Nearly everyone training in a fitness facility will say they are working hard; however, maximum training intensity is not so common. To stimulate the muscle growth, training efforts must soar above previous levels of exertion. Training with the same loads, repetitions and program design is not only monotonous and boring – it’s not productive! Without sufficient effort, there can be no physiological adaptation to exercise. To build a stronger and more muscular body, training performance must be intense enough to blast past previous fitness thresholds.
Intensity is a measure of transmitted energy. Everyone experiences it during daily life, for example: holding a candle can help illuminate a dark room; staring into a lamp can cause someone to squint; looking straight into the sun is likely to cause temporary blindness. As intensity increases, so does the impact it has on an organism. The first repetition using a 10-repetition max imposes only minor stress on a muscular system, compared to the trauma inflicted on the tenth and final push or pull.
Skeletal muscle is voluntary – a bodybuilder must will it to work with constant activation and accurate motor control. In order for intensity to be 100 percent, motivation must also climax. A strength athlete may perceive 100 percent intensity by completing 10 repetitions with an 80-percent maximum load. However, adding in motivational support often increases intensity – such as cash rewards, music, or a group encouraging maximal performance. The same trainee may then perform 12 repetitions in the more stimulating environment.
To realize maximal intensity, the imposing weight must be heavy enough to warrant an intense contraction. Pouring a glass of milk will never be accomplished with strong muscular contractions unless the individual’s muscular ability is exceptionally minimal. Despite that, training loads are not the deciding factor when measuring intensity, but rather how the loads are used to impose demands on muscular systems. If heavy single-repetition sets resulted in 100-percent training intensity, powerlifters wouldn’t be able to routinely re-perform the same one-repetition maximum lift in one training session. In reality, they retrain with equal force since the psychological and physiological strain isn’t significant.
Powerlifters are able to perform multiple singles using maximum loads since marginal inroads in limit strength are allowing a quick recovery. At sub-maximal loads, multiple repetitions are needed to fatigue a muscle. The increased time under tension leads to more motor units being activated with further muscle fibers becoming involved. In turn, this increases training intensity. All this places a greater strain on the neuromuscular system and a larger degradation in succeeding performance efforts. With proper rest and nutrition, this becomes a potent signal for the body to start building greater force producing capabilities – unless the great barrier of genetic limitations puts a governor on further gains.
Intense efforts, using anaerobic energy systems, must be exercised to send the best signals for muscular hypertrophy. An exhausting dose of high-intensity training cannot be maintained for long durations; intensity is directly related to time. Training efforts can only be sustained over an extended period when intensity is low. Endurance athletes are not nearly as muscular as high-intensity athletes. Marathon runners exert enormous amounts of effort over many hours by obtaining a steady production of energy via aerobic systems requiring oxygen. Much more intense, sprinters and weightlifters fuel training demands using rapid sources of energy provided by anaerobic systems – consequently, they carry more muscle.
Anaerobic recommendations for strength training often fall into one of two generalized theories: high-intensity or high-volume training. The difference between the two is largely defined by the total number of sets performed in a workout.
In many instances, high-volume training is most helpful for less experienced bodybuilders. Before tackling the physical demands of high-intensity exercise, beginners – as well as many intermediates – need to develop proper mechanics, rehearse efficient motor control, practice suitable breathing techniques and cultivate inner motivation. If everyone was able to train with 100 percent intensity, at any moment or stage of development, injuries would be prevalent. There is a conditioning process to go through before a trainee can even consider training “hard.” This breaking-in period is best accomplished though a combination of practice and professional assistance. Moreover, athletes recovering from overtraining syndrome or disabling injuries should not attempt maximum intensity. People with special limitations may not warrant extreme efforts; such as the elderly or someone suffering from a disability.
High-intensity training is frequently rewarding for well-developed and experienced bodybuilders, since the quality of their training efforts is optimal. Both volume and frequency must be carefully regulated to balance intensity in the exercise prescription. Advanced bodybuilders attempting high-intensity/low-volume training may find their gains slow down due to several reasons, for instance: an improper balance with volume and frequency; a lack of program variation; loose exercise form and execution; poor or insufficient nutrition. Since bodybuilders cannot train past 100 percent intensity, continuing beyond total concentric failure by employing slow negatives, or having a spotter provide forced repetitions, will increase neuromuscular demands and the time needed to recover from the session. These types of advanced failure concepts should be used sparingly.
Focusing on increasing training intensity, fueled by an extensive release of inner motivation, will optimize training for extreme muscular development.