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Tips of the week Build muscle with "death by" sets

Tipps der Woche Baue Muskeln mit „Death by“ Sätzen auf

Contractile muscle failure is the primary trigger to stimulate muscle growth. This means that you continue to train until you can no longer perform another repetition with good form.

The key with this variation of rest-pause training is to achieve muscle failure at multiple points in a set. Basically, a "set" could be two minutes long and include several 10 second rests during the set. "Death by" means you keep going until you can't anymore.

Here's an example:

Leg curls, death-by rest-pause

  1. Start with a weight with which you can perform 6 to 8 repetitions. The number of repetitions you achieve is not important. This guideline is just to help you choose the right weight.
  2. Go to muscle failure. The last repetition should be hard, but you should be able to perform this repetition with good form. Don't desperately try to do half of a ninth repetition only to fail. Remember that contractile failure means that you perform a full repetition and then are unable to perform another full repetition.
  3. Pause for 10 seconds.
  4. Continue the set using the same volume and go to muscle failure again.
  5. Continue in this pattern: repetitions to muscle failure, 10 seconds rest, repetitions to muscle failure, 10 seconds rest, etc., until you finally reach the point where you can't do another full repetition.

Continue the whole process until you can no longer manage to perform a single repetition within a mini-set and you know that a second repetition would be impossible.

As these sets are amazingly effective but also traumatic for the body, you should only do one or maybe two of these sets per exercise. This method is ideal for isolation exercises.

Try these 4 leg curl tricks

Lying leg curls work, but most people only achieve half the results they could. Here are some tips to make this exercise work better.

By Christian Thibaudeau


Leg curl tricks

  1. Don't move the weight up explosively at the beginning of the movement. This leads to injuries. Start the repetition slowly and in a controlled manner. Accelerate the weight after the first third of the movement.
  2. Contract your feet. Move your toes towards your body. This takes the calves out of the movement, which means that the leg flexors have to work harder
  3. Turn your toes inwards to work the inner part of your hamstrings harder and turn them outwards to work the outer part of your hamstrings harder.
  4. Use gironda leg curls to increase the load on the upper leg flexors and gluteus. To do this, lift your upper body off the pad.

Use these leg press techniques

The leg press can be a muscle-building basic exercise if you know how to perform it correctly. Try out these tips and variations

By Christian Thibaudeau


Leg press range of motion

Keep your knees slightly bent at the end of the movement to keep the muscles under tension. Do not hyperextend your knees. Move the weight FAST all the way down. If your gluteus lifts off the pad, then you have gone too far down. In other words, if your range of motion is just 5 centimeters, then you're just moving ego weights and people will laugh at you behind your back.

Single leg leg press

This variation of the leg press works best with a horizontal leg press.

Two/one leg press

Move the weight up with both legs, remove one leg from the weight sled and slowly lower the weight with only one leg.

Master lunges for better legs and glutes

There are several ways to perform lunges and one surefire way to mess it all up. Here's what you need to know

By Christian Thibaudeau


Master lunges

  1. Lunges are a great exercise. They train the quadriceps, the leg flexors and the gluteus. Each variation can be performed with dumbbells, a barbell on your back or a barbell in a front squat position.
  2. The length of your stride (the distance between your feet) will determine which muscles you target the most. A short stride width will train the quadriceps more, while a longer stride width will train the hamstrings and gluteus more.
  3. The biggest mistake you can make with lunges is to bend forward at the waist. This is caused by an inactive gluteus and can lead to lower back injuries. Keep your torso upright and do not swing back to the starting position.
  4. You can apply these tips to most variations of lunges: walking lunges, static lunges (where your feet remain in the same position as you move up and down), dynamic lunges or walking lunges in reverse.

Use this set repetition pattern for mass

There are many set repetition schemes for hypertrophy, but this one has stood the test of time

By Christian Thibaudeau


If you're just starting out with weight training, pretty much any set repetition scheme will work. Three sets of 10 reps (3 x 10) seems to be the universal approach. And it works...until it stops working at some point. There are a whole range of effective set repetition schemes, but here's a simple one to try if your main goal is to build muscle mass.

10/8/6/15-20 using 50-75% of 1RM

  • Set 1: 60% of 1RM (max weight for 1 repetition) x 10 repetitions
  • Set 2: 70% x 8
  • Set 3: 75% x 6
  • Set 4: 50% x 15-20 repetitions

  1. The first three sets are performed with progressively heavier repetitions and progressively fewer repetitions.
  2. The fourth set gives your muscles the rest with a pump workout with many repetitions.

This approach is very effective for pure muscle growth as it attacks all the zones that have the greatest influence on hypertrophy.

This method will be even more effective when used in combination with proper training nutrition (including proper pre-workout nutrition), as the main benefit of the last set of high reps is to transport nutrient-rich blood to the muscle that was stimulated during the previous, heavier sets.

Build your shoulders with this workout

Heavy training builds muscle, but don't forget about continuous tension and the accumulation of lactate. This training program offers both. Give it a try.

By Christian Thibaudeau


Warning: You need a high pain tolerance for this shoulder training program! It's similar to the good old 21 technique you've probably used for your biceps, which also relies on constant tension and lactate accumulation, but we'll be doing sets of 5-5-10 reps instead of 7-7-7 reps.

Dumbbell shoulder press over varying ranges of motion

A. 5 partial repetitions performed over the lower half of the range of motion only.
B. 5 partial repetitions performed over the upper half of the range of motion only.
C. 10 full repetitions

The partial repetitions will cause a rapid hypoxic state (a lack of oxygen) and a rapid accumulation of lactate and it is in this state that you will perform your full repetitions.

You should perform the full repetitions smoothly without pausing at the bottom. End the upward movement about 3 centimeters before a full extension of the arms to keep the shoulder muscles under tension.

Perform 3 sets with about 90 seconds rest between sets.

Stop focusing on isolation exercises

Your best gains will come from getting strong on the basic exercises. Here's why and what you need to do to do it.

By Christian Thibaudeau


One of the most common training mistakes is to focus on small isolation exercises instead of large multi-joint exercises. Look at most successful bodybuilders, strength athletes and powerlifters in the world and you'll find that the foundation of their training consists of a handful of basic exercises.

The best powerlifters in the world focus on the competition exercises. Jim Wendler basically uses four main exercises (bench press, squat, standing shoulder press and deadlift), Mark Rippetoe uses five (bench press, squat, standing shoulder press, power cleans and deadlift) and Bill Starr uses (bench press, squat, power clean & press).

The majority of American football players rely on bench presses, squats, power cleans, pull-ups and push presses to build solid muscle. And throwers - who are undoubtedly the strongest and most powerful athletes in the world - base their training on bench presses, squats, power cleans, power snatches and push presses.

And what about bodybuilders?

Bodybuilders use a wider range of exercises, but the foundation of their training also consists of the heavy basic exercises. The point is that if you want to make the step from average to muscular, you should devote most of your time and energy to performing the heavy basic exercises in your training.

The heavy multi-joint exercises alone can build a muscular and athletic body. I've trained athletes from 27 different athletic disciplines, as well as competitive bodybuilders, powerlifters, Strongman competition athletes, etc. and the best looking natural bodies I've trained were a young Strongman competition athlete, two CrossFit gals, a field hockey player and a bobsledder.

They weren't massive like bodybuilders, but they were muscular, lean and very strong and powerful. But not only that, they were able to maintain this look all year round without strict diets, anabolic steroids or living like a monk. None of them did much isolation training - if any isolation training was used at all. They all built their muscle mass with heavy multi-joint exercises and got very strong doing them. And they didn't look bulky or unattractive because they lacked the final finishing exercises.

What do you spend your training budget on?

Most frustrated exercisers limit their gains by focusing on the unimportant things. Your body has a limited ability to recover and a limited ability to adapt to training. In Soviet literature, this was called adaptive energy/reserve. I call it the training budget.

Your body only has a limited budget that it can invest. If you exceed this budget, then you build up debt and sooner or later you will be forced to pay this debt. So if you make a habit of exceeding the amount of stimulation your body can use for growth, even if it works for a week or two (supercompensation), you will eventually stop making progress.

For this reason, you should not invest a lot of energy in isolation training. It makes no sense to take budget away from heavy multi-joint exercises to invest it in exercises with inferior results - at least not if your focus is on building as much muscle mass and strength as possible.

If you've gotten so strong at the basic multi-joint exercises that further investment in them won't give you great results, then you can invest your budget elsewhere. The fact is, however, that by then your best gains will come from getting strong in these multi-joint exercises.

Perform power shoulder raises (power shrugs) for your trapezius

Use controlled momentum to make barbell shoulder raises safer and more effective.

By Christian Thibaudeau


Power shoulder raises are also known as low pulls from a hanging position, but whatever you want to call this exercise, it is an effective exercise for building the upper trapezius.

Compared to regular shoulder raises, power shoulder raises reduce the involvement of the levator scapulae, a small muscle that helps the upper trapezius to lift the shoulder blades. This muscle is more prone to inflammation, which can result in pain in the neck or head. Even if you can use more weight in this exercise compared to strict shoulder raises, it is a safer exercise.

Power shoulder lift

  1. Use a slight lower back action with the calves to generate some momentum at the start of the movement to help move the weight upwards.
  2. Immediately pull your shoulders up as hard as you can. Hold the contracted (top) position for a second or two if possible to extend the time under tension.

You can perform power shoulder raises as an exercise in itself. Perform 5 to 8 repetitions. Or perform it at the end of a regular set of barbell shoulder raises: perform 6 to 8 heavy strict reps of shoulder raises followed by 4 to 6 reps of power shoulder raises once fatigue prevents you from performing more strict reps. As a bonus, you'll get some extra core and calf work.


By Christian Thibaudeau

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