If I were to graph my training intensity or workout quality, it would probably be a bell shape. Most of my training sessions fall somewhere in the middle—pretty good. Maybe 5-10 percent of those sessions were complete crap. At the other end lie those workouts that are freaking amazing. I performed well. I was intense. I blew up the weights.

These awesome sessions are usually the result of planning. Often they happen on special days. For example, the day I got married I went through The Kill before taking my vows. Thanksgiving is coming up soon, and I'm planning something particularly nasty since it's also my birthday. Call it a sick present to myself.

Extreme training techniques aren't something you can do all the time. The body can't recover at a certain point. However, if you are looking for some ideas for a crazy training session or a way to throw variety into your program, try out some of these ideas.

1. Tabata

This is a personal favorite of mine, great for use on those days when you're short on time. It's fairly simple and can be used for a variety of lifts, though I suggest front squats, thrusters, deadlifts or any compound lift that you have the stamina to perform for a while.

How you do it

We will use the front squat as our example. Select a light weight to perform with, say 30-50% of your one-rep max. Have a friend with a stopwatch nearby. Once you unrack the weight, your time will start. In 20 seconds, complete as many front squats as you can. At the end of 20 seconds, you have 10 seconds to rack the weight, rest, and unrack the weight. When your ten seconds are up, you had better be in position to start the next round, because you are going to do this seven more times! In four minutes, you will perform eight sets of front squats. You should be completely wrecked at the end of this. If you have any gas left, you weren't trying hard enough.

Sample Tabata Workout
Barbell front squat
8 sets, to failure (max reps in 20 seconds, 10 seconds rest (which includes rack and un-rack time for next set))

2. Litnivov

Track-and-field athletes can be tremendously powerful. It makes sense. Hundred-meter sprinters and throwers have to produce as much force as they can in a short time frame. A popular method taken from champion thrower Sergey Litnivov involves a combination of a heavy compound strength move and a short-distance sprint.

How you do it

The most popular version of this method also uses the front squat, but you can substitute any heavy, compound barbell movement if you like. The technique is simple. Load up a heavy weight and perform eight repetitions. Rack the weight, and then immediately run 400 meters. Perform for three sets, and take what rest time you need in between. You will get out of this what you put into it. If you only load up 50% of your max and jog your 400 meters, Mr. Litnivov will want to drop his hammer on your head.

Sample Litnivov Method Workout
Barbell front squat
3 sets, 8 reps
Treadmill running
3 sets, 400 m

3. The Mile

Sometimes, we want our training to reinforce our mental fortitude. That may require some time to think about the horrible things you are doing to yourself, to question why you ever started working out in the first place. A fine way to test yourself is to walk a mile in your own shoes...dragging some heavy shit. Your Xbox will suddenly seem more attractive to you about halfway through this challenge!

How you do it

Many athletes now do some sort of functional "general physical preparedness" training to round out their fitness. One of the most popular and effective things to do is sled dragging. You can drag it forward or backward—the latter will fry your grip and upper back. If you don't have a sled, get a tire and throw 25-50 pounds in it. Attach a rope or chain to a handle and you're ready to rock and roll. The movement is simple. Drag the sled for a mile.

Safety Tip: If you're out on a road, wear reflective clothing. I do this with a partner. This not only adds to the safety, but I go one mile out, and the training partner drags it back in.

The Mile
Sled Drag - Harness
1 set, 1 mi

4. Breathing Squat

Sometimes when you are doing extreme training, weird things happen. I've hallucinated, passed out, bled from my pores, and heard things. There are few things more effective at taking you to that level (if you so desire it) than high rep squats. Many gym goers skip (proper) squats because they can be difficult and produce fatigue. High-rep squats will leave your brain fried in another plane of existence.

How you do it

The important thing here is weight selection. Select your normal 10-rep max. We're going to do it for 20. It really is that simple. After each repetition, pause for a few seconds and breathe. The thing about squats is that no matter how much it hurts, it always seems like there is room for one more. With a few breaths in between, the back half of this set will blow your mind.

Breathing Squat Workout
Barbell Squat
1 set, 20 reps (rest-pause set using 10-rep max, rest/breathe for a few seconds in-between reps)

5. Linda

Linda is a bitch. While I like that CrossFit gets people doing serious movements such as Olympic lifts, power lifts, strongman movements, etc., I always worry about technique breakdown. Watch out for that as you attempt "Linda," a popular CrossFit Workout of the Day (WoD) that will kick your ass. This isn't training I would do regularly, but it makes a great challenge workout.

How you do it

After warming up, prepare three stations. The first station is deadlift, with the bar loaded to 1.5 times your body weight. The second station is the bench press, loaded to your body weight. The final station will be a clean, with 3/4 of your body weight. Blast through 10 sets of each of these in sequence, beginning with 10 repetitions and dropping a rep each set (10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1). Complete it as fast as you can. If necessary, scale down the weight as you progress.

Linda Workout
Barbell Deadlift
10 sets, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 reps (1.5 times bodyweight (decrease as necessary))
Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip
10 sets, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 reps (1.0 times bodyweight (decrease as necessary))
10 sets, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 reps (0.75 times bodyweight (decrease as necessary))

About the Author

Matt Biss

Matt Biss

Matt Biss is a training and nutrition specialist. He earned his B.S. in Exercise Physiology and is a certified personal trainer and strength coach.

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