3 Ways to Lift Smart for Bigger Gains

Your body won't change unless your workouts do. "You need to find new ways to stimulate your body to boost your strength," says Mark Philippi, C.S.C.S., a former America's Strongest Man. Use Philippi's techniques to overcome these three common barriers. (Learn five ways to work out faster, harder, and longer.)

Problem: You're unable to bench more weight

Fix it with heavier loads. Try "eccentric lifting," in which you focus on lowering the weight during a bench press rather than lifting it. Load the barbell with 80 to 120 percent of your 1-rep max (for example, 110 to 160 pounds if your 1-rep max is 135), and take 4 to 5 seconds to lower the weight while keeping tension in your chest. Have your spotter help you press the bar back up as fast as possible, and then repeat. Do 2 to 4 sets of 3 to 5 repetitions each. (Try these six tricks to get the most out of your workout.)

Why it works: Your body can handle more weight as you're lowering the bar than as you're pressing it up. Repeated lowering of a heavy weight will slowly help your body adapt and learn to handle more weight in general. Eventually, you'll be able to press a heavier load too, says Philippi. The slow lowering also creates a lot of tension in your muscles as they work hard to keep the bar stable. That builds more size.

Problem: Your legs need a boost

Fix it with partial reps. Set up a box about 2 inches behind your body. As you squat back, sit on the box so your upper thighs are parallel to the floor. Then stand back up. Complete 1 to 3 sets of only 1 to 3 reps each. As you become stronger, use higher boxes and add weight, which creates more tension. Switch up your routine with the best new exercises for every part of your body.

Why it works:
The box removes all momentum where the lift is most challenging, which forces your muscles to work harder to start back up. And by limiting your range of motion, you learn to handle heavier loads.

Problem: Your program needs an upgrade

Fix it with new rep counts. Eliminate the 10-rep, 3-set routines. Follow this 6-week guide using just one of the lifts you normally do.

Why it works: Your body quickly adapts to the number of reps you perform, but it takes a while to adjust to the exercises you do. (That's why you can keep using the same exercises.) By changing your rep ranges on a weekly basis, you're gaining benefits from the repeated movements while always pushing your body in new ways—and that helps you increase strength. When you improve in each workout, you add new muscle. (Want more ways to upgrade? Make these six small changes that lead to bigger muscles.)

Your body can handle more weight as you're lowering the bar than as you're pressing it up.

Routine / weight (percentage of 1-rep max)
Week 1—3 sets of 10 reps / 70%
Week 2—3 sets of 8 reps / 75%
Week 3—3 sets of 5 reps / 80%
Week 4—3 sets of 4 reps / 85%
Week 5—3 sets of 3 reps / 90%
Week 6—2 sets of 2 reps / 95%

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