Intensity is the key to stacking on quality muscle. You have to get in and out of the gym as quickly as possible, while hitting the target muscles intensely and effectively, from all angles.
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Too many people spend half of their workout time chatting, playing with their phones, or ogling the shredded hotties. Don’t do it! You have to keep the pressure on, keep focused on your goals and get the job done.Aim to leave the gym within 45 minutes, and if you still find yourself there after an hour, pack up, go, and re-assess your training regimen. Try to hit the gym when there are minimal distractions. Listen to music if it helps you focus. It’s time to be anti-social! The gym is for training, not networking!
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So, aside from focus and drive, what are the best techniques to inject some serious intensity into your training?
Cut the Rest!
First things first. Cut rest between sets down to 30-45 seconds, allowing slightly more time for recovery between big lifts such as deadlifts and squats. The bottom line here is, when you’ve recovered from your previous effort and shaken out, get back in there and push out another set. If you’re used to taking really long rests, ease your way down at first, allowing your muscles just enough time to recover. Aim to spend at least as much time lifting as resting.
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Pre-exhausting is an excellent way to focus intense effort into the target muscles. It is especially effective when used with big, compound lifts. If you find your triceps tire first when you do the shoulder press, pre-exhaust the lateral deltoid head with a few sets of lateral raises. You need to check your ego at the door with this technique because you won’t be able to shift as much weight when you get to your big lifts, but remember it’s all relative.
Here are some other pre-exhaust examples:Quads - Leg extension then squats
Chest - Flyes or pullovers, then bench press
Triceps - Pressdowns then tricep bench press
Lower back - Hyperextensions then deadlifts
Lats - Lat pulldowns then bent rows
The negative phase of any lift is the strongest phase, but it is all too often neglected. It is estimated you are 25% stronger than the positive phase at peak contraction, and 25% stronger again in the negative phase. So, if you can row 100kg, you should be strong enough to hold 125kg at peak contraction for 3 seconds, and you should be able to lower 150kg in a controlled manner. For this reason, every negative phase should form part of your lift. The muscle is still contracting as you lower it, as long as you don’t drop the weight. Feel the squeeze at peak contraction for a second or two, and then lower slowly. Lift for one second, hold for one, then lower for four. When you feel you have reached your final rep, lower the weight as slowly as possible. Enlist the help of a partner if possible as you lift the weight again (see ‘forced reps’) so you can perform another ultra slow negative.
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Partial reps are a great way to finish off the final couple of sets for a body part. When you can’t manage a full rep, perform what range of motion you can, until you can’t move the weight any more. This can be the upper portion of the lift or the lower.
Bicep curl 21’s are an excellent example of utilizing partial reps to their full potential, to keep tension on the muscles. The same technique can be applied to other exercises, such as leg curls or extensions.
The rest-pause technique is another superb way to totally finish off a muscle group. On your final set, do as many as you can and set the weight down. Shake out for just a few seconds and go again. Repeat until you can’t even perform one rep. For example, if you do a set of 8 on your last set, you may be able to do another 2 or 3 after a few seconds rest. You might then be able to squeeze another 1 or 2. If you’re lucky, you might even get another solitary rep after that. This technique gives you huge pumps. Taking Sheer Strength Labs Sheer NO2 Nitric Oxide Booster gives you pumps so huge your skin will feel ready to split.
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Squeezing at peak contraction adds serious intensity to your workouts. Instead of lifting to peak contraction for a fleeting moment, hold the weight there and feel the burn.
Obviously this technique can’t be used for lifts that involve a lockout, but it is excellent for lifts like tricep kickbacks (pictured) and lateral raises.
Supersets have become increasingly popular in the gym in the last decade or two. A superset is two sets performed back to back, without a rest. These exercises can be for the same body part, or for two opposing muscle groups. For example, for chest, you could do a set of flyes, followed immediately by dumbbell bench presses. This would be classed as a pre-exhaust superset. Shoulders respond extremely well to supersets. Instead of performing a block of sets of lateral raises before pressing, you could superset the two. Biceps and triceps are commonly supersetted, and what better way to get a huge ego boosting arm pump!
Giant sets are super-supersets! Normally consisting of four or more exercises back to back, these seriously up the intensity and test your endurance. An example of a giant set could be.
Lateral raise - 12 reps
Shoulder press - 10 reps
Upright rows - 10 reps
Front raises - 10 reps
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Put simply, drop sets hurt! But they get the job done and are a great way to finish off a body part. Perform as many reps as you can with your working weight and then remove some of the weight. Keep going until there is nothing left to drop!
Shoulders and calves can be especially stubborn body parts, but they react well to drop sets. Finish a shoulder workout by performing a huge drop set of lateral raises, working your way all the way down the dumbbell rack until you run out of weights! The burn is intense! Machines with weight stacks are excellent for drop sets because you can just shift the pin up and up and up.
Forced reps or assisted reps are a superb intensity training technique taking you beyond failure and deep into the red zone.
You need a training partner for most exercises (as pictured). When you are unable to complete a full rep, your partner adds just a little assistance to help you lift the weight. At first this may be just a few grams, but after a few reps, they may have more of the weight than you. They help by assisting with negatives until you reach complete and utter muscular failure. Having a partner there also helps with mental strength. A little bit of encouragement can go a long way.
Check out the great Tom Platz pushing this guy to absolute failure by layering up intensity training techniques.
All of the techniques mentioned above place a huge strain on your body. They should be used strategically and alternated to keep your body shocked into growth. When training at high intensities, make certain you get adequate rest. Take time away from the gym occasionally. All of the top bodybuilders know the value of total rest. Dorian Yates was a great advocate of taking time out. Factor in a complete week away from the gym every three or four months. This gives your body the chance to recuperate fully before you charge back into training and take off from those stubborn plateaus.
Taking Sheer Strength Labs Sheer Recovery is an excellent way to assist your body in the rebuilding process and grow following workouts. This incredible supplement fuels your body with everything it needs. Speeding recovery and preparing you for your next session.
Jonathan Warren is a national level physique competitor and personal trainer with multiple certifications including NASM, NCCPT, and IKFF. His specializations include mobility training and corrective exercise as well as contest preparation.