Top 7 Advanced Techniques of Overload For Weight Training Routines

By on May 24, 2013
Weight Training Routines


One of the best ways to get great results from your weight training routines is to use advanced techniques of overload (ATOs). ATOs are a great way to increase the intensity of your workouts. Of course, intensity is just one of the three training variables that help to overload your muscles and stimulate muscle growth.

The other variables are: frequency (how often you train) and volume (how much you train, i.e. how many sets/ reps you perform).

By increasing the intensity of your workouts you can dramatically accelerate your muscle-building results! In this article we will cover the 7 most-effective advanced techniques of overload (ATOs) that you can include in your workouts.

Here are the top 7 ATOs to include in your weight training routines:

1. Forced reps / Cheat reps

Forced reps are the most commonly used ATO when you’re training with a training partner. It simply involves your partner assisting you with the performance of an additional 2-3 reps and the end of a set. It is important that they wait until you are close to failing or have just reached momentary muscular failure before assisting. These extra reps force the targeted muscles to work harder, therefore increasing the intensity of the set.

Cheat reps are best used when you’re training by yourself. It is done by incorporating momentum into the movement or using slightly less strict form in order to complete a few more reps and increase the intensity of the set.

2. Supersets

Supersets are where you perform 2 or more sets of different exercises back-to-back with no rest in between. The exercises may be done for the same muscle group or for antagonistic muscle groups, i.e. biceps and triceps. Supersets are certainly a very efficient way to train too!

There are also a number of variations or sub-groups of super sets. These include: pre-exhaust, tri-sets, and giant sets.

A pre-exhaust superset involves performing an isolation exercise (only involves movement around one joint) immediately followed by a compound movement (involves movement around multiple joints).

Some examples include:

  • Leg extension followed by leg press
  • Lateral raise followed by upright row
  • Pullover followed by lat pulldowns
  • Barbells curls followed by close-grip lat pulldowns

The main reason why the pre-exhaust works so well is because it involves fatiguing a particular muscle (group) and then bringing other ‘fresh’ muscles into play to force the targeted muscle to work even harder still.

Tri-sets involve 3 sets; a compound movement followed by an isolation movement followed by an other more stable compound movement. Tri-sets are really intense!

An example of a tri-set is performing squats followed by leg extension followed by leg press. This tri-set is covered in more detail in the article: The Best Workout For Building Massive Thighs!

Giant sets involve 4 or more sets for a particular muscle (group). These are often used when performing ab workouts.

3. Drop sets/ Breakdown sets/ Descending sets/ Extended sets/ Stripping sets/ Down-the-rack

There are plenty of names given to this ATO and most people who train have used it at one stage or another in their weight training routines.

Drop sets involve performing a series of ‘sub-sets’ with progressively lighter weights once you reach a point of momentary muscular failure (MMF) with each sub-set. Drop sets are most commonly used with pin-loaded machines or dumbbells on a rack. Hence the phrase ‘going down the rack’.

An example is performing lateral raises for deltoids. You start with a weight slightly heavier than normal and perform 4-5 reps to failure. Then pick up lighter dumbbells (about 30% lighter) and perform another 4-5 reps to failure. Finally, perform another sub-set with even lighter dumbbells and perform as many reps as you can.

4. Pyramiding/ reverse pyramiding

Pyramiding and reverse pyramiding have been included together because they work really well together. Pyramiding involves progressively increasing the weight being used from one set of an exercise to the next whilst progressively lowering the reps.

Reverse pyramiding therefore is progressively lowering the weight and increasing the reps with each set of an exercise.

A good example of pyramiding/ reverse pyramiding is when you perform the first exercise for a particular muscle group.

Let’s use the bench press as an example. Your first set may just be the bar and you pump out 20 reps to warm up. Then you put a plate on each side and perform 15 reps, not to failure, just to further warm up your muscles and joints and to get the nervous system firing. Then you add more weight. This is your first work set. You perform 12 reps to failure. After a good rest you add more weight still and perform 6 reps to failure. This is an example of pyramiding.

You still want to squeeze out one more set on the bench press even though you’re feeling pretty fatigued and your chest is pretty pumped. You take some weight off the bar and manage to get 10 reps out. That is an example of reverse pyramiding.

5. Negatives and forced negatives

Negatives involve performing only the negative (eccentric or lowering) phase of a movement. Forced negatives are when your training partner applies additional resistance during the performance of the negative rep.

Since you can always lower more weight than you can lift (around 30% more), performing negatives is a great way to overload your muscles.

Negatives are best performed with chins or dips whereby you can add extra weight using a weight belt and chain. The idea is to perform the positive (lifting) phase with your legs and the negative phase with your arms. When you can’t control the downward motion the set ends.

Another way to include negatives in your weight training routines is to use machines whereby you lift the weight with two limbs and lower the weight with one. The leg press is a good example of using negatives in this fashion.

Forced negatives are best performed on machines or with exercises that has your body in a fixed position. A shoulder press machine and preacher bench are good examples.

With forced reps perform your set as you normally would. Then when you reach a point of momentary muscular failure (MMF) your training partner helps you complete a few more reps. Finally, when you’re really fatigued your training partner assists you with the lifting phase and applies some additional resistance during the lowering phase.

6. Partial reps / matrix sets / 21s / one-and-a-quarter reps

Partial reps are a great way to dramatically increase your strength and therefore, by extension, increase your size as well! There are many variations of partial reps, including: matrix sets, 21s and one-and-a-quarter reps.

The best way to incorporate partial reps into your weight training routines is to use them at the end of a set when you can’t complete a full rep or use them specifically with a heavier weight than normal. When you use them as a set themselves you usually use them with compound movements and perform partial reps near the lock-out position. Bench press, leg press and squats are good examples.

Matrix sets, popularised by Dr Ron Laura back in the early 90s was an entire training system using partial reps. Matrix sets are very similar to 21s, which was popularised by Arnold back in the 70s. It involves performing 5-7 half reps of an exercise (the hardest half of the rep to start with), followed by the other half of the rep for 5-7, and then performing as many full reps as you can to finish the set. The name 21s came about because it was simply 7 half reps, followed by the other 7 half reps, followed by 7 full reps.

One-and-a-quarter reps involve performing a full rep followed by another quarter rep. It is an easy way to increase the load being placed on the muscle (group) being trained.

7. Superslow

A superslow set is performed by using a very slow rep speed. Generally it takes 10 seconds to perform the concentric (lifting) phase followed by 5 seconds to perform the eccentric (lowering) phase. It is recommended to complete between 4-6 reps and then once you reach MMF perform as many normal-speed reps as you can to finish with.

Superslow reps keep the muscle under tension for a long period of time, forcing a significant overload on the muscles.

It is also a good idea to incorporate several ATO into a single set. For example, as mentioned earlier, you may use forced reps followed by forced negatives to increase the intensity of your weight training routines.

There are also many other advanced techniques of overload, but they aren’t used as often as the ones mentioned here. Plus, some are preferred by other athletes, like endurance athletes or people recovering from injuries.

Some of these ATOs include: stutter reps, reverse reps, functional isometrics, and peripheral heart action sets.

Overall, ATOs are great to include in your weight training routines to increase the intensity and variety in your workouts to help accelerate your muscle-building results.

If you would like to build more muscle in the next 28 days than you have in the previous 6 months, then please read: Muscle Explosion!

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