The key to maximizing performance in the gym is keeping the intensity high. Many people think they’re training intensely by increasing the length of their workout, but they keep the intensity the same as usual. In reality, increasing the intensity could increase calorie burn, build more strength and endurance, and burn more fat more efficiently and in less time.
So, what exactly is intensity? Intensity is a feel factor. It is a way of lifting to put out a maximum effort. For example, two people can do the same exact fitness routines and still have two different outcomes. Intensity is what determines who has more success when it comes to maximizing your gains.
You can increase your intensity by:
• Increasing the number of reps
• Decreasing the rest periods between each set
• Increasing the amount of weight you lift
• Increasing the total number of sets (volume)
Different approaches can be employed when following these principles. Understanding this will help you reach your goals quicker and also help you break through any plateaus. One thing you don’t want to do is get stuck doing the same exercises, in the same order, with the same weight and the same number of repetitions, every day.
Below I have listed a few intensity techniques to incorporate into your program. I do not recommend doing more than two intensity techniques per workout because overtraining and injury are real possibilities if you push it too hard (these are not for beginners).
1. Forced Reps
This advanced training method 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 2-3 more reps that you could not get on your own. Be sure to watch your form here!
2. Forced Negatives
This technique focuses on the negative portion of muscle contraction (the eccentric or lowering phase) and uses a spotter. To accomplish this technique, you would choose a heavier weight, your partner would help you lift the weight, and you would slowly control the weight during the downward movement.
3. The Cheat Method
This is used after performing a number of reps with good form until muscle fatigue begins to set in (or the weight is too heavy). At the end of a set, when you can’t do any more reps with good form, use a bit of body swing or momentum to help get the weight past the sticking point, e.g., swinging the weight up a little at the start of a barbell curl. By employing this technique, you will use surrounding muscle groups to assist in the movement to complete additional reps to complete the set. It is key that when performing this technique you still let the major muscle targeted do most of the work.
4. Drop Sets
Drop sets, aka descending sets, are 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. 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 or more. My favorite is doing a 4-set drop while performing dumbbell lateral raises starting with 25 pounds, drop to 20 pounds, then 15 pounds, then 10 pounds, all to failure.
A superset is a technique where two or more exercises are performed back to back. When three exercises are performed in succession it is call a tri-set superset. This is another good way to train if time is limited. Supersetting involves doing two exercises with no rest in between. Supersets can be in two ways— doing two different exercises in a row that hit the same muscles, or doing two exercises in a row, hitting two different muscle groups.
6. Giant Sets
This involves going from one exercise to another very quickly. It keeps the heart rate elevated and it is a good muscle confusion technique when performed periodically. Giant sets are also good for conditioning and for those who are short on time.
7. Pre-Exhaust Method
This 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.
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 in a smart way.
• Stretch and properly warm up to reduce the chances of injury. Stretching after an intense workout is just as, if not more important than, stretching before the workout to reduce chances of injury and to increase recovery.
When you increase the intensity of your workouts you will not only see better strength, tone, and muscle size gains, but you find yourself even more dedicated to your workout! Incorporate the intensity techniques in a smart and consistent manner, get the proper amounts of rest, and fuel your body correctly with the proper nutrients, supplements and water, and you will be surprised how quickly your efforts will pay off!