Here are some helpful techniques to deploy when you can not quite finish the set, or to help increase strength. These techniques can applied to any of the systems that I have previously discussed. Depending on the results you want out of your work, try some of these different techniques in your workout.
The first is the the Cheating Technique which is fairly popular among body builders. This is used to help lift heavier weight, about 10 to 20lbs more. This is achieved by breaking strict form by a little bit, in the example of a barbell curl the lifter will do a slight torso swing to help get the weight moving. Since the arm is weakest when it is fully extended the swing helps get the weight into motion. This can also be performed near the end of a set when you start to get a little fatigued and only have a few reps left. Be sure to lift weight you feel comfortable doing this technique with, since you are breaking form the chance for injury increases. In the back swing example, the swing places extra stress on the low back, so make sure any cheat is not over emphasised and kept small. This technique has also shown to help improve strength, make sure to lower the weight slowly on the way down to get the most benefit from this system.
Exhaustion-Set Technique is exactly how it sounds, performing an exercise in a set until the muscle can no longer maintain proper lifting mechanics. This is a good technique to help train motor units to be recruited when lifting. For the best results in motor unit recruitment and strength gains happen when some, but not all sets were carried out to exhaustion. Trying using a weight that is close to your 4 to 6RM and carry the last one or two sets to exhaustion. The Burn Technique can be added to the end of a exhaustion-set, by performing 5 to 6 more partial reps. This will create a burning sensation within the muscle. This a good technique for people who are looking to build size.
Superslow System is going through the full range of motion both up (concentric) and down (eccentric) portion. The full motion can range anywhere from 10 second to 60 seconds. This system has shown to help increase strength in both beginners and experienced lifters. For a beginner try doing the concentric phase of the exercise for 10 seconds, and then the eccentric phase for 4 seconds repeat this for 6 to 8 reps, and only one to two sets. For a more experienced lifter try the opposite, do the concentric phase for 4 seconds, and the eccentric phase for 10 seconds, with the same number of reps and sets as the beginner model.
If you are looking for some motivation to stick to working out, or trying to over come a plateau try the Small Increment Technique. In this technique you increase the weight slowly, which will help you see small improvements quicker than if you did a more traditional style. When you are able to complete 7 to 8 reps of an exercise then you increase the weight by around 0.5lbs and if you are able to complete more than 9 reps you increase the weight by 1lbs. By doing this you see the weight increase more frequently, giving you more satisfaction in your workout. It is best to use free weight exercises for the technique since most machines have a larger jump in weight.
Give some of these a try to help get you past your plateau. If you are not sure how to put it all together look back at some of the previous entries in this series for ideas. Have fun with it!