Bodybuilding is the process of maximizing muscle hypertrophy through the combination of weight training, sufficient caloric intake, and rest.
One important factor of this "bodybuilding triangle": weight training is not as simple as it seems. To make the best gains in the shortest amount of time, it is important to understand a basic principle: intensity.
In terms of Bodybuilding, What Exactly is Intensity? Intensity is a feel factor. It is a way of lifting to put out a maximum effort.
Many people think they're training intensely, but the sad fact is most people are not. Most people "undertrain" and "overtrain" at the same time. What I mean by this is that they do not train intensely (which I will describe in greater detail later) while at the same time they train too long in the gym without the pump, which actually limits or even impedes their desired results.
Three Basic Principles Of Intensity
You can increase the Intensity by 3 ways:
- Increase the number of reps
- Decrease the rest periods
- Increase the amount of weight you lift
Under each basic principle there are different approaches that can be employed.
Increase The Number Of Reps
The first way to add intensity in my opinion should be addition of reps. The best way is the X + 3 rule. In this rule you add intensity by adding 1, then 2 and then 3 reps beyond your target rep zone. When you can perform 3 reps more than the target zone you need to add weights. 5 lbs additional plates for major muscle groups and 2.5 lbs for minor muscle groups.
Adding more reps creates my hypertrophy in the muscle which is what is required for growth. This is another alternative way to intensify your workout. This can be accomplished in a simple approach, such as trying to get 10 reps vs. 8, or it can be done using advanced techniques such as:
- Forced reps training is an advanced training method, which is employed at the end of an exercise when you are unable to lift the weight on your own. At this point a training partner gives a small extra push while providing a spot so that you can overload the muscle by getting reps that you could not get on your own if you did not have the extra help, and a spot.
The moral support and encouragement alone often works and allows the bodybuilder to seek out a few more reps before the force reps are even employed. Typically this method is used for 2-3 extra reps, resulting in maximum overload and a great pump.
- Burns is another advanced technique similar to forced repetitions. With this method, you would use a sub-maximal weight that is so light that you could still use it to continue to pump and work the muscle after lactic acid has built up. When you keep working under these conditions, you get a great pump, and a huge burn from the lactic acid build up.
For those of you that may be curious, lactic acid is caused in part, to constant muscle contraction. It is created when the muscle burns sugars (in whatever form). Normally lactic acid gets squeezed out by normal muscle movement and lymphatic fluid, into the lymphatic ducts, where it is processed and eliminated from the body. What stops this is constant muscular tension (such as supersets, giant sets, forced reps).
| Lactic Acid
During power-intensive exercises such as sprinting, when the rate of demand for energy is high, lactate is produced faster than the ability of the tissues to remove it and lactate concentration begins to rise.
- Lactic acid eventually will cause the muscle to tighten and bunch up, and constricts the flow of the lymphatic fluid. Since this cannot help wash out the lactic acid, it sits there, causing that familiar burning sensation. Probably more than you needed to know, right?
- This principle involves the use of a spotter. To accomplish this technique you would choose a heavier weight and your partner would help you lift the weight and you would slowly control the weight during the downward movement.
For instance if you normally would use 225 pounds for 8 reps on a bench press, you would instead use 350 pounds and slowly lower the weight after receiving help lifting it off. Your partner would also assist you with during the upward pressing movement by pulling the weight off your chest while you are pressing the weight up.
Negative Reps Articles:
Another way to accomplish this is using the same 225 pounds that you would normally use, but your partner would press down on the weight as it goes down for increased resistance, while you tried to resist the weight (slow the weight from approaching your chest). It is important that when using this advanced technique that the external force applied is done in a smooth and careful manner to avoid injury.
The Cheat Method
- The Cheat Method is an advanced training technique that is utilized when one can no longer perform a repetition in strict form. It is used after performing a number of reps with good form until muscle fatigue begins to set in (or the weight is too heavy).
By employing this technique you will use surrounding muscle groups to assist in the movement to complete additional reps to complete the set. An example of this technique would be as follows: when doing dumbbell chest presses, if you feel no longer you can do in perfect form, get the help of your shoulder and back (lat) muscles to assist lifting the weight.
- It is key that when performing this technique you still let the major muscle targeted, to do most of the work. I always used cheat sets very sparingly as I was a stickler for good form, however there is a place in every bodybuilder's arsenal to use this technique occasionally.
Decrease The Rest Between Sets
There are also many techniques available for decreasing the rest between sets. They may include the following:
- Drop Sets, AKA Descending Sets, is the most basic and yet one of the best techniques to maximize intensity. You begin by reaching failure with a weight, as soon as you hit failure, lessen the weight, and then continue the set until failure is reached again.
Lets say you were to perform triceps pulldowns with a 90-pound stack. If you reached failure at 12 reps, you would strip the weight down to 70 pounds and continue. A single drop or descending set is when you lower the weight once. A double drop or descending set is when you lower the weight twice (for instance from 90 - 70, then from 70 - 50 pounds).
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- My favorite exercise is to do a 6 set drop set while doing dumbbell curls running the stack and doing each set to failure. I might start with 50 pound curls, then drop to 40 and perform the reps to failure, then immediately pick up the 30 pound dumbbells to failure, then proceed to do reps with the 25 pound dumbbells until, failure and then finish off with 20 pound curls till failure... then work in a few cheat reps! By employing this technique I get 18 sets of arm curls done in about 12 minutes and am done!
- Strip sets are essentially drop sets. If we want to be technical, it refers to "stripping" weight from a bar reducing the weight that you're using by 10% or so with each succeeding set (where as a drop set can be done on a machine, using dumbbells, etc.). For example, if you start out with 100 pounds for curls, then on your next set you would do 90 pounds and 80 pounds on your subsequent set.
- A giant set is the practice of going from one exercise to another very quickly. One of the risks with this technique is that the muscle is fatigued so quickly that there is a tremendous loss of efficiency and benefit.
In my opinion giant sets are good for conditioning, but not so great for building size and not appropriate for contest training. For these reasons I only employ it when I have little time to train (like when I get to the gym 20 minutes before closing) or when I am very close to contest time (last week or two).
- A Superset is a technique where two or more exercises are performed back to back. When three exercises are performed in succession it is referred two as a triset superset.
- Supersets can be in two ways. One way is doing two different exercises - for bodybuilding routines - in a row that hit the same muscles. Other way is doing two exercises - for bodybuilding routines - in a row hitting two different muscle groups. Supersets work best when targeting opposing muscle groups. Performing them this way allows for a better pump, as well as more reps.
Increase The Number Of Sets
There are also many techniques available for increasing the number of sets. They may include the following:
Adding more sets of each exercise. This is a straight forward simple approach. Instead of doing 4 sets per exercise, you could do five sets per exercise.
- Multi-exercising is often incorrectly referred to as supersets. Multi-exercise sets are different than supersets. Multi-exercise sets use different exercises for each set instead of just doing one exercise for all sets.
With this type of training, you will be able to hit a particular muscle in different angles. For example, instead of doing 4 to 6 sets of a particular exercise for a body part, you would instead do different exercises for each set each time.
- For instance for a chest press - instead of 6 sets of flat bench you do one set of barbell flat bench press, then a set of incline dumbbell presses, followed by a set of dips, decline flyes and finally cable crossovers. Unlike supersets, you would have rest periods between sets to enable you to approach each set heavier.
Increasing The Weight
- Increasing the weight is not for the faint hearted. There are risks. Risks of improper form resulting in injuries. Probably most known for employing this principle was the late Mike Mentzer, who wrote many articles, and wrote books and developed audio tapes about what he coined his "Heavy Duty Training Principle".
His approach became extremely popular among bodybuilders especially after Mentzer won the 1978 IFBB Mr. Universe contest in which he was the first bodybuilder ever to receive a perfect 300 score from the judges.
Increasing Intensity Articles:
Mentzer's system was based on the principle of "intensity" as emphasized by Arthur Jones. So as not to overtrain, Mentzer's system was based on a limited amount of sets with adequate rest in between (4-8 days in between each workout).
Other Advanced Techniques To Increase Training Intensity
- Partial reps are half or nearly half reps which are done after exhaustion at the end of an exercise when you do not have the energy to complete full reps.
Partial repetitions are good for eking out a little bit more out of the exercise. My favorite exercise is the squats. As I lift very heavy weights during squats I find it difficult after 4-5 reps, I then do partial reps thereby recruiting those muscle fibers which are not yet fully tired.
- Deep Reps. Deep reps are done to recruit additional muscle fibers. A simple illustration would be squatting slightly passed parallel, performing deep dips, or doing chair pushups for a deep stretch. It is important that proper care is employed, and proper warming up is done, so not to overstretch or tear a muscle.
- This method is one of my favorites, so that I can reduce the weight a bit and reduce the stress on my joints while maintaining the force on the muscle.
The pre-exhaust method is typically done by performing an isolation movement first - like leg extensions - followed by a compound movement - such as the leg press, which works more than one joint. The principle is that on the second exercise, the muscle can be pushed into the range of failure very quickly by first employing the pre-exhaust method.
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- Static training is an advanced training technique designed to generate high intensity by maximizing weight while minimizing hold times. How this is done is by holding on to the muscle's particular position for an extended amount of time (typically five to fifteen seconds) to give the muscle a new way of training and experience a different load.
This technique in my opinion is very effective because when used sparingly provides the muscle with a force not typically employed, and as such it can also employ the recruitment of additional supporting muscle fibers. It is also a favorite of mine because it can increase intensity on the muscle without having to add a lot of additional weight which can pose strain on the joints. Another good benefit is that it can be used at any time - even when training alone.
Muscle Fibers Articles:
- Slow negatives is a technique that is slightly different from Static Training in that it is typically used at the end of a set when your muscles are failing but you want to get more out of the set in order to drive it into the critical "growth phase."
How it is performed is that you simply slow down the eccentric portion of the exercise (the eccentric portion of the exercise is the portion in which the muscle is lengthening under tension). To illustrate this point, if you were to do a slow negative with a barbell curl, you would slow the rep as you lower the bar towards your upper thigh; would constitute the negative or eccentric portion of the exercise.
- A simple approach is to perform the eccentric movement taking 4 seconds, while taking 2 seconds during the concentric movement (in the case of a barbell curl the concentric movement would be the positive part of the exercise - the action of raising the bar towards your shoulders).
With this method, it is common to also employ the Cheat Principle during the concentric movement to maximize the amount of weight and number of reps that can be performed. This technique in my opinion is very effective and can be used at any time - even when training alone.
- Speed Varying. This technique involves changing the speed that you perform the reps, while maintaining proper form. Often utilizing quick explosive movements at the point of force. Then employing slower static training methods during the negative (downward) rep.
Important Points To Consider When Increasing Intensity
Approach this in a systematic way to avoid injuries. Weekend warriors typically get hurt and drop out before success. It is great to get inspired, but approach your increase in intensity is a smart way.
Stretch and properly warm up to reduce the chances of injury. Stretching FOLLOWING an intense workout is just as, if not more important than stretching before the workout to reduce chances of injury, and to increase recovery.
Search for stretches and learn the correct form with picture and video guides! Get the best results possible and stay safe while stretching.
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Be aware of signs of overtraining. Symptoms of overtraining include lethargy (tiredness), aches, pains for extended periods of time, reduced strength, reduced stamina and reduced immunity. If you experience these symptoms, stop working out, take rest and start back with a new routine.
Ensure that you get enough rest. Your muscles don't grow when they are being worked; they grow only when they are at rest. If you give recovery time for the muscles, they will become bigger and stronger. Getting enough rest will also help prevent overtraining. If you are not giving time for recovery, the muscles remain the same and there will be no growth in the muscle.
- Water is also the most abundant nutrient in the body, not to mention the most important. It is the most critical nutrient for health, growth, and development. In order to move muscle, you need water. Muscle is considered an active tissue and water is found in the highest concentrations in active tissue.
Although water does not provide energy in the same way carbohydrates and fat do, it plays a very important role in energy transformation. Water is the medium in which all energy reactions take place. Therefore, you need to drink a lot of water for health, stamina, fuel, and building muscle.
- It's essential that you drink water for health and building muscle. Without it, muscle strength, control and stamina are all weakened which will reduce your ability to build muscle. Drinking water is important because it helps bring nutrients to the muscles and helps pass toxins from your body.
Water also helps out with the lubrication of your joints. Water is an ingredient in the makeup of the synovial fluid, which is the lubricating fluid between your joints. If your weight lifting diet is lacking in water, even for a brief period, less fluid is available to protect these areas.
- Remember, if you are employing the advanced lifting techniques discussed above by adding more weight, more reps, and more sets (and thus more stress to your body), the demands from weight lifting on the joints will increase. Adequate water intake is imperative to support the protective fluid needed for optimum performance and to maintain normal healthy joints.
When you increased the intensity of your workouts you will not only see better gains, but you find yourself even more dedicated to your bodybuilding workout, and you will undoubtedly reap the rewards from your efforts.
It is important, however, to remember that high intensity workouts can result in central nervous system overload. Therefore in my opinion, high-intensity exercise is effective for workouts of short duration only.
With a long workout, high-intensity training results in overtraining and central nervous system burnout. One way to avoid this is to perform a high intensity workout for just one body part at a time, and if your training calls for two body parts to be trained, that the other body part be trained in a more traditional manner.