I read all of the muscle-building literature that is available each month. Some is written for the lay person, while others are technical and oriented towards those with a background in research and related subject areas.
I enjoy reading very few journals and magazines because of the misrepresentation of an activity that should be part and parcel of everyone's existence.
Bastardizing weight and strength training for commercial gain is one thing, but holding out the promise of a physique or level of strength that is unattainable for the vast majority of readers is unfair and unethical.
There are those publishers and writers who are sincere in their beliefs and write in an effort to improve the lot of those who read their material. Unfortunately, there are times then they, too, either misunderstand, or misrepresent ideas or concepts and propogate the misunderstanding to their readers.
IRONMAN has always had the reputation (built by the Raders and carried on by Mr. Balik) of presenting "common sense" and logical training information, but the article entitled "Intensity or Insanity?" in the May 1988 issue, is based upon a premise that is faulty, leaving the reader with a distorted view of what should be an extremely effective and productive approach to training.
"High intensity training" is thought to be many things, but the term really applies to one's willingness to train as hard as possible on whatever set of whatever exercise he or she is doing. It is not the use of a certain machine, or a certain number of seconds to elevate a weight and then lower it. It is not a series of "techniques," like pre-exhaustion or negative repetitions. It is not the writing or one or two men or the province of the few.
It is a common sense approach to training ignored by the herd of bodybuilding and powerlifting sheep who plunge into routines that are, for the majority, not rewarding or productive.
First and foremost, one must train hard. This means taking a weight that one believes can be used for a certain number of repetitions, and attempting to complete even more in good form. If this is done, and there are no physiological factors preventing a response, one will be training "intensely."
If one does this with every set of a workout, the workout will be productive. If one strives to complete one additional repetition the next time that exercise is performed, they will have "improved," or made progress in an attempt to get stronger and/or muscularly larger. If one adds any amount of weight to the bar, and completes the same number of repetitions as was done previously with a lighter weight, again, they will have improved.
For those who have truly pushed themselves in this manner and done all the reps possible in any particular set, the next rule is that one must limit the number of sets per exercise, the number of sets per workout and the number of workouts per week and per month.
High intensity training makes certain demands upon the body - demands which are met by biochemical reactions and which will be influenced by the volume of work done in the gym for that particular muscle group, for adjacent groups and for one's entire physiological system.
Activities related to one's family life, employment and leisure activities too, will determine the level and rate of recovery from muscle-building stimuli, and as importantly, the volume of work that can and should be done while in the gym.
If one trains properly, i.e., hard and "all out," it soon becomes obvious that sets per exercise, per bodypart and per workout must be limited. These limitations are necessary, first, because one will be unable to complete more than one or two sets of any movement in a productive manner. Further, once the largest muscle groups have been worked properly, there just isn't much left for anything else.
The broader perspective indicates that the workouts too will be limited, if one expects to recover for subsequent training sessions, especially of any other physical activity is being done on a regular basis, such as running and skill practice for a particular sport.
Mr. Peterson, the author of "Intensity of Insanity?" sums up a proper approach to training when he states, ". . . we do not have to sacrifice our entire life by constantly being at the gym. Ninety percent of what we will ever be able to achieve can happen on a rather limited and consistent training program."
Amen to that, and amen once again! Because very few individuals understand just how hard it is necessary to work in order to achieve the limits in muscular strength and size dictated by one's genetics.
Legitimately hard training is rarely seen. When it is done, however, it is most often placed into the perspective of the "typical" type of program which calls for the trainee to be in the gym four, five or seven days per week Immediately, there is a contradiction, literally and figuratively.
How can one work "hard" and expect to do so consistently with a program that calls for 20, 30, or 40 sets per workout? Obviously it can't be done. More often, none but a scant few sets are done in anything resembling an "all out" manner, with the rest being done quickly, which may leave the trainee breathing hard, but with little accomplished in the way of intense, productive training.
How can one work "hard," at least hard enough for the average muscle-building enthusiast to stimulate gains, and recover to do so four or more times per week? Again, it can't be done.
Pre-exhaustion, forced reps, etc., may be techniques which arre designed to up the intensity, but they only serve to overtrain or injure those who lollygag through the gym and then decide to jack themselves up for a few weeks.
The basic point is missed: one must be training hard to begin with, hard as a general rule, hard as the basis of their training and its philosophy. Doing so consistently brings gains, not "playing" at training and then trying to kill oneself for a three week period.
Hand in hand with this is the understanding that one must limit their training. Many powerlifters have discovered, often the hard way, that if one does in fact train heavy and/or hard, they had better not do it too often. The programs that our trainees benefit from are limited out of necessity. Each rep is performed properly, and each set is taken to the limit. This being the case, a program may consist of 8 to 10 sets. That does not real "eight to 10 sets per bodypart." It means exactly what it says: 8 to 10 sets for the entire workout.
When one trains hard, it is difficult if not impossible to do much more than this. 20 to 35 minutes in the gym is all that is necessary to complete such a program and in fact, all that is necessary to stimulate maximal growth. Two workouts per week will serve the majority of trainees well, with many improving on three workouts per week. Perhaps three workouts one week, and two on alternate weeks would prove ideal, but in either case, one cannot, and should not, and those who claim otherwise do not train in a "high intensity" manner more than two and perhaps three days per week.
I agree wholeheartedly that so-called high intensity training leads to injury and overtraining - if it is attempted too often and/or requires the trainee to do "too much" work. Work in the gym is rarely done "too hard" although it is almost always done "too much" and "too often."
One can train very hard for 20 to 30 minutes. There will be no socializing, no strutting and posing and no bullshit - just 20 minutes of uninterrupted, productive work. Can one go "all out" and benefit from that? Obviously. Can one recover from a Monday session so that they can again push to the limits on Thursday? Yes, in most cases.
However, when one takes a ridiculous concept such as six day per week training and exacerbates this absurdity by attempting to "push everything to the limit," adding forced reps, often for each set of at least each exercise, negative reps, and whatever else one believes will make him feel as if he is taking himself to the edge, disaster can be the only expected result.
One must be consistent in training, and this cannot be done if injury and/or illness prevents one from being in the gym. Training too much and too often, not too hard, will do just that.
One must be progressive in their training, attempting to improve so that their system can adapt to the imposed demands of overload. However, the demands of overload must be accommodated in small, incremental doses over time, not in a large, unrealistic attempt to force muscle gains in a few weeks' time.
Insanity truly describes the training programs of most advanced and aspiring bodybuilders. High intensity training, grounded in common sense principles, is a training philosophy, not a technique or series of techniques.
When rest and recovery are as important to the painting as the actual training, one then has an opportunity to make a masterpiece of their body.