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Variable Intensity: The Road To Training Success!


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Hit the weights hard! You've gotten this advice over and over-it's been drilled into your head. But even after putting in hour after hour at the gym you have little to show for your efforts. What the heck is wrong? "Is my form bad?" you ask. "Am I training hard enough?" "Am I training too hard?"
Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common. To determine what is wrong we have to look at all aspects of our training. How many sets are we doing for each muscle group? Which exercises are we using in our training? Are we overtraining? Or could it be that our muscles and central nervous system (CNS) have become used to all of the training we have been doing and now refuse to add even an ounce of new muscle to our physique?
The fact is our bodies are incredibly skillful at adapting to the training stimulus that we subject them to. This is because our ancestors hunted for their food and exhausted themselves physically to survive or they would have starved. While weight training we subject our bodies to a similar stress. So it goes without saying we are destined to hit a sticking point if we train the same way week in and week out. We need to change things up to continue to improve. One of the ways to do this is to modify the intensity of effort and volume of our training.
If your training is the high volume variety, try increasing the intensity and trimming the amount of sets. For example, if your arm routine consists of 15 sets each for biceps and triceps, stopping all sets 2 reps before failure, reduce the sets to 8 and end all sets 1 rep before failure. Do this for four weeks then change things up by ending all sets at failure using a set count of 2-3 per muscle group. This cyclical training changes the intensity of effort and volume of training to prevent the body from becoming acclimated to the current training demands. The best gains in muscle size and strength will come at the higher intensity phases because of the higher demands placed on the muscles.
The Formula For Successful Bodybuilding
The formula that is the basis of the strategy in this article states: The higher the intensity of effort the lower the volume. As a bodybuilder increases his/her intensity of effort through "To Failure Training" or HIT variables, the less sets are needed to maximize gains and prevent overtraining. Conversely the opposite is true, if the intensity is decreased the volume, or set count should be increased slightly.
Failure To Improve When Over-training Is Not The Culprit
If you haven't been making the progress you feel you should be and have determined that over-training isn't the culprit, there are a number of other reasons for the lack of results you've been experiencing. They are:
Age (can no longer improve; focus on maintenance or slow regression)
Genetics (reached a peak; can no longer improve in muscle size or strength)
Over-adaptation (mentally bored; lack of motivation; physically adapted to stimulus) Previous Demands (each set performed diminishes subsequent workout capacity) Insufficient Demands (lack of stimulus -i.e., intensity, sets, or frequency to cause a sufficient alarm reaction)
Pay attention to what your body tells you and keep a realistic set of goals. It could be that you have attained all of the muscle size and strength your body is capable of.
Wrong Selection of Training Routines
Many of us attempt to follow top champion bodybuilders' routines because we feel since they have achieved much success in the sport by training using these routines we should use them too. The truth of the matter is many of these routines are not what the bodybuilder is actually using. They appear in articles meant to impress the reader with the bodybuilder and to further his career.
These bodybuilders are using chemical-enhancement, that is steroids, human growth hormone, insulin and other anabolic drugs. These drugs allow the champion to over train on a regular basis because they increase the body's recuperative abilities and cause positive nitrogen balance, causing the muscles to rapidly grow. Unfortunately they also lead to many health problems such as heart disease, kidney failure and cancer, to name a few.
The ideal training routine is one which is designed around the present conditioning, the recuperative abilities and the goals of the bodybuilder. Remember to design it around the intensity principle outlined above.
Sample Variable Intensity Program For Arms
Phase 1
The first phase is similar to what is done by beginning bodybuilders. Emphasis is placed on form and the learning of proper exercise technique instead of heavy, intense training.
Complete the desired exercises using good form, stopping the set two reps before hitting failure (the point where no more reps are possible).
barbell curls-1x10
concentration curls-1x12
seated palms-facing pull-downs-1x12
standing triceps push-downs-1x12
standing triceps kickbacks-1x12
standing bar dips-1x12
Phase 2
The second phase increases the intensity of effort by ending all sets one rep before failure. We will keep the set count at three each.
machine curls-1x10
seated incline curls-1x12
seated palms-facing pull-downs-1x10
lying triceps extensions-1x10
seated triceps overhead extensions-1x12
close-grip bench presses-1x12
Phase 3
The third phase is where we take all sets to the point of muscular failure. Load the bar or weight machine with a weight that causes you to put all-out effort to complete the desired amount of reps. Don't stop when you hit your rep count; attempt to grind out more reps. This causes you to overload your muscles and add weight every workout which will lead to additional muscle growth. Since we are increasing the level of intensity we will be reducing the set volume to two sets for both muscles.
concentration curls-1x12
bent over palms-facing barbell rows-1x10
angled-forward cable triceps extensions-1x12
seated machine triceps dips-1x8
Now that I've outlined all three phases of this HIT periodization schedule, begin to use it in your training by working with each phase for 3 weeks before progressing to the next one.
Now hit the iron!
David Groscup has over 35 years of training experience in HIT, or High Intensity weight training. He is certified by the IART/Med-Ex Group and has worked with many people successfully using this protocol.