Resistance training is among the crème de la crème when it comes to building muscle mass, facilitating fat loss, maintaining bone density, and, of course, helping you feel like an overall champion. When lifting, your body needs a progressive challenge so muscles have to work harder, which helps them get stronger and more developed (muscularly and neurologically).
But sometimes adding extra weight isn’t the best or most feasible idea: maybe you’re doing a movement (such as a bench press or back squat) that requires a spotter, and there isn’t anyone around. Alternatively, maybe you’re not really sure you can add more weight without your good form going all wonky (and form is key).
So, what to do? We’ve got a few ideas to get you started.
3 Ways to Improve Your Lifting Sessions Without Adding Weight
1) Time your rest breaks.
If you’re rushing between sets, you may not be recovering enough. But it’s crucial to rest enough so your muscles can still generate as much power output as possible with every movement, from the first rep to the last.
The exact amount of time you need between sets depends on several factors, including how hard you’re working relative to your physical potential, the goal of your session, where you are in your session (e.g., second set vs. last set), your experience, and so on. We recommend chatting with a personal trainer to get specifics, but know that ideal resting times can vary between 45 seconds to 4 minutes or longer.
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2) Play around with tempo.
Moving through a resistance movement with a slow controlled pace can recruit more muscle fibers and increase time under tension, meaning that even at the same weight you have to work harder.
When experimenting with tempo, pay attention to the eccentric or lowering phase (when the muscle is lengthening rather than shortening). Slowing down here, when done correctly, is a huge boon for strength building.
We’ll use a bicep curl as an example: curl the weight up to your shoulder, then slowly count to five as you lower it back down (straighten your elbow). There are tons of other ways to add tempo work into your resistance training, so consult with a professional for some guidance.
3) Dial down on post-workout protein intake.
If you’re not already, be sure you’re consuming around 20-30 grams of protein within 30-45 minutes after your resistance exercise. Consumption in this window facilitates optimal protein synthesis and muscle fiber repair, which means you’ll be getting more out of your lifts even after you leave the gym.
One thing you’ll notice that we didn’t recommend here is adding supplemental equipment, like wrist wraps, weight belts, knee sleeves, and slingshots. Our reason is simple: while these tools can be incredibly effective, they also can be incredibly overused, and if not used properly (especially in the presence of shaky form) then you may end up hurting yourself. So if you have questions, ask a personal trainer!
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