Men's Journal

Change Your Reps, Build Muscle Faster

 Erik Isakson / Getty Images

Most novice lifters follow the “more is better” philosophy in an attempt to build quick muscle. But doing umpteen exercises at the gym is a recipe for burnout and, worse yet, injury. Instead, learn to lift smarter with elevator reps, a training technique that focuses on prolonged time under tension instead of hitting every machine at the sports club.

To get the most out of your elevator reps, pick only a few tried-and-true moves and supercharge their effectiveness by lifting, lowering, and squeezing the muscle with perfect form. You’ll pay extra-special attention to the lowering part of each rep because that’s where you’ll recruit more muscle fibers, thereby sparking new growth.

An elevator repetition is built from three back-to-back pieces: a half rep, a three-quarter rep, and then a full rep, all in a row. That’s one complete rep. It’s a brutal approach, but totally worth it.

DO THIS

At the end of your workout, on three non-consecutive days per week, like Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, perform the two exercises below using an elevator-rep approach. Do “1A” and “1B” as a paired set, without a break. Rest 45 seconds between exercise pairs.

1A. ELEVATOR CHIN-UPS: 3 sets, 8 reps

In case you still aren’t doing pull-ups or chin-ups on a regular basis, it’s time to change that. Performing the move with strict form, as opposed to a swing or kip, builds your back and biceps since you aren’t using any lower-body momentum to bring your chest toward the bar. If you have gymnastics rings available at your gym, you can use those, too.

Grab the pull-up bar or rings with a shoulder-width, palms-facing-you grip. Hang at arm’s length and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Bend your elbows and pull halfway up, tensing your lats and arms, and then lower back down. Next, pull three quarters of the way up, squeezing your back and arms again, and then lower down. Finally, drive the bar into your chest, pause, squeeze your back and biceps, and lower yourself until your arms are straight. That’s one rep. Repeat.

1B. ELEVATOR SQUATS: 3 sets, 8 reps

While barbell squats are arguably the king of all exercises, if you have access to a safety squat bar (you’ll know it by the handles that stick out in the front), that’ll help protect your shoulders and elbows. But this move is just as effective without one.

Place the barbell across your traps. Stand tall and take a step back with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Brace your abdomen and drive your hips back, squatting down until your thighs are below parallel to the floor. Stand halfway back up and tense your thighs. Squat completely down again, then come three-quarters up and tense your thighs. Go all the way down again, and this time return to standing, tensing your thighs once again. That’s a single completed repetition. Continue for the recommended number of reps.