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NO ONE KNOWS your body better than you do. It’s up to you to decipher whether your aches fall under “good pain”—the result of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which usually occurs about 24 to 48 hours after exercise. The best remedy for DOMS is active recovery training, not passive rest. If you’re feeling muscle soreness, perform a few lightweight, high-rep resistance exercises a day or two after that initial training session—this will bring sufficient blood supply and nutrients to those muscles for better muscle recovery. The “bad pain” will usually feel pretty bad. If you feel any immediate pain during or just after your training session, it could be a symptom of “bad pain.” Injuries such as strains, sprains and even tears are not uncommon to resistance training. It’s up to you to make sure that you use proper form and technique to help prevent such trauma from occurring. If you do encounter such an injury, stop training immediately and seek medical attention.

After your last set at the gym yesterday, you probably felt pretty good. Sometimes, however, no matter how great you feel, you end up down on yourself because you’re not as big or strong as you always hoped. We know it’s difficult to work hard every day and not see immediate gains, but not being the biggest guy is not a good enough reason to seek out quick fixes
and forego your training efforts—just think how NBA superstar Steve Nash must feel walking onto a court with giants every day.  Recently, ribose supplements have gained attention due to the claim that they help with ATP regeneration. ATP is the energy powerhouse of muscle contraction. For those who are interested in muscle building—and for you to be reading this, it’s obvious that you are—this means extending sets, increasing work volume and faster recovery. Recommended doses for ribose suggest five grams before and after exercise, but as little as one or two grams may be all that is needed if the aforementioned claims are to be believed. While ribose has shown promise in reducing the effects of diseases like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, there have been no studies to date that have shown that it actually can improve performance in people who exercise regularly. While the jury is still out and new research is underway, ribose supplementation can’t hurt but probably won’t help your training unless you aren’t getting proper nutrition. A newcomer to the product should exercise caution and start with a minimal dosage while understanding that this supplement—like every other one out there—is not a magic solution to fat loss, muscle gain or stamina.

Imagine you’re driving up a hill that’s so scary steep you’re worried about rolling backward if you back off on the gas pedal. As you’re flooring your car’s accelerator, the engine is churning maximally to keep you climbing. Then, instead of continuing ever upward, you take a detour, but as the road’s angle decreases you continue to keep the pedal to the proverbial metal. Of course, without easing up on the power on this flatter road, you accelerate. You’re pushing the engine just as hard, but now that its load has lightened you’re able to move more easily.

Now, let’s consider this as an analogy for weight training. Do a single rep with a maximum weight (steep road) and follow that with a set of reps with a moderate weight (flatter road), and your engine, so to speak, will be raring to go all-out as you move through your second set. Fact is, you’ll actually be stronger with that lighter load than if you hadn’t preceded it with the heavy load because your muscles are, in effect, accelerated. The max-out method — the name of this approach — is a workout technique that uses this acceleration: By pairing heavy and lighter loads, max out can actually speed up your strength gains and push your muscle growth into overdrive.

Engine Mechanics

A second startling tale was whispered about Canadian Ben Johnson’s infamous 100-meter sprint at the 1988 Olympics — one that didn’t involve doping. The tale involved the cutting edge of sports science, and the story went like this: 10 minutes before traveling 100 meters on foot in less time than any other human in history, Johnson squatted 600 pounds for three reps.

The story sounds counterintuitive. How could someone run at his best after taxing his legs with such heavy lifting? Well, fact is, Johnson didn’t. The pre-dash squatting is a myth. But if the weights had been nearby, perhaps he could have done the feat and finished as well as he had. What happened subsequently is that thanks to the tale, a generation of athletes came to learn about post-activation potentiation (PAP).

Even before the term “post-activation potentiation” was coined, the technique was used in baseball. Swinging a weighted bat in the on-deck circle before stepping to the plate makes the actual bat you use at the plate feel lighter and thus move faster. This same approach can be used with your weight-training. By using a heavy weight before a moderate weight, you can make the latter feel lighter and thus eke out more reps than you’d normally be able to. This in turn will stimulate more growth in the muscles.

Exercise physiologist explains the science behind this: “Lifting a heavy weight is like a wake-up call for your muscles. Then, when you follow the heavy weight with a set of lighter weight, your muscles react as if they’re still raring to move that heavier weight. In this way, you’re about 10% stronger when handling the lighter weight.

“The precise mechanism for this is unknown,”continues, “but it’s theorized the approach works because the heavy weight enlists more motor unit recruitment and force, and your nervous system anticipates that you’re doing another heavy set. But instead, you give it a lighter set so that your revved up nervous system recruits more muscle fibers, and you’re stronger than you’d otherwise be on that second set had you been training in a more standard manner.”

Revving Up

While there are numerous ways of incorporating PAP into your weight training, explains one method that’s especially effective for stimulating muscle growth: the max-out method. He notes: “After warm-ups, your first set should be a single rep performed with approximately 90% of your one-rep max [1RM]. Next, rest for as long as five minutes to ensure that you’re fully recovered.

“Then you should do the second set of the same exercise — using a weight that’s approximately 80% of your 1RM — something with which you can usually get about eight reps. You push this set to failure; you should be able to eke out 1–2 reps more than if you hadn’t preceded this set with the post-activation potentiaton heavy set. After another lengthy rest, you can then repeat this sequence.”

Go Multijoint

The max-out method is going to be most effective with those lifts on which you can pack on the most plates, so favor multijoint, bilateral exercises like leg presses and overhead presses rather than doing, say, one-arm triceps press downs (one joint, unilateral). Instead, for your triceps max-out lift, choose close-grip bench presses (two joints, bilateral). Furthermore, to make certain you can move the greatest amount of iron when using this approach, do your max-out sets first for a bodypart before fatigue levels have set in. After completing max-out sets, follow them with regular sets of 8–12 reps on isolation and compound exercises.

Warm Up — It’s Crucial

Safety should always be your paramount concern, so warm up thoroughly before your one-rep max-out set. By using 90% of your maximum, the weight you push should be something with which you can get a relatively easy single, but use a spotter whenever necessary. Maintain strict form, and do just one rep even if you feel you can get another (because it’s the set after this one that really counts!). This isn’t the time to extend beyond that one rep with additional forced reps or to incorporate other intensity techniques. This is your “one-and-done” set. The second set is to failure.

Your Machine Options

Machines will allow you to more safely do your 90% set on many exercises and more safely go to failure on your 80% set — even if you have spotters. For this reason, returning to the triceps, as an example, it’s generally best to do your close-grip bench presses with a Smith machine instead of a barbell. Conversely, avoid lifts like barbell incline presses and barbell front squats where one-rep sets and failure sets become risky propositions. (See “Multijoint Maximizers” at right for examples of (mostly) mechanical compound exercises ideal for the max-out method.) Biceps are difficult to hit with a multijoint exercise, so choose a single-joint, bilateral lift in which you can pack on substantial iron, such as barbell curls or EZ-bar preacher curls.


The max-out method is a high-intensity technique for advanced trainers. “Don’t do more than three one-rep sets and three lighter follow-up sets per exercise,” he instructs, “and use the max-out method only once per bodypart before moving on to other exercises done for straight sets. Because it’s a high-intensity technique, you should do less volume than usual in a routine when you incorporate the max-out method.”

He also recommends you follow the max-out sequence with another set of the same exercise done with 70% of your 1RM and pushed to failure. In this way the sequence of exercises doing, say, Smith-machine overhead presses would follow the protocol in “Constructing Your Max-Out Workout” at right.

This is then followed by sets of 8–12 reps of the other exercises you typically do in your shoulder routine. For example, you may do dumbbell lateral raises, barbell front raises and pec-deck reverse flyes. To make certain you fully recover when using max out, reduce your normal volume in exercises that complement the max-out exercise. In our example, if you normally do four sets of those single-joint shoulder moves, do only 2–3 sets because they’re preceded by max-out shoulder presses, which also hit your middle and front delts. In addition, don’t add other intensity techniques, like drop sets or forced reps to a max-out workout.

You can use max out at any time to shock a complacent bodypart into new growth, but he recommends a routine that incorporates one max-out exercise for each major bodypart. These exercises can be changed from workout to workout. Stick to the max-out method for a period of 4–6 weeks. Afterward, return to mostly straight sets of 8–12 reps for the next 4–6 weeks.


Let’s return to that sprint up a steep hill because it’s an apt analogy for working out. Training shouldn’t always be a level road. Whether packing on muscle or stripping off fat, the key to progress is to avoid the easiest path and instead climb over challenging obstacles. The max-out method makes your journey easier in the long run by making your journey harder in the short term. The cool thing about this, though, is that it accomplishes it via a little trickery on your nervous system, in effect faking out your physique, prepping you for an all-out assault and then lightening the load. Max out revs up your muscles to use ever greater weights and, in so doing, keeps you speeding onward and upward toward your goals.

Equipment: Elliptical, stationary bike, treadmill, Versaclimber, rowing machine or pool (providing you’re an experienced swimmer).

Warm-Up: Five minutes at a steady pace, light tension setting (if on a cardio machine that offers tension resistance); for a treadmill, jog at 4–5 mph.

Workout: Perform 20 seconds of all-out effort, adjusting the tension 1 or 2 notches if applicable (on a treadmill, you’ll step off to the sides and increase the speed to 6 mph or above, depending on your fitness level, and leave it at that speed, stepping on and off between work and rest bouts), then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat seven more times. The “working” portion of this training session equals out to four minutes. (Those new to Tabata should start with 3–6 intervals instead of eight.)

Cool-Down: Slow to a steady, reasonable pace for 2–5 minutes.

A Note on Intensity: Subjects in Tabata’s study worked at an intensity of 170% of their VO2 max during each interval. That’s extreme. To instead keep it simple, just go as hard as you can for 20 seconds, to the point where you’re panting (but not to the point where you feel lightheaded or faint — if that happens, stop immediately and rest).

Non-Machine Tabata Workouts:

For those who wish to try Tabata training without relying on cardio machines, we recommend any of the (beach side) movements. Do only one of the exercises shown here, focusing on perfect form during the early going. Don’t worry, you’ll work up a good sweat and have your heart pounding the very first time you do a Tabata protocol. You’ll follow the same format as in the cardio example — don’t bother counting reps, simply do as many as possible with challenging 20-second intervals, followed by 10 seconds of rest.

Assume an upright stance, legs spread shoulder width and toes pointing slightly outward, arms extended directly in front of your body. Drop down into a squat position, until hamstrings are parallel with the ground, keeping your torso in a natural alignment (don’t lean excessively). Drive up quickly through your heels into the upright position, and repeat.

Assume an upright position, legs spread shoulder width and toes pointing slightly outward, fingers entwined behind your head. Drop down into a squat position, until hamstrings are parallel with the ground, keeping your torso in a natural alignment. Drive explosively through your heels, jumping into the air as you extend your legs. Land softly onto the balls of your feet and repeat.

Stand upright with feet together, arms hanging at your sides. Lower yourself into a crouch, placing your hands on the ground just on the outsides of the upper thigh area. Thrust your legs and torso rearward until you assume a push-up position. Hold for a count of one, then reverse the process and repeat

Assume an upright position, legs spread shoulder width and toes pointing slightly outward, as you hold a pair of dumbbells directly over your shoulders. Drop down into a squat position, until hamstrings are parallel with the ground, keeping your torso in a natural alignment. Immediately drive upward through your heels, and as you arrive at the start position, smoothly extend your arms overhead into a shoulder press. Reverse the process and repeat.

NOTE: The Tabata Cardio should be approached with all due caution. You should consult a physician and be cleared for strenuous activity before trying it. Yes, the workouts are short, but don’t let the duration fool you — done at a proper intensity, the Tabata sessions will kick your ass.

If you never max out on an exercise, it’s difficult to know what 90% of your 1RM is, let alone 80%. You can estimate your max by using the table below, counting how many reps you do to muscle failure so long as you use good form without assistance from a spotter.

For example, if you can do eight and only eight reps with 225 pounds, then 8 is 80% of your 1RM. Next divide 225 by 0.8 and you’ll find that 100% of your 1RM is 281 pounds. You can also compute 90% of your 1RM from knowing that 281 is your estimated 1RM. Just multiply 0.9 x 281 and that yields 253 pounds.

Hence, if you don’t know your max lift of a given exercise but do know you can do 225 pounds for eight reps, then you’d be using 250–255 pounds on your heavy single-rep sets, and 225 pounds on your 80% sets. The magic is that by using this technique, you should therefore be able to complete 10 reps, not just eight.

The Max-Out Technique in a Nutshell

The max-out method uses a heavy, single-rep set before a lighter multi-rep set of the same exercise. The approach actually boosts your strength in the multi-rep set.

The post-activation potentiation of a heavy single rep triggers your nervous system for additional heavy singles and revs you up to be approximately 10% stronger than usual in the following set.

The max-out method is for advanced trainers with more than one year’s worth of training experience who want to boost muscle growth and strength.

Do the max-out sets first for a bodypart when your strength is greatest early in your workout. Remember that’s when your energy reserves haven’t yet been tapped.

Use the max-out method for 4–6 weeks, followed by 4–6 weeks when you focus on another method. It can also be used at any time to shock a stagnant bodypart.

The Smith machine provides a relatively safe method of going to failure on many compound lifts, especially if you don’t have a spotter. Generally, you should favor machines over free weights with this technique, especially when training alone and/or when holding the resistance above your body.

The max-out method spurs greater strength and muscle growth.

Multijoint Maximizers

Here are some of the best exercises and their corresponding bodyparts that do well with the max-out intensity technique.

Quads/Glutes: Leg Press, Smith-Machine Squat

Hamstrings: Romanian Deadlift

Back: Smith-Machine Barbell Row (over and underhand grip)

Chest: Smith-Machine Bench Press (flat or incline bench)

Shoulders: Smith-Machine Overhead Press

Triceps: Machine Dip, Smith-Machine Close-Grip Bench Press

Constructing Your Max-Out Workout

While the schematic may seem a bit daunting, it’s actually pretty easy to use when building your own max-out bodypart workouts. For additional reference of what should constitute your 90% 1RM exercise, refer to the “Multijoint Maximizers” chart above.

Warm-up 1
Warm-up 2
Warm-up 3
90% 1RM
80% 1RM
90% 1RM
80% 1RM
70% 1RM
Post-Set Rest
2 mins.
2 mins.
2 mins.
3-5 mins.
5 mins.
3-5 mins.
5 mins.
3 mins.

Finish the remainder of your body-part workout, doing the normal number of reps for each set. Note that you should reduce the number of total sets for the bodypart to account for stress placed on your neural bed by the max-out portion of the bodypart workout.

Never mind that every day, millions of people wage the eternal war against bodyfat. Fact is, you don’t need to be monumentally overweight to want to drop pounds. Many fit guys simply want to shed a bit of that protective winter adipose tissue, and they’re willing to undertake the same boring rigors and attend hour and half cardio sessions.

But what if we told you those efforts represented a collective, monumental waste of time?

Before you go ballistic and hit Defcon-5, let us explain. It’s not that losing weight through cardio is a fruitless endeavor; it’s just that research shows there may be a faster method to spike fat loss.

So just how fast are we talking, here? Try as little as 11 minutes (including warm-up and cool-down) every second or third day!

That’s the marvel of the Tabata Protocol: a concise, intense training method that enables practitioners to burn a staggering amount of calories and fat. But this ain’t no wishy-washy workout: You’ve got to possess a level of fitness already plus real mental fortitude to push through these short yet extremely challenging training sessions.

If you’re ready to make a hardcore commitment to your body and free yourself from time-sucking traditional cardio programs, consider adding “Tabata” to your workout lexicon.

Doubling Down on Benefits

Although the total training time for Tabata is brief, the effort is exhaustive. You’ll realize that 10 seconds isn’t nearly long enough to recover from an all-out max-speed effort, and you’ll likely find yourself fading as the minutes tick by. But it’s absolutely key to exert as much energy as possible in those 20-second bursts — it’ll trigger the necessary physical adaptations.

It’ll help to understand the underlying physiological factors that drive Tabata. Your body has two energy systems at its disposal, aerobic and anaerobic — the aerobic system uses oxygen, while the anaerobic does not. When you perform any high-intensity activity, you’ll start out burning fuel aerobically. But once oxygen levels are depleted, your anaerobic system assumes control.

Usually, when you do a cardio activity such as a steady run, you’ll work in your aerobic zone, since your breathing can keep up with your oxygen needs; when you lift weights, you’ll work in an anaerobic zone, because of the heavy load and short duration of the action.

But Tabata’s subjects did both by elevating their heart rate beyond their “target heart rate zone” (specifically to 170% of their VO2 max, which is the maximum capacity of the human body to transport and use oxygen during exercise) for eight 20-second intervals.

Your Shredding Shortcut

While Dr. Tabata’s research was specific in its 20-second work/10-second rest protocol, there’s plenty of science backing the effectiveness of interval-style cardio in general.

A review of available studies reveals interval training can enhance a lot of fat-burning factors in the body, including increasing resting metabolic rate (meaning your body burns more fat for energy throughout the day), lowering insulin resistance (forcing your body to become more efficient at tapping glucose for energy), and augmenting skeletal muscle. In short, it can transform the Average Joe into a fat-burning machine.

So how should a fitness buff looking to get lean incorporate Tabata into his training? Our recommendation is to do 11–14-minute (including warm-up and cool-down; the actual Tabata will take 4 minutes) Tabata-style cardio workouts three times per week, taking a day off between sessions. You can also include a standard 30–90 minute steady state session sometime within each week.

For those who want to take it a step further, try Tabata with weights. Check out “Non-Machine Tabata Workouts” in the sidebar below for some ideas on how to do this. We don’t suggest an all-Tabata weight regimen, but it can serve as a rut-busting option to work into your rotation sporadically between regular lifting sessions.

Now that we’ve given you a dramatic shortcut to weight loss that doesn’t require hours in the gym, tell us: How are you going to use all your newfound free time? Don’t answer, we know: Summer is just around the freakin’ corner.