6 Ways to Build Muscle without Adding Weight

  • By Scott Mooney
    By Scott Mooney Six Star Ambassador

If you want to build more muscle, you need to put your body under a new stress that creates growth, forcing your body to adapt to new conditions. An obvious way to do this is to add weight. For example, on week one you may do 50-pound dumbbells for 10 reps. The next week you’ll try and do 55-pound dumbbells for the same number of reps. Well, eventually, you won’t be able to add more weight and do the same amount of reps because you will have reached a plateau. You can only add weight so long before hitting the wall. So what else can you do to overload your muscles and create growth? Here are six ways to do it while keeping the weight the same.

1. Increase Time under Tension

This approach is normally done by more advanced lifters, but beginners would benefit so much from this if they stopped concerning themselves with HOW MUCH weight they’re lifting and focus more on HOW they’re lifting it. Focusing on slow, controlled negatives is one of the best ways to increase time under tension. A great way to focus on time under tension is to put a counting scheme into your weightlifting program. Give every rep a count. Here’s an example:

4-second negative (when you are lowering the weight)
2-second pause on stretch (at the bottom portion of the lift)
1-second positive (when you are using your muscles to lift the weight)
1-second pause on contraction (the top portion of the lift)

Now, every rep matters and you’ll gain a lot more muscle this way. Try a variety of different techniques. (Long negatives, long pauses on stretch or contraction are just a few examples.)

2. Increase Number of Reps

This one’s pretty obvious. But maybe you tried to increase the weight from last week and couldn’t hit your goal reps. Well, drop the weight back down and do one or two more reps each set before trying to increase the weight the following week.

3. Increase Number of Sets

Don’t get stuck on the “3 sets of 10” curse. Never be afraid to do 4, 5, 6… even 10 sets! Sure, you want to hit things from many angles. But sometimes, sticking to only a couple exercises for a large amount of sets is a great way to shock your muscles into growth.

4. Incorporate Forced Reps

This technique requires a workout partner. Do your set until you reach complete muscle failure. Once you do, have your workout buddy help you force out a few more reps to take you well beyond muscle failure.

5. Incorporate Drop Sets and Supersets

Drop sets and supersets are great ways to push yourself beyond muscle failure without a workout partner. On drop sets, go to muscle failure, then immediately drop 25% to 30% of the weight and go to muscle failure again. Supersets are simply doing two or more different exercises immediately after one another with little to no rest.

6. Incorporate Pre-Exhaustion

Pre-exhaustion is another great technique to try. Pre-exhausting a muscle group would be putting an isolation movement early in your workout and then following it up with a compound movement. An example would be starting with a chest fly for a few sets, then moving to a bench press. This is great for creating a better mind-muscle connection. It’s also beneficial for people with joint pain because you will have to lower the weight for the compound movement, making it easier on the joints. Either way, it’s a great technique to incorporate into your workout program for added results.

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