Thinking that each individual training concept or technique by itself is insignificant is one of the most counter productive opinions that you can possess. Combine all these small, individual concepts into one, and you will have one of the most powerful and effective routines possible. One of the more simple concepts that will lead to increased strength and mass gains is the use of progression. Progression should be used in every single one of your workouts to ensure you continue to make consistent gains.
Progression can be broken down into two sub-categories; progressive resistance and repetition progression. Progressive resistance consists of increasing the weight (or resistance) used during an exercise each time you train. For example: if you use 120 lbs for barbell curls during week one of training and perform 8 reps, during week 2 you would increase the weight by 2.5 lbs or 5 lbs and attempt to perform another 8 reps. Repetition progression is used to build up strength in order to increase resistance. For example: using the same set-up as above, you would start off week one curling 120 lbs say six times. During week two, attempt to curl the same weight seven or eight times, and continue this process until the desired number of reps are reached. Using either of these techniques on their own will add intensity to your workouts and size to your body, but it is not being as effective as possible.
I like to double my chances of impressive strength and mass gains by applying what is called the Double Progression Principle. For example, for barbell curls I maintain a range between 8 and 12 reps. When I reach a maximum of 12 reps with a weight, I will increase it so I can only perform 8 reps, and once I am able to reach 12 reps again, another resistance increase is added. A lifter who increases his strength consistently is almost guaranteed to see amazing gains in both muscular strength and size. The most effective way to increase strength, is to increase the number of reps that are performed, then increase the weight when necessary, and repeat the entire process every two to three weeks. This will strengthen and at the same time confuse the muscle. Confusing a muscle simply means you do not allow it to adapt to a weight, and therefore never reaching a plateau and since strength is the back bone of bodybuilding, the use of weight progression ensures the muscle is constantly being strengthened.
In order for the progression technique to be a success, it must be difficult, but progression should be made in each workout. Even if a full rep is not possible, every inch that the weight is lifted is an improvement. It is very important not to cheat the extra weight by using momentum to raise it, and since this will more than likely lead to injury, it will set you back instead of getting you ahead. To apply this technique effectively, you must be mentally tough, and be able to put every ounce of energy on the line to make the improvement. Ensure you give your best all the time and never give up.
Since this technique easily leads to injury, I'll include some tips to help you avoid killing your progress in the gym.
1. Remove all momentum in all your exercises. In simple terms, No Cheating. This means do not swing the weight at all during any movement. Come to a complete stop at both ends of the movement. Many believe that "Perfect Form" is the leading cause to injury due to the added stress on the muscle and tendons. I do not believe this is true simply because if the exercise movement cannot be completed in "Perfect Form" then the weight is to heavy. Weight is just resistance for the muscle to work against, so as your form improves, you will benefit from a higher degree of isolation, therefore placing much more stress on the muscle itself.
2. Use exercises which minimize any un-natural joint movements. I find that doing skull crushers places to much stress on my shoulders. So instead of blowing out a shoulder, I use lying french press, which is basically the same movement, except using both triceps to execute the movement. I then perform single underhand press-downs for my main isolation exercise.
3. Increase the weight gradually. When increasing your weight from week to week, don't be afraid to use 1 1/4lb increments. This way you will be progressing slowly and avoiding Injury.
Train safely, effectively and most importantly, keep it natural.