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This article will explain the fundamentals of and provide an overview of High Intensity Training

At the beginning stages of weight training or bodybuilding, simply lifting weights will result in fairly large scale muscle mass and strenght increases. However, once one passes the beginner stage, gains slow down and often stop. At this point, many trainers start thrashing about in confusion, trying one training system after another, often with the frequency that one might change their underwear. Other's begin spending huge amounts of money on nutritional supplements of dubious value, sometimes draining their life savings in the process. Still others resort to dangerous growth drugs, often taking them in nightmarish amounts. Finally, there are others, sadly a majority, who simply give up and quit. None of these extreme measures are necessary to build muscle and a better way does exist- that of scientific bodybuilding. This means using a valid training theory and approach. Any valid theory of bodybuiding science is going to have as its base the three key elements-intensity, duration and frequency. Of these, for bodybuilding purposes, intensity is the most important. The reason is that the beginner will get big and stronger no matter what he does. Any reasonably challenging exercise at that seminal point in his training career constitutes an increase in intensity over and above his daily activities. Even racking a 45 lb plate may be an overload for many beginners. However as the body adapts, such moderate activity no longer represents an increase. So what exactly is intensity? Intensity is the most important fundamental principle in bodybuilding science and the defining one in exercise physiology. Intensity has been defined in a couple of different ways. One common definition is that of the percentage of momentary muscular ability being exerted. Another definition used mainly in the weight lifting and strength training community is the percentage of 1 RM (1 Repetition Maximum) being used. Intensity is in essence how hard one is working, or the magnitude of effort being made at any moment. In simpler terms-training very hard in the gym, is the most important factor in causing muscular hypertrophy*.

Volume-refers to how much exercise is performed. This can be looked at in a couple of different ways-one is the amount of exercise performed during any one workout- another is the total volume of exercise performed-say in a week-or during any other designated period. To avoid confusing this with the next operative concept-that of frequency-into this concept, we shall use the first definition.

Frequency-refers to how how often one works out or exercises- the number of workouts in a week or during any designated period. In general, but especially in the case of any type of high intensity anaerobic exercise, this can be a net negative factor and must be regulated properly to avoid overtraining. More is not necessarily better, often it is worse.

Overload-or more precisely the overload principle-which states that a muscle must be placed under a greater than normal or usual stress-an overload-in order to stimulate it to get stronger and and also to induce a state of muscular hypertrophy-muscle growth.

Adaptation-All living things must be able to adapt to changes in their environments- external and internal or they will not survive and thrive. Selyes' GAS stress model shows that we have three states of response to stress- alarm, adaptation and exhaustion.

High Intensity Training Techniques

Training to failure-carrying a set to the point where another repetition isn't possible, despite your greatest effort, ensures that one will pass through the "breakthrough" point-that point above which muscle growth is stimulated and below which muscle growth isn't stimulated.


When performing compound movements for the torso muscles, the smaller muscles involved will fatigue first, leaving the larger, stronger muscles not fully stimulated. This can be averted by using the preexhaustion technique which involves performing an isolation exercise for the target muscle first and then following with a compound movement with no rest in between. This will insure that the target muscle is fully stimulated.

Forced reps- When another repetition isn't possible, despite your greatest effort, a slight assist from a training partner or spotter will enable you to complete the repetition through the full range of motion, thus raising thus intensity of the exercise. Since forced reps increase the intensity of the exercise, they make more of an inroad into one's recovery ability, thus increasing the risk of overtaining. Thus,froced reps must be used judiciously, depending one ones's level of development, training experience and individual recovery ability.


Negative resistance can be a highly productive training method if used properly. To understand how negative resistance is important, remember that there are 3 types of contraction that skeletal muscles can undergo. The first is positive or concentric contractions- these are when you are contracting the muscle, ie lifting the weight. The next is static or isometric contractions. This is simply holding the weight or contraction at the point of maximum contraction- typically the top of the movement. The final type of contraction is the negative or eccentric contraction- the lowering of the weight. Exercise scientists have demonstrated that the eccentric phase is responsible for most, if not all, of DOMS- the soreness that sets in 48-72 hours after working out. It is hypothesized that more muscle damage (tearing down-microruptures of cells and membranes) occurs as a result. The implications are clear-negative training can be a more intense stimulus, but must be used judiciously to ensure repair, recovery and supercompensation. It is recommended that negatives be used no more than once a week for a muscle or muscle group-less for those with lower exercise tolerance.

Rest Pause Training

The nature of muscular contractions are such that they involve many of the body's systems including the nervous system, the respiratory system, tangentially the endocrine system and also most visibly the circulatory system which reacts to muscular contractions by causing the famous pump. Contractions can actually become so intense that the flow of blood to the muscle is reduced. This may be circumvented to some by taking a brief rest pause between contractions-usually 10 seconds or less. In my experience less than 2 seconds is too brief to have any effect and more than 10 seconds allows the muscle to cool off too much and may allow the muscle too much time to recover.

Drop Sets or Breakdowns

After reaching a point of failure, and continuing on with forced reps-if a training partner or spotter is available, further inroads into the muscle's functional ability can be made with the use of drop sets. When the forced reps-and negatives- if being performed- are completed, reduced the weight by about 30% and continue on with positive reps untill failure-if using other beyond failure training methods- continue with forced reps, etc, drop the resistance 30% again and agian perform the positive, forced, and/or rest pause reps. This technique can cause extreme inroads into the muscles funcitional ability and must be used carefully- no more than 6 weeks at a time, if doing them regularly or your may possibly decide on using them on a more random basis. Experiment and decide what works best for you-the principle of individualism.

*Research conducted by Roux-Lanhge indicated the following: Only when a muscle performs with greatest power, ie, through overcoming a greater resistance than before in a unit of time, will it's functional cross section need to increase...Hypertrophy is seen only in muscles that perform a great amount of work in a unit time (Lange, Ueber Funktionelle Anpassung USW, Berlin, Julius Springer, 1917) Further research by Petow and Siebert put a finer point on the intensity issue "Hypertrophy results from an increase in intensity of work done, whereas the total amount of work is without significance" W Siebert and H. Petow, Studien uber Arbeitshypertrophie des Muskels, Z. Klin Medl, 102, 427-433, 1925) Research conducted by Arthur H Steinhaus stated: Only when intensity is increaesed does hyperrophy follow." (A Steinhaus, The Journal of the Association for Physical and Mental Rehabilitation, Vol 9 No 5 Sep -OCt 1955, 147-150).

J Appl Physiol. 1994 Sep;77(3):1439-44. Related Articles, Links Decline running produces more sarcomeres in rat vastus intermedius muscle fibers than does incline running. Lynn R, Morgan DL. Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia. Unaccustomed eccentric exercise, in which a muscle is lengthened while generating tension, is well known to cause injury and pain. A rapid training effect has been demonstrated in a number of eccentric exercises. The mechanism for both the damage and the training has been unknown. Morgan proposed that the damage is caused by sarcomere length instabilities during operation on the descending limb of the sarcomere length-tension curve and that the training effect is an increase in the number of sarcomeres connected in series in a muscle fiber, thus avoiding the descending limb (Biophys. J. 57: 209-221, 1990). We tested this proposal by exercising rats on a treadmill set at either an incline or a decline of 16 degrees, an exercise that has previously been shown to cause damage in untrained rats and a training effect. The vastus intermedius muscles were fixed and were digested in acid, and the fiber and sarcomere lengths of representative fibers were measured. From these measurements, the mean number of sarcomeres per fiber was found for the different training regimes. A clear and repeatable difference was found, supporting Morgan's prediction of more sarcomeres after decline running, although with some differences in response that depended on the age of the rats.


Copyright 2004, 2012 James Vandervest