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by Anthony Millar of dotfitness.co.uk
We are all well aware that close attention to diet and supplementation as well as adequate rest and recuperation can have a huge effect on the success of our workouts. However the success of our workouts is largely determined by the amount of weight in which we can handle for our designated exercises, sets and reps. Although it is well worth noting that advances in training do not ultimately depend on the weight of the barbell/dumbbell. Have you ever stopped to consider your rest intervals, and the gains that could be made by reducing a 1hr’s workout into 45mins without altering the volume of that session?
The concept that I am referring to is that of training intensity. Training intensity can be defined simply as work done over time and should be of concern to all bodybuilders wishing to add to muscular size, definition and proportion.
So know that we know what training intensity is how can we implement this notion into our workouts. To begin with it makes sense to look at the rest intervals between your sets. This is usually 3mins for hypertrophy workouts (sessions where muscular size is the main priority). So one could assume that a 20 set workout would last around 1hr 10mins. It could be argued that this is too lengthy as numerous scientific studies suggest that testosterone levels significantly drop after approximately 45-50mins. To get your workout into this time zone rest periods of 2minutes need to be adopted. This you will find makes a big difference as the “pump” that you will achieve will be much more intense and the breakdown of muscle tissue will be significantly increased.
The reducing of the rest periods however raises certain practical issues. For example when squatting with several hundred pounds to exertion it is a little ambitious to attempt to better your previous set and continue to over load your muscles after just two minutes rest. Also how many times have you had to wait for equipment on an evening as the gym is usually packed at that time? The truth is that a lot of things can interrupt this very regimented approach to your training. You may even have to consider finding a new training partner or train on your own as this new outlook may be too much for other less committed bodybuilders. Of course there are ways around these problems such as splitting leg training into two different sessions, training at less busier times etc. But the most flexible way to condense workouts is to seriously contemplate the various intensity techniques that are available to you.
These techniques arguably represent the most practical solution as they can help breakdown a muscle very quickly giving you time to rest a little more for your heavier lifts. So, what are these techniques? It would be fair to say that there are several kinds, these being “drop sets,” “super sets,” “rest-pause” and “negatives.” Drop sets are very commonly used and are a very simple way to increase strength and mass in a relatively short space of time. Drop sets can also be referred to as “strip” sets or “up the rack” sets. Essentially they all mean the same thing; as soon as the set is complete you immediately lighten the load and perform another set with the same rep range having had no rest. To really break the muscle down you could choose to perform a triple drop set, where you undergo 2 additional sets with no rest in between. The beauty of drop sets is that the muscle can be taken to failure several times very quickly. For example a triple drop set involves 3 working sets that can be completed in less than 1min. This type of technique provides a significant shock to the muscles, leading them into areas of new growth and development.
Super sets are slightly more complicated, where more than one muscle group are trained at the same time, usually muscles that work against each other like the biceps and triceps. For example, as the biceps contracts the triceps stretches and when the triceps contract a stretch is placed upon the biceps. Once you have chosen the designated muscle groups i.e. biceps and triceps it is then time to select an appropriate exercise for both sets of muscles. One could select “preacher” curls (biceps) and “press-downs” (triceps). From here on in super sets are very much like drop sets in that as soon as one lift is completed you progress directly to the next movement with no rest. If your individual biceps and triceps workout consists of 8 sets than simply pair up two different exercises. It is important to make sure that if you lead with your biceps on the first pairing, choose to start with your triceps for the second pairing. Super sets give you the ability to saturate the arm with as much blood as possible for the muscle groups are constantly stretching and contracting. Finally training these muscles on the same day with the same intensity allows for equal development giving the muscles a balanced appearance.
Another way of increasing intensity is to include rest-pause techniques into your workout plan. As with the previous two they are potentially very effective and relatively simple to do. They are also very common, in fact this may already feature in your sessions without you knowing it. Again like super sets rest-pause sets have a lot in common with the drop sets. Although they differ significantly as rest pause sets do not involve a lightening of the weight as the load stays constant throughout. So, for example you take a lift to exertion for 10 reps, you then rest for 30 seconds (staying in the starting point of the exercise without relinquishing the resistance), then you take it to exertion again. This time you may only manage 4 reps, you then repeat the resting period and make your final lift which may only be 1 rep. So that a set of 10 suddenly becomes a set of 15, which is a good time saver as less sets are required to fatigue the muscle. This approach can give you the most incredible pump and can take the muscles to absolute failure. Also fantastic definition can be achieved when using this technique on more isolating movements when dieting.
The final technique that I am going to talk about is the use of negatives as part of your workout plan. The idea here is that emphasis is placed on the negative phase of the movement by making it last longer, usually 5 seconds. Take the bench press for example, the barbell needs to be loaded up with as much weight as you can handle for a set of 6-8 negatives. You then slowly lower the weight until the barbell gently touches your chest making this last around 5 seconds. Your training partner then helps you get the weight back to the starting point for the next rep where you again slowly lower the weight. I have to say I would not recommend this type of intensity technique as it raises several serious issues. Firstly, muscles are much stronger when they contract eccentrically (on the negative phase of lift), so the weight in which you are handling is usually greater than your repetition max. This can often be too much for the muscles to take and is very likely to put you in a catabolic (muscle wasting) state. Secondly, if your muscles are going to be up against it, imagine the effect this type of training is going to have on your joints. Like the muscles negatives are likely to come as too much of a shock to your joints. Serious injury is to ligaments and tendons can set you back months, which unfortunately is a reality when regularly training in this manner. Finally, you need a strong training partner who is willing to help you contract the muscles concentrically (positive phase of lift) which can also be quite demanding.
In conclusion then it is important to acknowledge the importance of training intensity which refers to the rest periods between sets and not the actual weight on the bar. Condensing your workouts into less time will allow you to make optimum gains without having to endure a significant drop in your testosterone levels. Leave the mindless chit-chat until after your workout. Your training sessions should be modelled on a SAS hit squad attack. You need to get in there, get the job done, and get out as fast as possible. To help you to do this there are various intensity techniques that have the ability to shock the muscle to the point where it has to adapt and increase in size and strength. However, these techniques do not come without their disadvantages. If used to often (every session) they can put you in an over-trained state as they put large demands on the muscle tissue. Although if you make clever use of these techniques (when at a sticking point) they can be great assets to have in your armoury.
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