FUN FACT: Jane Fonda coined the phrase “No pain, no gain.”

Think about that for a sec…

Yep, this woman right here is giving you lifting advice.

The Queen of Aerobics came up with a phrase to help middle aged women in the 80’s squeeze into spandex and slap on a neon headband somehow became the battle cry of the lifting community.  

Kinda steals some of it’s thunder doesn’t it?

Which is why it’s shitty lifting advice…well sometimes.

Going balls out every workout can leave you beaten down, dealing with nagging injuries and frustrated.  

Constantly pushing past failure hinders your ability to recover for your next workout.  When it comes to building muscle, it’s less about winning every workout, and more about winning the month.  

So while on the whole, No Pain, No Gain is shitty general lifting advice, it has its place.  For some that might be motivation, while others to get through a plateau.

As long as it can be done in an intelligent way, these techniques are great additions to your workout.  But don’t worry your pretty face, I’ll explain everything you need to know to add these muscle intensification techniques the smartest way possible.

What Does the Science Say?

Going to and past failure has long been debated as the way to build muscle.  

So does that mean you should take everything to failure?

Yea, no.

In 2019 (like last year) 15 trained 27 yr olds were split into two groups:

Group 1: Take the last set to failure on every exercise

Group 2: Lift based on 1-RM percentage which let them always have a few reps left in the tank.

Group 2 beat Group 1 in every metric including muscle growth.

So what does this mean?  When it comes to building muscle progressive overload is your main objective.  In the same vein as using cardio as a fat loss tool, taking sets to failure through these muscle intensification techniques are tools, not a plan.  There’s a difference.

At the end of the day to build muscle, you need to lift more in 6 months than you do now.  And there are many ways to do that.

When To Use These

Like I just showed you, training to failure on every set doesn’t give you better results.  You are basically training to get tired.

Here’s what I mean, in 2017 10 trained men were given 3 different training programs 

3×10 using a 10RM (taking every set to failure)

3×5 using a 10RM (leaving reps in the tank)

6×5 using a 10RM (Equating volume with the 3×10 program.  Because volume is also a big talking point for muscle growth.)

The 3×5 and 6×5 groups showed significantly faster recovery as compared to the 3×10 taken to failure group. This makes sense.

So if you can’t recover your next workout is going to suffer and that whole getting stronger through progressive overload thing is that much harder.

Based on that, your goal when building muscle is (besides the obvious) is to push yourself but not so much to where you can’t recover.

The days of crippling post-leg day soreness are dead.

So that means not taking everything to failure.  Use it sparingly. Think of these muscle intensification techniques as getting drunk.  Getting white boy wasted every once in a while is cool, but not everyday.  

Here’s my rule of thumb for using advanced techniques to build muscle:

Last exercise of your workout on a machine or an isolation exercise.  

Immediately that takes squats, barbell bench and deadlift off the table.  They are compound movements that require a lot of skill to perform. If you get to failure with these you are asking to get hurt.

This also takes exercise that are supported by your lower back out. Think barbell bent over rows.  This is not just a “Dave the guy that had back surgery” thing, it’s smart training. When you fatigue, your form slips.  If your form slips while you’re supporting everything by your lower back, again, you’re asking for an injury. 

Note: You can obviously use these techniques with any movement you want.  A lot of really smart trainers I know use them on squats. Not using them is my personal preference.  At the end of the day you can do whatever the hell you want, you’re an adult.  

Exercises like dumbbell curls (isolation) or machine shoulder presses are fair game as long as they are the last exercise.  The reason for this is because they take so much out of you. You wouldn’t want to blast your shoulders then try to do chest.  You’d wear out faster than you’d put any measurable work into your chest. Think of it as the cherry on top of an ice cream cone.


With all this preamble out of the way, let’s get into the techniques, shall we?

20 Next Level Ways To Build Muscle

Little note before you start.  Tempo and Pauses are two of the easiest ways to make any workout more difficult and increase your muscle building and strength potential.  

Use these two as often as you can and with any exercise.  These are the only two that are different, otherwise I would follow the last exercise on machine or isolation rule of thumb. 


  • The more time your muscles have to support the weight the more they will have to adapt to support the weight.  By slowing down the reps, especially the lowering portion you’ll add more stress to the muscles.
  • Start by taking your 10RM and aim for 8 reps per set.  
  • Use a 3-1-1 cadence.  A one count to raise the weight, a three count to lower the weight, and one count at the transition point.  
  • By doing this you take the momentum out of the transition point (the bottom of a bench press for example) and you are slowing down the lowering portion.  Following a tempo like this shifts the stress of the exercise from your joints to your muscles.
  • Once you hit 10 reps per set, increase the weight by 5% and drop the reps to 8 again.


  • On a pause rep, you simply pause at some point during the movement in that repetition. Pausing kills all momentum and makes your muscles do all the work.  
  • Start with a one count pause and add more if needed.  Anything longer than 3 sec is going to feel like hell.
  • Eccentric – On the lowering portion, stop mid way before you hit the point where you start to lift the weight.
  • Transition  – Once you hit the point where you start to go from lowering to lifting, pause there.
  • Contraction – While lifting the weight, stop mid way before you hit the point of lowering the weight back down.


  • Start with a weight you can do for 10-12 reps.
  • Do your 10-12 reps, then immediately drop an even amount of weight off each side of the bar or machine (or a lighter dumbbell), then go again for as many reps until you hit failure. 
  • Do another weight drop and go to failure.
  • I would do a 5-10% drop in weight each time.


  • Keep the weight the same but adjust hand position/exercise to adjust the mechanical position.  
  • This could be something like moving your feet on a leg press from bottom of the sled to the top or doing lat raises with arms fully extended, with a slight bend in the elbow and then with elbow at 90 degrees.


  • Similar to a Drop Set with weight.  Instead of dropping the weight each time, you’d keep the weight the same.
  • Take the first set to failure, rack the weight and rest for 15 seconds.
  • Unrack the weight and take the next set to failure.  Rack again and rest another 15 seconds.
  • Keep going until you double the reps.  So if your workout is to do 10 reps per set, once you hit 20 total reps using the rest pause, stop.  


  • Cluster sets are smaller sets built-into a larger set with rest periods that typically last 20 seconds.  Use ~5-10% more weight than you would normally.
  • This allows you to use a heavier weight for more reps.
  • For hypertrophy: The main set is 8-10 reps, so a cluster could look like: 3-3-2 or 4-3-3
  • Do the first “micro set” of 3, rest for 20 sec, do another set of 3, rest for 20 sec and do a set of 2.


  • Using dumbbells or a machine, lift the weights up like you would normally.
  • Keeping the weight lifted with your left hand, do a rep with your right side.
  • Now do the same thing with your left side.  That’s one rep.  


  • Pick a load you can perform ~20-25 reps with.
  • Go to failure.  This is your “activation set” where you achieve full muscle fiber recruitment.
  • Rack the weight and rest for 15 seconds.   Unrack the weight and keep going for up to 5 short mini-sets of 5 reps (staying close to failure on each mini-set). 
  • All reps of the mini-set are now “effective” reps.
  • End the Myo-rep set when you lose 1 rep from the initial or 5 mini-sets.


  • This is best done with machines.
  • Use a weight you can lift for 10 reps.
  • Lift the weight with 2 hands.
  • Slowly lower the weight with 1 hand.
  • Repeat for 6-8 reps for 2-3 sets.

1 ½ REPS

  • Basically you’ll be adding a half rep in between each rep.   
  • Each time you lift the weight, go half way, lower the weight and then do a full rep.  Lower the weight and repeat.


  • Perform 7 reps of top-range partial reps where you only lower the bar halfway.
  • Then do 7 reps of low-range partial reps stopping halfway up.
  • Finish with 7 full range of motion reps for a total of 21 reps.
  • Use a weight that you can do ~12-15 reps with.


  • Do 7 full range of motion reps.
  • Then 7 slow reps.
  • 7 reps of top-range partial reps where you only lower the bar halfway. 
  • Then do 7 reps of low-range partial reps stopping halfway up.
  • 28’s and 21’s are great for a pump

Different Ways to Setup Your Workout

These methods are just different ways to setup your workout instead of using a 3×10 model.  These can be used with any exercise.


  • EMOM (Every Minute On the Minute) is a type of workout where you perform an exercise at the start of every minute for a set amount of time/reps.
  • After you finish the reps you rest for the remainder of the minute.
  • A very simple example would be 5 pushups every minute for 5 mins.


  • EDT is Escalating Density Training. The goal is to perform as many reps as possible in a given timeframe, using exercises that work opposing muscle groups.  I.e. Bicep curl and tricep extensions
  • Set a timer for 5-15 mins.  Base this on the length of time it takes to do a rep.  It would take you longer to do a squat than it would for a bicep curl so you’d set your timer for closer to 15 mins with a squat and closer to 5 mins for a bicep curl.
  • Using your 10RM do 5 reps of exercise 1 and then do 5 reps of exercise 2.  Repeat until time is up.
  • Rest as needed.
  • Perform as many reps as you can in the given time and record that number.  The following week try to beat that number.


  • Supersetting is doing two exercises with no rest in between. Once you finish the second exercise rest for 1.5-2 mins.
  • You can do two exercises that work the same muscles (bench press and cable fly), opposite muscles (bench press and row), or opposite sections of the body (shoulder press and squat)


  • This is like the superset but with 3 or more exercises without rest in between.  This is basically circuit training with weights.
  • When setting this up, it’s a good idea to follow these two rules:
    • Power->Strength->Compound Hypertrophy->Isolation
    • Chest before shoulders and triceps, back before biceps
  • Using these two rules when setting up your Giant set will help you sequence exercises in the right order while not taking away from the next exercise.


  • This method allows you to use the same weight and manage fatigue.  While it may seem pointless to not take a weight to failure, it’s kinda beneficial.  The whole idea is to do more work than you would normally. More effective reps equals more muscle and less burn out.
  • Using your 10 to 12 rep max in an exercise, perform 1 rep.
  • Rest for 30 seconds, and then immediately perform 2 more reps.
  • Rest for 30 seconds, and then perform 3 more reps.
  • Rest for 30 seconds, and then perform 4 more reps.
  • Rest for 30 seconds, and then perform 5 more reps.
  • Repeat this process 3 more times
  • So while using a 10-12RM, each set you are doing 15 total reps.  At the end of the exercise, instead of doing 36 total reps you’ll have done 45 reps.  Nine more muscle building reps.


  • Set a target of a certain amount of reps and get that target of reps no matter how many sets it takes you to get there.   This helps break down mental barriers and really test your rep maxes.
    • For the example we will use chin-ups:
  • Pick a target of say 50 reps on chin-ups, say you get 20 on the first set.
  • Rest a little while 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Do another set, say you get 10 reps.
  • Rest.
  • Get 10 reps.
  • Rest.
  • Get 5 reps.
  • Rest.
  • Get 3 reps.
  • Rest.
  • Get 2 reps.

How To Use These

When it comes to these you want to stick to one method for at least 4 weeks.  I like using 6 weeks if the goal is muscle building just so you can squeak out a few more weeks of progress.  

By using one technique for a period of time you can track progress.  By switching the intensification technique every workout it’ll be hard to judge if you are doing more to pack on muscle, if you’re staying the same, or if you are burning yourself out by doing too much.

After 4-6 weeks of really getting after it with one of these techniques, switch it up to keep it interesting.  You don’t have to, but it might help with motivation.

Also, something to think about is your next workout.  Since these are so taxing on your body, make sure you aren’t taking away from your next workout.  If you find your strength decreasing over time, reel it back a little, you’re having a hard time recovering.

Remember, when it comes to building muscle, it’s less about winning every workout and more about winning the month. 

Workout Ideas

You prob have a bunch of ideas or questions on how to fit this into your workout.  So here is how I would program it.

3 Workouts/Week

Full Body/Upper/Lower

Goal: to increase shoulder size

Day 1 Full Body (Strength day)

Back Squat 3×4-6

Bench Press 3×6-8

Dumbbell Row 3-8×10

Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3×8-10 + Rest Pause Reps 

Day 2 Lower Body (Hypertrophy day)

Trap Bar Deadlift 3×6-8

Leg Extensions 3×8-10

Superset with

Leg Curl 3×8-10

Seated Calf Raises 3×20-25

Day 3 Upper Body (Hypertrophy day)

Face Pull 2×15

Dumbbell Incline Bench Press 3×6-8

Close Grip Cable Row 3×8-10

Skull Crushers 3×12-15

Superset with

Dumbbell Preacher Curls 3×12-15

Lat Raise 3×10-12 + Rest Pause Reps

If I was really feeling frisky, I would change Day 3 to look like this:

Face Pull 2×15

Dumbbell Incline Bench Press 3×6-8

Close Grip Cable Row 3×8-10

Perform 3 rounds of 12-15 reps

Dumbbell Reverse Fly 3×12-15<- Add these into the arm superset

Skull Crushers 3×12-15

Dumbbell Preacher Curls 3×12-15

Lat Raise 3×10-12 + Rest Pause Reps

I would do this to fatigue the shoulders a little more.  Then I would monitor how I felt on the next workout (Day 1).  If I really struggled or was still sore then I’d know I did too much and I wouldn’t do the extra shoulder exercise next week.