Saturday, January 29, 2022

46 Intensity Techniques, Part One -- Nick Nilsson

A ton of Interesting material from Nick Nilsson here


This is the most popular and consequently the most abused intensity technique. A spotter is used to provide enough assistance for the trainer to be able to complete the rep. The abuse comes when the trainer relies on the spotter for assistance during most of the set. The most obvious example is the bench press. Forced reps should not be done every set like some trainers do. Spotters should also provide only just enough help to keep the weight moving; do not take the weight away from the trainer. Properly executed forced reps are very demanding. 


This is simply moving the weight through a partial range of motion (usually, but not necessarily, the strongest range of motion of the exercise, e.g., the top six inches of the bench press). This allows much more weight to be used if it is done as a separate set. Partials can also be done at the end of a set to extend it. Continue with the same weight but do partial reps, shortening the range of motion more as you tire until you are just doing lockouts. 

Partial squats, moving the bar only a few inches with a huge amount of weight on your back are a great way to build power, density, and confidence. Partials can be done anywhere in an exercise's range of motion. They can help you get through sticking points if you do partials at and through the sticking point. Sometimes when you hit a plateau, it is not due to muscle strength but connective tissue strength. Partials can help overcome this. 

Partials can be done in a continuous manner without taking tension off the muscles, or in brief reps, allowing the weight to be supported on the racks for a few moments before doing the next rep. The continuous style provides more muscle tension but reduces the amount of weight that can be used. Don't bounce the bar off the pins. Develop tension in the muscles gradually so you don't jerk anything out of the sockets. 

Partials in the contracted position can be very powerful. Examples include bentover row partials and curl partials in the top position. These are a great movement to finish off a muscle with. Conversely, stretch-position partials can be very powerful too. They will help recruit a large amount of fibers due to the extreme emergency situation created by using a greater than accustomed amount of weight in that position. Taking this concept to set design, try doing partials in the three basic positions of a muscle: mid-range, stretch, and contracted (in POF order). This will fire a ton of fibers using extremely heavy weight.

Another related technique is partial negatives. This is the same concept as negatives (see Negative Training section for greater detail), only instead of using the entire range of motion, you only use a part of it. This can be the strongest range or the weakest range. For example, if you're doing negatives on the bench press, about halfway down, the leverage changes and what you could control for the first half of the movement, you can't for the second half. The solution is to do them as two separate movements with two different weights. 

Partial drop sets can also be done to really burn out the target muscle. An example of this is the one for shoulders done on the shoulder press machine in the stretch position. 

If you use a lot of partial movements, it is very important to stretch after each set. It is also a good idea to finish with a set that takes the muscle through a full range of motion. A static hold and a negative is a good way to do this as it keeps a lot of tension on the muscle all the way through the entire ROM. Hold in the stretch position for as long as possible at the bottom of the movement. 


Do a set of an isolation exercise for a muscle group, then, with no rest, do a compound movement for it; e.g., dumbbell flyes then barbell bench press. This fatigues the target muscle and allows the fresher secondary movers to push the target muscle harder.

A variation of this is the pre-exhaustion giant set. A good example is triceps, shoulders and chest. This variation will push the triceps to the limit, and work the shoulders hard. Start with a triceps isolation exercise such as pushdowns. Go to shoulder press, which works triceps and shoulders. Then do bench press, which works the triceps, shoulders and chest. Each progressive set will allow another muscle group to continue assisting. 

For lower body, try it with hamstrings. Start with leg curls which isolate the hams, then move to stiff-legged deadlifts, which work the hams and glutes, then move to lunges which work the hams, glutes and quads.

The pre-exhaust concept can be extended to an entire workout. If you wish to push your triceps harder, try doing them first, followed by chest. You may limit your chest workout but your triceps will be pushed a lot harder by doing chest first. This can be applied to biceps and back, shoulders and chest, or calves and thighs. 

Pre-exhaust exercises need not be limited to full range, isolation exercises only. Pre-exhaustion with a heavy partial stretch movement followed by a lighter full range or contracted movement works very well.


This entails doing a set to failure with a weight then immediately doing another set to failure with a lighter weight. This can be done as a double-drop (reduce the weight once), triple-drop (reduce the weight twice), or down-the-rack (use every consecutive set of dumbbells down a rack) sets. As 

As a basic rule of thumb, reduce the weight around 10% with each drop. Another useful way to do drop sets is to pull 45 pound plates off if you're doing an exercise where several are being used (e.g. squats). It is also possible to load the bar with smaller plates to reduce the amount of weight dropped. This is one of the most time/energy efficient ways to train, especially if doing an abbreviated or maintenance program.

Down the rack drop set -- if you are doing lateral for your shoulders, for example, start with a weight you can get 6 reps for, then pick up the next lightest set of dumbbells and go again. Repeat this procedure until you get to the lightest dumbbells. This ideas works well with selectorized machines. Simply keep raising the pin to the next lightest weight. Don't feel confined to drop only one notch or dumbbell. You may drop two notches or skip a pair of dumbbells. This can depend on the exercise. You may finish a set with very heavy weight and may be unable to do another rep with the next lightest weight, as it is still very heavy. It is also not necessary to stick to a set number of reps during the drops. You can try doing one rep with each drop or do as many as it takes to fail at each drop. Obviously, the lighter the weight gets, the more reps you will be able to do.

Heavy-Light drop set -- do a set of heavy reps then immediately drop to a light weight and concentrate on form and squeezing the muscle. Another option is to do heavy partial movements in the power rack, then immediately move to a moderate to light full range movement. 

Negative drop set -- use a weight you can only do one or two negative reps under control. Do one or two reps, reduce the weight a little bit (about 10%) then do another rep or two. Continue this for a number of drops. This technique works well with single arm cable exercises such as cable laterals because of the selectorized weight stacks and the assistance you can give yourself with your other arm. This is a very powerful technique and should be used sparingly. To really burn out, finish with a static hold on the last rep of this.

Fiber sweep triple drop -- this type of triple drop set works three different ways. The first set of the drop, use a very heavy weight (about 85-90% 1RM) and do 2 to 3 reps with it. This will work on relative strength and connective tissue strength. For the second drop, use a weight that allows 8 to 10 reps. This builds muscle mass and circulation. For the third drop, use a very light weight and do 6 to 8 fast, explosive reps (one second up, one second down). This will work the explosive fibers and the neuromuscular system. Another option on the last set is to do a set of very high reps with a very light weight (30-plus reps). 

Constant triple drop -- this means you do each triple drop for the same amount of reps. Different rep ranges will work different aspects of the muscle. Low rep drops will boost strength (reduce the weight only a little with each drop). Drop sets using more reps will require greater reductions in weight.

Antagonistic superset triple drops -- do a superset for two antagonistic muscles groups (e.g., biceps and triceps) drop the weight, do another superset, drop the weight, do another. 

Variation triple drop sets -- do the first set with the your strongest variation and go for power. Do the second drop set with your next strongest variation and go for feeling the muscle. Do the third drop with your weakest variation and use very strict form. You can also do that backwards and start with the weakest variation first. 

Pre-exhaust drop sets -- do a set of isolation work for a muscle then do a compound drop set right after. Lateral raise -> Press drop set, for example.   

It is also possible to pyramid your drop sets. Do your first set as a normal set. Do the next set with only one drop Do your third set with two drops, etc.


This is a variation of the triple drop set. Do the triple drop (two weight reductions) then quickly go back and do the starting weight for a few reps. Usually you will be able to get one or two. The reason for this is that the last of the drop sets is using a lighter weight, which is recruiting different fibers. 


Do a triple drop set of an isolation exercise, e.g., flyes, then immediately use the starting weights for a set of a compound exercise for that muscle group, e.g., dumbbell bench press. You can also do barbell benches if you have it set up and ready to go. This is a type of advanced pre-exhaust training.


At the end of a set, when you can't do any more reps with good form, use a bit of body swing or momentum to get the weight past the sticking point. Do not cheat excessively or you may cause injury. Cheat only to work the muscle harder, not to make the exercise easier.


This is an advanced technique that allows you to get more reps with the same weight. Do a set to failure. Rest for 5 to 10 seconds then do a few more reps with the same weight. Do this once or a few times depending on your energy levels and how far you wish to push. With this technique you can take a weight you can only do for three reps and do a set of six or more with it. This technique works very well for high rep training as well when lactic acid burn causes you to stop a set. Do a set of calf raises until you can't take the pain, for example, then do more reps until you seize up again. Shake it out and continue. This allows you to push to muscular failure instead of lactic acid failure.


This is a good way to train if time is limited. Supersetting involves doing two exercises with no rest in between. There are a number of different types of supersets. 

The first is to do two different exercises that work the same bodypart, e.g., incline curls -> barbell curls. Isolation/compound supersetting -- this is simply pre-exhaust supersetting. 

Do a set of an isolation exercise then a set of a compound exercise, e.g., flyes -> bench press. 

Antagonistic supersetting -- do a set of an exercise for one bodypart then immediately do a set of an exercise for the antagonistic bodypart, e.g., barbell curls -> triceps pressdowns. Antagonistic supersets can help each muscle group recover while working the other muscle. Back and chest, or quads and hamstrings are other examples. 

Simultaneous supersetting -- do one rep of an exercise then immediately do a rep for the antagonistic bodypart. Keep going in this fashion. A good example is biceps and triceps. Try doing a low pulley curl rep followed by a kickback. This way you don't even have to let go of the handle. The less time between the exercises the better. 

Maximum simultaneous antagonistic rebound supersetting (whew!) -- using two heavy, compound exercises for antagonistic parts. Use 90-95% of 1RM on both. Jump back and forth between a rep of each with no rest (e.g., 1 rep bench, 1 rep bentover row, 1 rep bench, 1 rep bentover row, etc.). You will be able to get more reps on both. Go until you can't do anymore on your own. Use easy-to-get-to exercises, e.g., bentover rows and bench presses. This can also be done with partial exercises as well. You will use massive amounts of weight with this one. 

Upper body / lower body supersetting -- do an upper body exercise then a lower body exercise, or vice versa, e.g., chest then calves.

Strict / loose supersetting -- alternate sets of strict form sets with loose form (not sloppy). This can be done either way. Starting with heavy weight and using loose form, then going to less weight and strict form.

In set superset -- do two different exercises within a rep. You must be able to effect a smooth transition between the exercises in order for this to be effective. An example of this is doing a dumbbell bench press on the positive then a dumbbell flye on the negative on every rep. The Zottman curl, where you use a regular grip on the way up and a reverse grip on the way down is another good example of this. Others include regular deadlifts (up) and stiff-legged deadlifts (down); close grip bench press (up) and lying barbell extensions (down). 

Do not superset muscles that assist with the other exercises unless you do them second, e.g., do not do pushdowns then bench press -- triceps fatigue will limit your bench press work. You can, however, do the bench press first then do pushdowns. An exception to this is if you are doing it to push your triceps further with the assistance of the pecs and shoulders. Then do triceps first. This would be a type of pre-exhaust superset.

Partial / full supersets -- do a partial movement for an exercise, e.g., top range bench press, then do a set of full range reps, e.g., full range bench presses right after. To work the muscle even harder, try it with a partial movement in each the contracted and stretch position, them move to full range. You can basically mix it up however you choose, e.g., full then stretch then contracted, like a POF partial superset type of thing. 

Partial / partial supersets -- do a partial stretch position movement of an exercise, e.g., incline dumbbell curls, then do a partial contracted position movement, e.g., concentration curls. You don't necessarily have to use stretch and contracted movements but this will give you the greatest fiber activation. This technique allows you to use much heavier weights than normal.


Do several exercises for one bodypart in a row without resting in between exercises; e.g., chinups -> seated rows -> straight arm lat pulldowns -> lat pulldowns. You can do the same exercise more than once within the giant set as well. Try doing the exercises in the order of mid-range, stretch, then contracted position for a huge pump.

Alternating tri-sets -- this is a variation of the giant set. Use two exercises, but do one of them twice. Alternate it the next time, e.g., bench -> chins -> bench . . . chins -> bench -> bench. This is the antagonistic version. They can also be cone for the same bodypart, e.g., pushdown -> dips -> pushdown. 

Variation giant sets -- use variations of the same exercise starting with the weakest version and going to the strongest, using the same weight. An example is the wide grip pulldown to reverse grip close grip pulldown to regular close grip pulldown. 

Singe rep giant setting -- do one rep of a series of exercises for one muscle group. If you wish, cycle through it several times; e.g., 1 rep of bench press, 1 rep of flat flyes, 1 rep of cable crossovers, 1 rep bench, etc. Cycle through the exercises one rep at a time. You can use POF exercise order to increase the effectiveness. You may use near-maximal weights if you wish to go through once, or use sub-maximal weights if you wish to go through it several times. You can also rep out on the last exercise if you are using sub-maximal weights; e.g., take the last set of crossovers to failure. There are several different ways to set up the rep cycling within the above framework: 

1) Multiple rep cycling -- e.g., do two reps of each exercise rather than one. 

2) Pyramid rep cycling - first cycle - 1 rep; second cycle - 2 reps; third cycle - 3 reps.

3) Inverted pyramid - first cycle - 5 reps; second cycle - 4 reps; third cycle - 3 reps.

This type of cycle will necessitate starting with light to moderate weights. 

4) Variable rep cycling - 1 rep bench - 3 reps flyes - 5 reps  crossovers.

Pick a cycle and figure out your loads depending on the number of times through and number of reps. Go as quickly as possible between sets. You don't need to limit yourself to only three exercises per cycle, either.

Partial / Full within-set giant setting - this style of cycling uses the same ides as above but focuses on the useful parts of each exercise. Chest is a good example  . . . 
6 quarter reps in the stretch position of flat flyes
6 full range reps on the flat bench press
6 quarter reps in the contracted position of cable crossovers.

You don't necessarily need to use 6 reps. You can do more or less depending on how it feels. You can do just once cycle through, multiple cycles, or go up and down the cycle (flyes, bench, crossovers.)


This is a way of doing a large number of heavy sets for several muscle groups without losing as much strength from set to set. For example, if you plan on doing 5 sets of chinups and 5 sets of bench, start with 3 sets of chinups, then 3 sets of bench, then go back and do your remaining 2 sets of chinups and 2 sets of bench. The extra rest will allow you to be stronger on your last 2 sets than you normally would. 

Jumping between antagonistic muscle groups also seems to benefit strength. This can also be done going back and forth on every set instead of groups of sets. This is not a superset. It enhances recuperation by giving more rest to the bodyparts in the same workout time. This allows you to do more weight for each exercise. Jump sets are best used on antagonistic bodyparts such as back and chest, biceps and triceps, or hamstrings and quads.

12) BURNS  
These are typically done in the stretch or contracted positions. They are small, fast movements at the end of a set to  finish off the muscle. These are most often seen in calf raises. Just bounce up and down in the bottom position at the end of a set until your calves burn.


These are similar to burns in that they are small movements in the stretch position. The trick is to activate the stretch reflex with each one. This is the momentary relaxation of tension then the powerful reversal of direction.

14) 1 1 4 REPS

Do a stretch position or contracted position exercise, but instead of doing a full rep each time, do an extra quarter rep in target position in between each full rep. if you were doing flyes (stretch position), you would go down to the stretch, come up 1/4 of the way, then down, then a full rep. If you were doing concentration curls (contracted position), you would go to contraction, come down 1/4 of the way, then back up to full contraction, then down completely. 


These are done with barbells. Do a set, then, without racking the bar, get two spotters to pull off a pre-set amount of weight. Continue with that weight. Keep stripping as desired. This will thoroughly burn out a muscle. It is similar to drop sets, but there is absolutely no rest. 

Enjoy Your Lifting!  

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