A research review in the Strength and Conditioning Journal suggests that specialized training techniques including drop sets, forced reps, and heavy eccentric negatives will help you get bigger and stronger, while gaining functional muscle mass for your sport.
Take note that three mechanisms generate muscle growth:
- Mechanical tension experienced based on intensity of load and time under tension causes muscle fiber damage, which results in maximal motor unit recruitment and more muscle growth.
- The local muscle damage caused by training results in inflammation, leading to the production of growth factors that stimulate protein synthesis and muscle building.
- The metabolic stress from a buildup of lactate and hydrogen ions due to anaerobic energy production triggers the release of hormones (testosterone, growth hormone).
Your best bet for functional hypertrophy is heavy negative training. Use an above maximal eccentric load, starting with a load that is 20 percent greater than your concentric 1 RM and build up to 50 percent greater than the 1 RM.
Use a slower eccentric tempo of 3 to 4 seconds. This will produce greater motor unit fatigue and larger gains in lean mass. In fact, research shows that maximal muscle hypertrophy is only reached if eccentric actions are performed because eccentric contractions lead to a more rapid stimulation of protein synthesis.
Not only will heavy eccentric training result in greater muscle damage, it preferentially recruits fast twitch muscle fibers. This means you can target previously inactive motor units. Plus, it’s the best training strategy for both power development and hypertrophy that can be functionally transferred onto a playing field.
Forced or assisted reps also enhance muscle mass by recruiting more motor units. It is suggested that you perform forced reps with a load that is heavier than normal for the given number of repetitions rather than doing extra reps: For example, for a program that includes 3 sets of 12 squats, identify the maximal load you can perform for 12 reps. Then increase that load and perform 12 reps, getting assistance when necessary. This has been shown to maximize hormone release and motor unit adaptation.
Include drop sets in your protocol to produce a large quantity of motor unit fatigue. A style of drop sets that is especially effective is a high-intensity set followed immediately by the same exercise at a low-intensity with 50 percent of the 1RM. Such a protocol yields a greater hormone release and larger increase in muscle cross sectional area than a strength protocol alone.