Levels of intensity

  1. Levels of intensity

    This is my first post here. I am a personal trainer and ex mod at www.gotfina.com and a current mod with a training section dedicated to my and DC's training philosphies at http://www.animalkits.be/

    A few people suggested I share some of the articles I have written over here so I'm doing just that. Hope you enjoy them. They will be posted in no real sembalance of order.

    Levels of Intensity

    As most board members know I advocate low volume high intensity style training as being the best method to go about gaining strength and size. I get a lot of questions about just how hard one should train and what high intensity methods are most suitable so I figured it was time to discuss just what “high intensity” means. Here are some of the more common ways to do a set:

    Regular training, not to failure

    This is perhaps the most used (and abused) method in popular use today. It consists of lifting a weight using from 3-25 reps (6-12 being most common) and terminating the set before actual failure occurs. Failure being defined as taking the set to a point where another rep is absolutely impossible to do no matter how hard one tries using good form. Regular not to failure training is what is practiced by almost all people doing volume type training. The simple fact is that there is no way in hell someone can do 9-20 sets a body-part to failure. Ain’t gonna happen. While this type of training is the method that is mostly used by the pro’s and is very much a part of their success, it is also the method that is most responsible for all the “failures” that end up quitting bodybuilding because it simply doesn’t work for them. While doing these many, many sets growth is certainly stimulated, however it is never allowed to happen because doing that much work on a too frequent schedule leaves nothing left of the trainee’s recuperative ability to actually grow on. In effect the body is caught in a vicious cycle of always just trying to “catch up” and never has a chance to devout resources to growing.

    Training to failure

    This method is done by taking a weight and lifting until another rep is absolutely impossible to do in good form. If you look around you in gyms you will see many people that on the surface appear to be training to failure, but truth be told, most of them are grimacing and looking the part when they have MANY reps left in them. The bar is usually racked when it starts to hurt too bad. Truly taking a set to absolute positive failure is damn hard work and is all that is needed by most people, most of the time.

    Beyond failure training

    Here are a few, but definitely not all types of beyond failure training:

    1. Forced reps. These are done by having your spotter give you just enough of a spot to get the weight to the contracted position so it can be lowered under control again.
    2. Static contractions. While these can be done all by there self prior to reaching failure, a common use is to reach failure and then get a spot, and proceed to hold the bar in the contracted position until it can’t be held anymore and S-L-O-W-L-Y is lowered all the way down.
    3. Super-sets. To do a super-set in beyond failure fashion, an isolation movement for the target muscle is done to failure, and then IMMEDIATELY with no rest, a compound movement is preformed. Examples include flyes immediately followed by bench presses. Lateral raises immediately followed by dumbbell or military presses. Leg extensions immediately followed by squats. The idea is to be able to take the muscle past the point at which failure was reached by having other muscles assist.
    4. Rest/pause. The prime example here would be 20 rep squats where you take a weight that you can do a max set of 10-12 with, and at the point where another rep would be impossible, instead of racking the bar you rest/breath long enough to get another rep, and another and so-on until all 20 have been completed. Rest/pause can be used with almost any lift. Some lifts can be done while holding the bar, and others it is perfectly acceptable to drop the bar while “resting” long enough to get another couple reps. A great rest/pause format is to hit failure at 8, and the get 2 more, then 2 more, then 2, then 1.
    5. Drop/strip sets. These are done by doing a set to failure, then IMMEDIALY stripping some weights or grabbing another lighter bar or set of dumbbells and doing more reps, and then sometimes repeating again.

    As you can see there are lots of ways to lift a weight to or past failure. What works best? Well no one can argue that a set must be taken to failure to be productive and growth producing. The only problem with this method is since the intensity is so low lots of sets are usually done to stimulate growth and lots of sets = overtraining for the vast majority of trainees. Regular to positive failure training when done with real intensity and not stopped when the set gets tough, but TRULY taken to failure is just the ticket for MOST people. If your sets are truly done to failure, how many should be done? Well I can state unequivocally that one (after warm-ups) is absolutely all you need to turn on the “growth mechanism”. Unfortunately bodybuilders read bodybuilding magazines and read all about how the pro’s train and falsely believe that a bunch of sets are needed…..they are wrong! One or at most two sets taken to positive failure are definitely all one needs to stimulate growth. That said, what about all the other “beyond failure” techniques? Are they needed? Will they make you grow better? Will they overtrain you? Like all things bodybuilding related the answer is “it depends”, and ‘sometimes” for some people. If I could pick one that is most productive, rest/pause would get the nod. It allows you to keep the same “heavy” stress on the muscle throughout the set unlike some other techniques like drop sets or super-sets. It’s easy to apply and you can do it in a crowded gym, unlike trying to do for instance, a set of leg extensions followed by a set of squats (try that in a crowded gym where the leg extension machine is half-way across the gym from the squat rack!). And unlike forced reps it YOU lifting the weight, not your spotter. And they also allow you to do as few or as many “after failure” reps as you want.

    Now comes the downside of HIT techniques. They WILL overtrain you if you insist on doing a whole bunch of sets of them or too many exercises too frequently. The plus side to this is done correctly they give you the absolute best chance of stimulating growth in as short as time possible with as few lifts as possible allowing you the best chance to recover and supercompensate between sessions. Should you incorporate beyond failure techniques? Yes, sometimes, with some lifts. Unless you are a fairly easy gainer I would not have you doing all your sets beyond failure, and even easy gainers do great just taking their sets to failure. If you are a hardgainer I would strongly suggest only going to positive failure (20 rep squats or deadlifts excepted) on your sets. If you fall somewhere in-between I would suggest doing a few lifts rest-pause or super-set fasion to see how you respond. BEWARE! IF YOU START MAKING GREAT PROGRESS ON A COUPLE OF LIFTS LIKE THIS DON’T AUTOMATICALLY ASSUME DOING ALL LIFTS LIKE THIS WILL ACCELERATE GAINS. IT WILL MORE LIKELY STOP ALL PROGRESS!

    All this is written assuming you volume and frequency is low. Doing this type of training on a 4-6 day a week schedule with three exercises per body-part will fail 99% of those attempting it. If your training is not brief and infrequent stick to regular sets stopped short of failure. If you want to try something that REALLY works, cut your volume and frequency and TRAIN HARD!

    Hope this clears up a few HIT questions.

    Iron Addict

  2. Hey thanks for comin' over IA.... I have a lot of your articles on database and have posted a few here already... Looking forward to what you post, dont worry about reposting one's that are already here, everyone can afford to read them twice

  3. IA nice article, If one chose to do sets to failure. What is the rep range one should be in? I ask this simply to figure out what weight to use. Also you say one set will do it. So is that one set for each excercise you do for say your chest or one set period for your chest? Late J

  4. "Well no one can argue that a set must be taken to failure to be productive and growth producing."

    ...I strongly disagree. It's quite easily arguable. Failure taxes the CNS to a degree that impacts your training negatively. Stimulating that 'last' muscle fiber by doing that one last rep and fatiguing your CNS, versus stopping a few reps shy of failure and doing a few more sets... the person doing a few more sets will have a much higher workload.

    To failure:
    = 3600

    Not to failure:
    = 4200

    The fact is, the CNS is what fails, not your muscles. You're not stimulating an appreciably greater amount of fiber by going to failure.

    That was all in reference to hypertrophy. Strength is another matter. Advocating training to failure does not take into account the way the CNS adapts, and as we all know, the CNS is the greatest factor in strength. So far you have us training to stimulate fewer fibers and training to become weaker. But wait just one minute folks... see what we have behind curtain number 3...

    I present, training yourself to fail. Details upcoming as soon as I can find the references.
    Last edited by Flavor; 06-26-2003 at 11:19 PM.

  5. Please understand one set to failure or beyond training works wonders for many trainees. Witness Dogg's 1 set of rest-pause protocol and the results he acheives with himself and those he trains. While it is always waise to keep the volume as low as possible, for some people, sometimes, AND for some muscles, more volume may be needed for optimal results. If you are doing one set training the minimal reps should be 8, with 10-15 reps preferred. If you are doing only 6-8 reps the cadence needs to be slow to acheive adequate time under tension, thus workload for reps. But as I am getting ready to point out to Flavor, workload isn't the only factor to consider.

    Using Flavors example of:

    To failure:
    = 3600

    Not to failure:
    = 4200

    It's clear to see that the workload is higher. Overall workload is very important for SOME people. lots of people get extremely good results by just doing:

    150 x 10

    Not enough you say? Tell the thousands of people that have made absolutely stunning gains doing this.

    Tell the folks following DC's protocol which would be:

    150x 8 Rest-Pause 3 more reps, then 3, then 2 more = 2250

    That the workload is not correct for growth. For MANY folks this format works miricles.

    Also if workload were the biggest factor we would find:

    90 x 18
    90 x 18
    90 x 18

    should give better results than the 140 x 3 sets. Why won't it USUALLY? Tension! Tension (loading) IS important and if the trainee in Flavors example were REALLY doing three sets at 140 times 10 and had a few reps left in them for all sets, its likely they would actially be doing:

    155 x 10
    155 x 9
    155 x 8
    =4185 Close enough.

    I have very few traininees that do three sets to failure on anything though as CNS will take a beating that way. I will absolutely state that I disagree with Flavors assertion that CNS failure is the limiting factor on sets to failure. For SOME people that may be the case, but not for most. Who is right? Neither of us because anyone that states this or that way is the best, most productive way to train hasn't trained many people. Also keep in mind I mostly play the averages when posting training information. I know that the average guy reading my material has average or below average recovery ability/genetics and post what i know will work for the largest segment of the training population. When I personal train someone they get anything from an extreme hargainer VERY abbreiveited routine to a westside bb, or advanced bodybuilder routine. This is dependant on their goals, and individual response to training and is only determined after extensive questions have been answered. If you saw a selection of the routines I write for my trainees you would have a hard time beleiving the same person wrote them all. They vary that much. There is no one best way to train everyone regardless of what some guru's say.

    Iron Addict

  6. Harumph. Started to edit my earlier post and had to go run errands. Better late than never, I suppose.

    Originally posted by iron addict
    150 x 10

    Not enough you say? Tell the thousands of people that have made absolutely stunning gains doing this.
    Never said it wasn't enough. I quite agree that different people/bodytypes respond differently to different workloads. I grow more from indirect stimulation, e.g., my chest/back grows more from arm oriented compound movements (CG Bench, CG supinated pull-ups) while my arms grow more from standard benching and wide grip pull-ups. My point is simply in regards to failure.

    Please explain your disagreement with my statement that the CNS fails, not the muscle. Your muscle never loses its ability to contract. You lose the ability to make it contract.

  7. The verbaige "not enough you say" wasn't aimed at you in particular Flavor, just stated for anyone reading it. More often then not when failure has been reached it's primarily because we simply run out of the "fuel" that allows us to contract. Fat (rarely used) glycogen, and PRIMARILY ATP are what fuels the contractions. When we temporarily deplete these stores we hit a wall and the muscle no longer contracts. That is why with a few minutes rest when ATP is replenished we can do another set. CNS Can be a limiting factor, but is USUALLY not.

    Iron Addict

  8. Hey man thanks for the insight. Do you think itd be possible for you to lay out a day of training? Im not sure what your routine is like but could you perhaps give what you do for chest and/or legs? Thanks in advance

  9. TMack,

    I don't have a "routine", nor a set bodypart workouts. It varies TONS for each trainee and I only know what is suitable after asking extensive questions. I will soon be posting some articles here with example routines. Stay tuned. If you want to read some of the stuff I have written go to:


    And look at the section titled "The Realm of Doggcrap and Iron Addict. Lots of good reading there.

    Iron Addict

  10. Yeah I hear ya. I was just looking for an example of a workout that you yourself might do. Just to get an idea of how your work it. Itd be great if you could post some articles and Ill def check out animals board. Thanks.

  11. HOT ****! You're now here IA! Damn I guess I'll be stopping over more often.

    Tmack-If you want to see some of IA's trining templates go to Gotfina.com and do a search on his name "Iron Addict"

  12. Back to the references I was searching for... this is all I could drum up, maybe more on the way.

    "...Golgi tendon organ. Every muscle has one, when it senses that a contraction is to strong and causes to much stress on your body based on your body's memories of previous attempts it will send a message to your brain to shut down all your muscles so you don't hurt yourself by continueing in the lift."
  13. Nelson
    Nelson's Avatar

    I know that DC recommends to rack the bar on BP, MP etc when doing RP sets.
    Do you suggest racking the bar when doing RP on movements such as BP, MP etc?

  14. Flovor,

    The golgi tendon is normally only activated when the weight is near a top effort, i.e 1-3 reps. When the reps are higher as done by most bodybuilders it is a non-issue and depletion of energy substrates (glycogen, ATP) is what causes you to fail at the end of a set.


    How to perform the rest periods when doing rest-pause is purely dependent on the lift performed. But to answer with a blanket response the answr is yes, always unload the muscle while the "rest" portin of the set is done. DC uses mostly machines for himself and his trainees, mostly no doubt because it makes the rest portion easier to get into because the machine can hold the weight while resting. If free weights are used the power rack is what I reccomend for most lifts. Using miiatary presses as an example, place the bar in the rack at the starting posistion of the lift. When you hit failure you only need to let the bar rest on the pins until you you are able to knock out some additional reps.

    Iron Addict
  15. Nelson
    Nelson's Avatar

    Thanks for clarifying that IA!


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