For the devoted and insightful lifter, there is no escaping the irony that the one thing that makes lifting so attractive to many may also be the single biggest barrier to ongoing results: enjoyment of the training process. Training for mass gains can be an immensely enjoyable pursuit – from preparing for a big workout and the session itself to feelings of accomplishment after an exhaustive battle with the iron and even the muscle soreness which signifies progress in the aftermath of a particularly grueling session. All of these factors, and many others, are conducive to a gratifying training experience. They keep us coming back for more of the same.
However, as with most things in life, too much training can be bad. In fact, not only might excessive gym time lead to over training and diminishing returns, insufficient recovery between workouts may also adversely affect the amount of intensity we can apply to making our muscles bigger and stronger when we do return to the gym. The solution: maximize training effectiveness via a reduction in training volume and increased training intensity. In other words, by limiting your time in the gym and by making every second of a workout count you can fast-track your gains while enjoying your workouts even more.
Intense training followed by full recuperation is the undisputed key to superior results. This is doubly true for the natural lifter, whose recuperative abilities are all the more sluggish. But to experience greater progress despite a reduction in training volume we must also be wiling to train harder than ever before. What follows are five key training intensifiers designed expressly to add meaning and validity to every second of training time. They’ll also break your muscles down faster than any other set of variables, thus creating maximum micro-trauma. Indeed this is a good thing, as via the super-compensation resulting from complete recovery (during which the functional capabilities of a bodybuilder are increased) these muscles can then be built larger and stronger.
Should you choose to follow the advice given in this article be sure to train each muscle group no more than once a week. Resist the urge to do more. Obtain a good balance of key nutrients through advanced supplementation and whole foods nutrition. Get 8-10 hours’ sleep each night. Think big. Then sit back and watch your muscles grow.
Intensifier 1: Go To Failure
Working to failure is a well-known prerequisite for muscle growth. But how many lifters truly reach failure? I would bet that few lifters have ever learned to train this way. In fact, it’s near impossible to achieve complete failure across multiple sets. Just as no athlete could sprint at top speed for a mile, no lifter could ever hope to train with real intensity for any more than 2-3 work sets (and even that’s pushing it). The more intensity we apply to our workouts, the less volume our muscles will be able to withstand. That’s why history’s best bodybuilders – from Mentzer to Labrada to Yates – were inclined to save their energy for 1-2 big sets per exercise rather than utilizing the all-too-frequently observed watered-down training approaches seen in many gyms today.
Many trainees simply go through the motions, fruitlessly doing 15 or more work sets per body part at less than 70% full intensity. The simple fact is: the more work we do beyond what is absolutely necessary to adequately stimulate a target muscle, the longer the body will take to recover and the greater the risk of becoming over trained. Add to this the relative intensity drop needed to ensure full completion of multiple sets and muscle gains are likely to be in the maintenance zone, at best.
Like all worthwhile pursuits, bodybuilding success hinges on quality (blistering intensity and textbook form on each set) over quantity (volume for volume’s sake). So after a warm-up set of 15-20 reps at a weight 50% lighter than your first work set, it’s time to hit true failure on 1-2 heavy duty sets. There are many ways to do this.
Here are two of my favorites:
1.Choose a weight that allows eight super-strict reps; pause for three seconds after the eighth rep, then crank out another; pause again; crank out another; immediately reduce the weight by 20%; do 2-3 more reps. The final rep on this set must be near impossible to complete.
2.Go to complete positive failure for eight super-strict reps;have a partner assist slightly on the positive phase for two further reps; once partner-assisted positive failure has been reached, have your partner complete two further positive reps, while you simply hold the bar and help to stabilize the weight; use your last bit of remaining muscle strength to control the negative on each of these reps.
Intensifier 2: Pre-Energize
The best intensity techniques and a mindset conducive to complete focus on each work set may amount to very little if the body simply is not willing to perform. To ensure that fatigue does not limit output, mental sluggishness does not supersede mental arousal, weakened muscles do not prevent maximum muscle contraction and anaerobic performance, and dehydration does not dash endurance, stamina and force production, serious lifters would be wise to use a reputable pre-workout product.
Once considered a luxury to be included as a last resort, quality pre-workout products are today viewed as an essential factor in increasing training intensity. Let’s face it. With the overwhelming energy-depleting pressures many of us face on a daily basis coupled with less than optimal pre-workout focus and drive, many lifters never quite achieve those final growth-inducing reps.
We will never know what we are truly capable of until all the conditions for a desirable training experience are in place. Unfortunately, many people never reach their full muscle-building potential because of this very reason. This is not for want of trying. Indeed, try as they might,many lifters simply cannot cross over to those coveted final reps. I think we can all empathize. Many are the times when I’ve personally walked away from a workout knowing that I could have given so much more in the way of intensity. This is no longer the case, and my results speak for themselves. The secret: a quality pre-workout prior to hitting the steel.
Intensifier 3: Limit Rest
Rest outside of the gym is to be encouraged. However, when it’s time to train, taking it easy for extended periods has no place in the training trenches. When it comes to bodybuilding-style training, rest is a relative term. Specifically, rest between sets must be used to recover sufficiently for the next set, not to socialize, take selfies or otherwise slack off. And the amount of time needed to sufficiently recover may vary from person to person.
Between sets rest may also vary from exercise to exercise and will almost always coincide with one’s training goals. When, for example, training for power lifting,rest periods will be longer so as to ensure the full completion of a maximum lift. This requires a fully rested state. Big movements, like squats and dead lifts, will usually take a little longer to adequately recover from,irrespective of one’s training mission.
However, to boost training intensity, for superior bodybuilding progress, it’s good to get into the habit of limiting rest wherever possible. In fact, one of the best ways to compound intensity from set to set is to closely monitor our rest periods. Remember, when bodybuilding it’s not always about the amount of weight we are able to lift; it’s about the intensity we ultimately generate and the amount of damage we can inflict on a target muscle. By keeping rest periods between 1-1.5minutes long we go into the next set having to work extra hard to get those all-important 10-12reps.
Intensifier 4: Focus
The gym is no place for playing around. It’s a place of business. It’s where serious athletes seek to achieve their objectives in the most efficient manner possible. Thus, it is a place where focus is essential.
True training intensity (where every ounce of effort is channeled into creating maximum muscular overload) simply cannot be achieved without extreme focus. To conjure and sustain a focused mindset, the lifter must enter the gym already psyched up to attack the weights. Indeed,focus is not something that is turned off and on during a workout. It’s there for the full duration,influencing every set and every rep.
But ensuring complete focus is no easy task. Our brains are hardwired to detect and, in turn, respond to myriad environmental stimuli. This is why we are often so easily distracted. Our attention is constantly monitoring our surroundings and responding accordingly. But complete focus can be achieved. And the good news is, like anything else in life the more we practice focusing our attention, the better we become at it. Due to the fact that it’s a psychological impossibility to focus on two or more things simultaneously, our minds are prone to wandering. Because our minds are designed to focus on one thing at a time, we must, in order to strengthen our ability to focus, work to extend the amount of time we can concentrate on important tasks.
Once complete focus is applied across the full duration of a heavy set of squats, for example,only then will we know the true meaning of intensity (by lessening focus during a big lift we also dilute the corresponding output of intensity). So, approach each set with the singular mission of completing each rep; feel the muscles working from the first rep to the last; and keep your mind focused on squeezing out every last bit of effort as you seek to conquer the weights.
Intensifier 5: Optimize Recovery
Coupled with intense training is the equally important muscle-building mandatory: proper recovery. Full recovery from each of our workouts is crucial if unsurpassed results are to be achieved. Few people are sufficiently well-rested. Thus, few people ever truly reach their full body building potential. Part of the reason for this universal lack of progress is poor training intensity, a problem that can be addressed by following Intensifier 1. However, in a typical chicken and egg scenario (two foods all bodybuilders can relate to, incidentally), confusion exists as to what must come first: hard training to justify complete recovery or complete recovery to ensure optimal training intensity? Let me say here and now that one without the other is meaningless. Both have their place and both must be given due respect.
It must also be said that full training intensity in line with a person’s physical and mental capabilities cannot be achieved in an un-rested and semi-depleted state. As well as getting between 8-10 hours’ sleep each night and (ideally) a 20 minute nap during the day,the single biggest obstacle many face when seeking full recovery is poor nutrition. A healthy diet comprising six nutritious meals per day (with at least one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day–1.5 grams is better) is essential.
I’ve also personally found that since adding two whey protein shakes per day along with a full spectrum vitamin/mineral supplement (with extra C, magnesium and zinc) that, at age 42, my recovery has never been better. I’m able to exert maximum intensity from the first rep of a workout to the last. So, to boost intensity, don’t get caught up in the notion that as long as you exert maximum effort, your muscles will respond favorably. That’s not how it works. You must exhaust your full mental and physical capabilities each time. And this requires full recovery.
There’s no way around it. Without intense training there can be little or no muscle growth. Before muscle protein synthesis can work its transformational magic, we must have thoroughly stimulated this process via massive muscle micro trauma. Then we must let nature take its course. This means resting our muscles and allowing full recovery to take place. However, the more competing recovery demands our body is faced with, the longer, and less efficient, will be the recovery process.
To avoid this all-too-common dilemma we may shorten and further intensif your training sessions; get a maximum amount of rest; take key supplements and maintain a nutritious diet; and train only when we are sure that our muscles can perform to their fullest potential. Muscle growth cannot be forced. It must be coaxed. By training judiciously and recovering fully we can be assured that our physique will respond by growing larger and stronger. Okay, it’s time to hit the gym, but only if you are willing and able to apply 100%intensity. With the help of this article you can do just that.
About the author
David Robson is a prolific health and fitness author with a particular interest in how training, nutrition and mindset can assist bodybuilding progress, David Robson, a personal trainer and health educator, also walks the walk as a seasoned bodybuilding competitor. David, a Tae Kwon Do black belt, and second place-finisher at the 1997 World Natural Bodybuilding Championships, has competed internationally in both Tae Kwon Do and bodybuilding.
In addition, David, who holds separate degrees in psychology, journalism, teaching, and sports performance, is Founder and Director of Advanced Personal Training New Zealand (ATPNZ), a company set up to educate people on how to become fitter, healthier, and better-performing in their day-to-day life, and as athletes.
Charity work forms a large part of David’s life. As Founder and President of the New Zealand Wheelchair Bodybuilding Federation (NZWBBF) and Founder and Director of Fit Futures Charitable Trust, David provides sporting and fitness training opportunities for people with physical disabilities.
David also provides online coaching for fitness and bodybuilding results.
Contacted David at: firstname.lastname@example.org