Back Off Sets for Building Strength, Muscle, and Staying Healthy

imagesIf you’re over 30 years old and want to build muscle, lose fat, and get jacked, you’ve got to train smarter than you did in your younger years. 20 year olds can build muscle doing almost anything, and can add seemingly unlimited volume while continuing to progress, without accumulating any real injuries.

Hell, there was a point in my early 20’s when I was 100% convinced that the harder I partied on a Saturday night, the stronger my bench was on Mondays.

My, how the world changes. If I have 3 beers on a Saturday I wake up sweating like I’m tanning on the surface of the sun at 2am on Monday morning.

Just like our hooch habits should change as we get older, so should our training. My liver isn’t able to handle 30 Keystone lights at this point, and my shoulders can’t handle 8×3 bench presses at 87.5% of my max either.

One of the most effective ways to keep getting stronger and building muscle without beating up your joints is to tone back on the number of top end sets you perform.

On the surface, it sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out.

Say you want to build up to your heaviest set of 8 incline dumbbell presses as your first lift on an upper body day. Simply build up, making small jumps, from one set to the next. Do enough sets to get the movement properly grooved and warmed up, but not so many that it’s going to fatigue you.

Then hit the heaviest set with perfect technique that you can for 8, saving 1 or 2 reps in the tank. Rest, drop the weight down 10% or so, and do another set of 8, and repeat 1 more time.

I also really like dropping the second back off set 20% or so, then working to get somewhere between 12-20 reps. Play around with both, and the next week, maybe you build up to your heaviest 10, or maybe 6.

This leads to trying to set rep records, which is a lot more motivating that arbitrary weights and percentages performed over X number of sets. Overload is still king, so over time if we can increase our 6, 8, 10, and 12 rep maxes, then we are going to be stronger and build muscle.

And if we can do that with less wear and tear on our backs, hips, shoulders, and knees, it’s going to let us train more consistently and for longer. I’m not a mathematician, but that seems to be a solid equation for how to train to optimize our lives.

 

 

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