It is not an easy thing to train intensely, and it requires thought to have a training program that has enough variety to constantly challenge the muscles and allow for recovery as well. Too many bodybuilders find a training style that they like and very rarely stray from it. This is far from ideal.
The human body is extremely adaptive, and if it is not challenged with new stimulus it will not continue to change. In part one, I discussed the importance of varying the volume and load of your workouts while not overtraining. In order to put together a training plan that constantly challenges you with new forms of high intensity training, there are other factors that must also be addressed.
Rest periods between sets are something that most fitness folk rarely change. As with rep ranges and the number of sets used during training, most lifters find what they like best, and tend to stay within that comfort zone. Rest periods are yet another tool that can be used to raise the intensity of your training.
The amount of rest taken in between sets is directly related to how much energy will be available to your muscles when the next set begins. It takes about three minutes after a set for muscles to recover nearly 100 percent of adenosine tri-phosphate and creatine phosphate, which are the two primary energy sources for a working muscle.
This will allow near maximum weights to be used for nearly every set. This is why strength and power athletes take very long rest periods between sets. Taking long rest periods with heavy loads should be incorporated into every bodybuilder’s routine as this will help with the ultimate goal of progressive overload.
Shorter rest periods between 60 to 90 seconds, will allow for approximately 85-90 percent recovery of ATP and CP. Short rest periods have been shown to have a greater impact on growth hormone levels than long rest periods. Keeping breaks short works great when training for hypertrophy with moderate to light loads for high reps and more volume. Studies show the most dramatic increases in growth hormone with sets that are at least 10 reps combined with rest periods between 45 to 60 seconds.
Shorter rest periods also have the advantage of allowing more volume in a workout, with less duration. Growth hormone and testosterone levels peak 60 to 90 minutes into training and fall quickly thereafter. If exercise continues too far beyond this point, hormone levels can fall below normal resting levels and can actually remain lower for a few days. This is obviously counter productive to whatever your weight training goals are.
I am not suggesting that you use a stop watch to monitor your rest periods, but don’t take rest periods that are very inconsistent. Too much talking between sets is what most often interrupts a good training session. There is also no need to have your phone with you during training, as texting will greatly interfere with the flow of your training.
If you were to adopt an approach to training that is similar to that of a professional athlete, you wouldn’t be talking at all during training. These distractions will drain you of your focus and intensity. The appropriate timing between your sets will require paying attention and focusing on the task at hand. Leave the distractions in the locker room and your training will rise to a new level of intensity.
Although failure is a little different from the other forms of intensity discussed, it still needs to be looked into. When training to the point of momentary muscular failure, heavy or light loads can still be used. It is simply continuing a set to the point where another rep cannot be completed with good form, without assistance from a spotter.
Just like everything in fitness, there are two sides to the argument of training to failure. Some feel that a set not taken to failure is a wasted set. Others avoid taking any sets to failure for fear that it will lead to overtraining. Both groups have valid concerns that need to be addressed.
The rational for training to failure is that during a set, as some motor units fatigue and drop out, other motor units must be recruited for continued activity. The issue with this rational is that it isn’t true that lifting light weights to failure will produce large gains in hypertrophy and strength.
It is well-known that heavy to moderate loads must be placed on muscles to achieve maximum hypertrophy. Training to the point of failure has been shown in many studies to produce gains that are superior compared to when sets are terminated early. Even though training to failure has been shown to be more effective, stopping sets just short of failure can also produce large amounts of growth.
This is because overload is the primary determinant for muscle growth, not failure. Continually lifting heavier resistances for all different rep ranges will overload muscles and force adaptations. This is easier said than done as anyone that has lifted weights for many years knows. Increases in strength are not always steadily moving up at a constant pace. This is one of the reason why taking sets to failure is effective.
At some point in training, optimal gains are produced by taking sets to the point of momentary muscular failure. Failure also may be the best way to increase the intensity of a workout. Once a training session begins, testosterone and growth hormone levels will increase within the first few minutes. How high levels of both hormones go is directly related to the intensity of training.
Intensity of exercise is the primary determinant for how much growth hormone your body will secrete, while duration and volume have little to do with growth hormone secretion. For this reason, training to failure can be a great way to increase the intensity of your training and to take advantage of the increased anabolic hormone response.
One disadvantage of training to failure is that it is very taxing on the central nervous system. The nervous system is responsible for activating motor units during exercise. Although muscle tissue may be able to recover from taking many sets to failure, the nervous system will not. Some programs that call for all working sets to be taken to failure will definitely lead to overtraining.
Workouts must contain both sets to failure, and sets close to failure along with periods of time where no sets are taken to failure. Many of the benefits of failure training can be had by taking a set very close the point of failure. Stopping a set 1-2 reps just short of failure will allow for sufficient fiber stimulation while sparing a lot of stress on the nervous system.
One thing to note is that high intensity overtraining has a much different effect than high volume resistance overtraining. The main difference between the two causes of overtraining is the effect it has on the endocrine system. With high intensity overtraining, catecholamines, which are the fight or flight hormones, actually show an increased response to training. Where as volume related overtraining will cause a decrease in testosterone levels, intensity related overtraining will leave testosterone levels unaffected.
The ultimate goal of any training program is to push as hard as possible while not overtraining. Bodybuilders are always tip toeing on the brink of overtraining and it seems that if that line is crossed the effects will be less detrimental if more intensity and less volume is used.
These intensity boosting techniques are different from those such as drop sets and supersets. Although both are great intensity boosting techniques and should definitely be used from time to time, principles of load, volume, rest periods, and failure must be adjusted in your weight training program to ensure constant and steady growth for years.
These aspects of training are not independent of each other, and if one is adjusted all other must be adjusted accordingly. Appropriate levels of intensity will vary greatly from person to person depending on genetics, diet, and whether or not steroids are involved. Those who have made the choice to be natural bodybuilders have chosen a more complicated path.
Natural bodybuilders must be more conscious of every single one of these points since drugs will not make up for the flaws within their training. Be sure to take a hard look at the intensity level of your own training. Most lifters will convince themselves that they are training more intensely than they actually are.
Many people have no problem going from set to set with very little rest periods. Many people have no problem lifting heavy weights or doing a lot of sets. You’ll find though, that very few people have the determination to strive to be great in every aspect of the word intensity. Doing so takes a level of planning, and dealing with pain that most are not willing to go through.
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