rest periods between sets. If you’re in really good shape, do some active recovery between sets like jumping rope for 60 seconds. If you’re training four days per week, an upper/lower split is the way to go. I don’t really believe that old-time bodybuilding techniques will make much of a difference and help you “carve out” more definition in certain areas, so I won’t recommend static holds and rest pauses and all that. Your diet reigns supreme in that department. Make sure you’re doing some cardio on days in between lifting, either long aerobic training or intervals, or both, and you’ll be doing all you can to lose fat."