Just add more reps, right? Do it slower, count to infinity on the eccentric, right? Not necessarily. You see, focusing on these ancient myths when trying to make an exercise harder (like a squat or a pushup) is not only time-consuming, but it’s ineffective as well. Plus, it’s boring as hell. Who even has the attention span to time their concentric and eccentric portions of every rep, of every set, of every movement?
If you feel like you have mastered a movement, and you think you’re ready to make it difficult once more, you need to implement some effective solutions that will bring new gains and set new PRs. Here are the five real ways to make an exercise harder.
Slap on a couple more plates
You could try a one-legged squat, or you could try replacing a barbell bench press with a dumbbell bench press, but there is simply nothing that screams progress and overload like putting on another pair of plates and taking the bar for a ride. It’s challenging, it’s fun, and you’ll feel like a badass.
Remember, progressive overload is the name of the game in the fitness world. While there are numerous ways progressive overload can occur, raising the weight on the bar is one of the most effective ways to produce new muscle growth and build greater explosive power. So, before you go for a jumping Swiss ball overhead squat, try raising the weight first.
How’s your form?
Your new PR doesn’t count if your form resembles a scared cat and your L5 is begging to be put out of its misery, you know. Not only should you be training with proper form every time you step into the iron jungle in order to preserve your long-term wellbeing, you should also tidy up your form if you want to make an exercise harder.
Chances are that you have sacrificed a bit of your form in order to push or pull a bit more weight, but that way you’re only setting yourself up for disaster in the near future. Think about it, would you be able to squat the same amount of weight if your knees weren’t buckling in, or if your core wasn’t giving out? Remember, grinding it out is not the answer, and it gets you nowhere. Tidy up your form, and you will be making new gains in no time.
Full range of motion, please
Now, keeping your back relatively straight during a deadlift or using leg drive during a bench press is all fine and dandy, it’s just a part of the puzzle. If you want to make any exercise harder, you want to increase your range of motion. How much, you ask? All the way.
The premise is simple, if you’re squatting above parallel, you’re not only worthy of a gym fails video, you would also greatly benefit from squatting to parallel at least. The exercise becomes harder because you are increasing your time under tension, and as a result you get bigger and stronger over time. Now imagine what would happen if you did a full ATG squat with perfect form, stability, and control?
Remember, though, you need to stay safe while working on your range of motion, so your regular gym clothes aren’t going to cut it anymore. You need to wear durable and breathable compression clothing to provide your joints with stability and your muscles with constant blood flow in order to prevent injuries and push your workouts to the next level.
Elevate your center of mass
Ever wondered why little buff dudes seem like they can’t be moved no matter how hard you push them? It all has to do with their low center of mass. The majority of their weight and functional muscle is concentrated in their lower body, so when they dig in, they are as stable as a tree.
You want to use this logic and apply it to your own training principles by using some strategic reverse engineering. If you were doing a dumbbell lunge up until now, you want to switch it out for a barbell lunge. Likewise, if you were doing a seated shoulder press, switch to a standing military press. The weight is positioned higher, your center of mass is elevated, and the entire exercise becomes harder.
Be more like a strongman
Finally, a good way to make any exercise harder is to do what strongmen do – use asymmetrical loading and unconventional movements. When you think of unconventional, don’t think about balancing on a bosu ball, think about dumbbell push presses, warmer’s walks, keg throws and carries, etc.
Couple these new exercises with asymmetrical loading and you have yourself a challenging workout. Think about one-handed deadlifts, asymmetrical warmer’s walks or dumbbell bench presses – the gym is your playground.
There are hundreds of ways you can make an exercise harder, but sticking to the essential principles will get you the best results, just make sure you do it consistently. Do not fail to implement these tips into your workout and you’ll have no problem making any exercise feel more challenging.