One of the most puzzling concerns in weight training today is how to correctly interpret intensity and apply it to individual capacities. The various periodization programs and cycling routines of Olympic lifters and powerlifters are helping to awaken reason.
However, our bodybuilding population seems to be inundated with photos of the "stars" beaded with sweat and, according to their facial gyrations, insanely screaming their way through each repetition, literally devastating their bodies each and every workout.
Most of the articles in the popular bodybuilding magazines constantly assail their readers to up their workout intensities if they want the body of their dreams. Negative reps, forced reps, giant sets and double/triple split routines are all designed as templates to pound out that great body that is within each of us.
But have we gone too far in prodding the beast called intensity? Are we ignoring patience and reason by embracing insane training practices? We need to gather a better perspective on the real world of intensity an how we can objectively apply it to our advantage in bodybuilding.
Research and Examples
Research in the late '60s showed that the replacement of cellular structures by new tissue occurs in discrete steps rather than continuously. Thus, sudden sharp jumps, as opposed to small gradual changes in load, will account for greater progress.
If you normally work each bodypart twice a week and the first workout is 100% exhausting, then your second session on that bodypart a few days later would better be adjusted to 65-85% effort. This will allow for complete recuperation and faster, more complete development.
Most all powerlifting schedules are based on this principle. In the early 1960s, the Russian sports researcher Matveyev . . .
"Fundamentals of Sports Training" - Thank You to Joel Jamieson -
. . . established the benefit of going from a high volume/low intensity(heaviness of weight) routine to a gradual peak of low volume/high intensity.
One only has to check any of the research journals to be aware of how important this type of cycling is in avoiding burnout and enhancing the career of an athlete. I emphasize the word career as I believe most of us would like lifting to be a serious part of our lives for the duration of our existence.
As bodybuilders, many of us are dipping into the well of intensity far too frequently. We want progress so badly that we strain at the altar of some "superstar" routine, believing that all this gutbusting will forge a miracle body.
True, you do have to shock your body sufficiently through applied effort in order to steer it in the right direction of intent, namely greater muscle mass, but the problem here is the degree of that "shock." A 100 percent effort every time you lift is not the correct way to go about the process of muscle/strength production.
Many of you are probably saying, "Well that doesn't apply to me; I have a heavy and a light day in my weekly training." But what does this usually mean to a bodybuilder?
Generally, on the heavy day, the trainee is doing everything he can within a 5-7 or 6-8 repetition limit. And on the "light" day, he does everything he can within a 10-12 rep limit. Both turn out to be 100% efforts. Over time, the body will just not accept such loads, and staleness or injury will be the result.
The late Dr. Hans Selye, who devoted much of his life to the study of stress, recognized that the system has to absorb all the energies that a person dispels. Be they unhealthy stress input such as worry and obsession, or the healthy demands of a hard training athlete, such stresses wear you down over time, leaving you vulnerable to disease or accident.
Getting in Touch
How do you feel? Have you been sick more than your share, more tired than usual, lacking your usual ability of concentration, not sleeping soundly or plagued with low energy?
Or maybe poor workouts, irritability and a negative attitude have been dominating your existence more than usual. Obviously there may be reasons for the frequency of one or more of these symptoms. However, in concert, they represent some pretty strong flags. Your system may be absorbing too much stress.
The body best responds when it is nudged or coaxed toward a goal. If you were trying to teach someone something, and every time they committed an error you slammed them across the side of the head with a frying pan the enrollment in your class would decrease sharply. Similarly, by continually influencing your body with super intense workout every time you train, your body will soon rebel through some of the symptoms mentioned above.
There is always a gap between intellectual and emotional acceptance.
Read that line again.
While you might nod in agreement with the idea I am presenting here, actually splicing this understanding into your training is an entirely different matter. Most serious lifters constantly make additions to their training. If 10 sets per bodypart allows me to grow, just think what 20 sets will do! If negatives or forced reps help me vault certain sticking points while doing them once a week, think how much progress I'll make if I do them every day on every set!
We suffer via a misinterpretation of the work ethic; i.e. more work plus greater effort equals better and faster progress. This is not always the case. In fact, we should all be very happy that in order to reach our body's potential, 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 through use of a good program that doesn't have you training two hours a day, six days a week.
While the Wright brothers' ultimate vision may have been on the stars, they didn't go about setting up transoceanic flights immediately after their first experience at Kitty Hawk in 1903.
Similarly, our imagery an be centered on the accomplishments and enablements of our ideals, but we must not bet these visions overpower the understanding of our own capabilities.
I must interject here that many of these super-intense routines work . . . momentarily. Adopting high intensity techniques such as pre-exhaustion, forced reps, or limited range of motion power rack training forces your body to wake up immediately to something different. But your body becomes totally adapted (given your genetic capacity and your current state of condition) to this new schedule usually withing one to three weeks.
The unfortunate hook is our mind's belief that if the super routine initially created change, then by doing more of it better progress will result. Unfortunately this is when you will loop back to the overworking syndrome. Unless you recognize this fact, you will have many unfortunate stalemates.
The Overworking Trap
It's an easy pit to fall into - the belief that some super-duper routine will quickly find you loping past the intermediate stages to "stardom." As with so many other things in life this is just not the case. Your body has a time line for experiencing its potential. The true winner is the one who has kept his eye on reality and his efforts consistent and challenging.
If you jump into some of these super intense routines before your body is able to accept that degree of work, you can so overly shock or toughen your system that it may be months before it adapts and responds to even normal work loads.
You are constantly walking a fine line in your training, balancing just enough work and too much effort. Remember, the enthusiast's mind always wants to do more.
"Well," you are probably saying to yourself, "if I can't trust my eagerness, then how do I govern my overworking fervor?"
Some of the best objective advice to bodybuilders considering this problem comes from Vince Gironda, who said that you should use adequate poundages and train as though each bodypart was a foot race. With this philosophy your goal is to reach maximum pump. If you go beyond this pump, you will deplete your hormonal stores, hampering proper recuperation and the rebuilding process. Literally one set beyond what you should be doing can constitute overworking.
Do you really feel your exercises working?
Sure, you might get sore the next day, but as Fred Hatfield has said, this would better be a condition to avoid rather than seek. Becoming too sore after your workout is your body saying that you did too much. Cut back, or your progress will cut out!
The mind simply can't harbor its focus in the muscle group intended for development when maximum weights are employed. Maximum weights are the expression of a well-balanced training diet, but they should not be the sole food you are trying to feed your muscles. By using a more reasonable percentage of your maximum for the required reps (75-90) you can better "live within the exercise." You can feel your muscle fibers exerting mastery over the weight.
For bodybuilding, this should be your focal point as opposed to the abuse of ligaments and tendons by throwing the weight through its radius of movement.
Try squeezing your muscles through each repetition. Take the weight and feel it through the entire range of motion. Get your mind into the muscle.
Body English with weights beyond your means will not let you attain the mass you want. Like a champion's movement in any sport, your exercises should be graceful to watch. Your form and control of the weights you use have more to do with producing results than the amount on the bar (within reason, of course). Sure, it's easier to simply heave the weights and pretend that you are getting stronger, however, today's bodybuilder needs to be more cognitive. We must think during the workout as well as outside the gym for rapid progress.
Depending on the energy levels for any given day, maximum pump, our first objective determiner, can be achieved under a variety of different set/rep patterns. So while your schedule may call for 10 sets on a particular exercise, you may achieve maximum pump on set 6 or 9, or not until 11 or 12. This can vary by as much as 30 percent. Taking note of when maximum pump occurs, and then halting work for that particular bodypart is important in dodging the overtraining bullet.
Also, knowing and allowing for your different biorhythmic patterns can help keep your progress on track. Your body experiences certain cyclical patterns that are set at out time of birth. The physical rhythm experiences a 23-day pattern, the nervous system is governed by a 28-day cycle, and the intellectual pattern has been set at 33 days. On any given day these cycles converge at different points. This may explain in some ways why some days are good and others are bad.
The bodybuilder must learn to tell when these rhythms are in positive correlation and when they are negative. Again, keeping in touch with the body is the best way to govern intensity.
A third objective determiner in regulating your push for bodybuilding progress is your pulse. Olympic cyclists have found that the difference between their resting and standing pulse rate is quite accurate, oh, hang on a second . . .
Directed by Kieron J. Walsh
. . . quite accurate in determining how intense a workout should be on any given day. The procedure is quite simple:
When you first awaken in the morning, take your pulse for a 15-second period while you are totally relaxed and still in bed. Next, get out of bed and immediately take your pulse again for a 15-second period. Subtract the second pulse reading from the first. If the difference is from 1 to 5, great. You have recovered fully and can work out as hard as you would like. If the difference is from 6 to 8, this indicates moderate recovery. You should not attempt any record breaking workouts but rather keep your percentage of effort between 70 and 80. If the difference is 9 or above, then recovery has not taken place. Do not do your regular workout; maybe a light training session with reduced sets and a 60 to 70 percent effort is in order, or perhaps just a stretching routine and a sauna.
So, the next time your training partner yells to you, "Come on, wimp bust through the pain barrier," know your position of recovery before you flex your ego at the expense of your progress.
We must know the difference and apply this knowledge to our workouts if each of us wants to keep improving and reach our potential.
Enjoy Your Lifting!