You've heard it once and you've heard it again, INTENSITY is crucial in bodybuilding success. Now while all avid gym goers believe that their training intensity is good enough, I can almost assure you that it is not. How can I make such a sweeping claim? Well, a little over 2 years ago, I thought I was intense.
Don't get me wrong because I was intense but the intensity then doesn't even come close to matching today's high intensity training. You still think you train with the utmost intensity? Well, let me ask you a few simple questions. I would advise that you be honest with yourself because you are your own worst critic. How many sets do you perform per training session?
If you are doing two or three hour marathons, then it is highly probable that you are not training at your highest intensity level. Have you ever felt like crying after a set? If you answered yes, then you're probably lying to yourself. Have you ever lost your sense of touch or experienced a tingling session in your hands? Chances are, you probably have not.
Very few people that I know can withstand such self inflicted pain. Have you ever pushed the threshold of pain so far that you have experienced lightheadedness or vomited? Once again, chances are that you have not. So as you can see, you ARE NOT training at your highest intensity level. After all, being in the gym is about results, isn't it?
Now that we have agreed that your intensity can be improved upon, how does one go about turning the intensity level up a notch? Well, intensity, just like anything else in life, must be improved upon through practice. Intensity goes beyond training hard in the physical sense. It also deals with the mental resilience. If you aren't mentally prepared for the physical onslaught ahead, then you will be in for a rude awakening.
Trust me on this one because I have witnessed firsthand several individuals trying to train with an intensity level uncommon to them. For their irrational efforts, they got what they deserved: a nauseating feeling of discomfort and the inability complete their workout. Your mentality also dictates your ability to withstand levels of pain past your normal pain threshold.
I believe Arnold put it best when he said, "the human body is not used to the 8th, 9th, or even 10th rep." When you approach the end of your set, things stop working in your favor and you have to dig even deeper. This is where your threshold for pain is tested. You can either quit or tell yourself, "I'm going to keep moving this weight no matter what!"
If you train in this manner, you might as well throw out the whole notion of stopping at a particular weight because it feels comfortable. I say to hell with that! If I'm performing a working set, I will go beyond failure and push until my muscles truly give out.
There have been countless times where I have bottomed out on squats, dropped dumbbells on myself, and felt as if I were about to pass out. But you know what? None of this bothers me because I've trained myself mentally and physically to be able to handle situations such as these. I know this sounds crazy and that I may border along the line of insanity but it's the most efficient way to make gains, especially if you're natural.
One helpful tip for increasing intensity level is to concentrate before the set. I usually visualize myself going through the entire set before I even perform the set so I can have a sense of what I should feel like during the actual working set. At other times, I just tell myself: do it not and think about it later! Now that I've mentally prepared myself, I have to take physical action.
As the weight starts moving, I concentrate on feeling and working the targeted muscle(s). Personally, things start to get extremely difficult around 4 or 5 reps and that's where my pain threshold is tested. I can either quit and be mediocre or I can keep fighting with the heart of a true champion. Needless to say, I will continue fighting with the assistance of my training partner, of course, making sure I keep proper form.
Another helpful tip is to think of something which fires your rage. This is a little more uncivilized from the mental aspect but as long as you use the negative energy for something positive, then I think it is ok. I am naturally a pacifist but there are certain things which really piss me off.
So before a working set, I will fill my mind with these negative thoughts which in turn fills my body with rage and adrenaline. Once again, I admit that I teeter on the brink of insanity. If you've never tried this mental technique, then I would suggest you give it a shot. Just don't go slamming 45 lb plates on someone's head.
A more civilized mental technique is to just enjoy the process of lifting. This method is probably more suitable to the common individual. If you have a good training partner and you can keep the training fun, your body and mind will follow suit. I'm sure you've heard of individuals who are very talented at something when not in front of an audience but can't perform in the public eye. The pressure is too much for them and they crack.
This same principle holds true for weight training. If you keep training fun, you should be able to perform better. Just make sure you don't go overboard with the fun. There is a fine line between positive fun and negative fun.
One final technique I use is to pride myself in my training intensity. Most anyone can train intensely once a month just by pure accident. Rather, the question is: can everyone train with the heart of a lion all of the time? It takes an extreme and intrinsically motivated individual to train with an intensity level which most people could not even dream of touching.
Next time you set foot in a gym, look around at the individuals around you. How many of them are training with the intensity I am discussing here. Maybe one or two at most. Now look at their physiques. Chances are very good that their physiques should speak highly of themselves.
You can bet that someone with a physique worthy of such admiration has paid his/her dues. Now shouldn't you pay your dues?