I’ve almost cracked the code to real results in my weight-training program. Over the past year I’ve rotated through four different workouts, being careful to switch them up every 5 weeks or so to keep my gains from topping out and my muscles from adapting. If you’ve been keeping up with my posts then you know how much I liked the Punisher routine we followed over the last seven weeks. It was a brutal program utilizing two workouts a day to maximize muscle stress and hormonal response. The results I’ve achieved from this workout exceeded my expectations but there were still some areas where I fell short and I have realized why; intensity.
I’ve received a lot of questions and comments about my workout posts on Facebook. Specifically people wonder if such low reps are effective for generating muscle gains. The current popular trends in weight-lifting and workouts focus on volume, lots of lifts and reps combined with several different exercises to target the same muscle groups. This is nothing new, and in a way it delivers its own results. Unfortunately such high-volume can also limit gains in both size and strength.
My goals are to illicit the maximum hormonal and metabolic reaction to the minimum effective dose of exercise. This is the system championed and used by legendary trainer Arthur Jones to prepare men like Arnold Schwarzenegger for competition. Arthur believed that one set at maximum weight performed to complete failure delivered the best results. He also believed that training more than three days a week would actually inhibit growth and performance. To be blunt Arthur was right. His logic was both supported by biologic fact and the results he achieved. SO why are so many people doing so much work in the gym so often?
The short answer is because everyone else is, no one wants to be seen as lazier and or weaker than another, and because that’s the way it’s always been done. A lot of traditional workout wisdom is powered by marketing and advertising from magazines and TV. There’s not a lot of real science going into making up workouts these days and it’s sad and also wasteful, but I’ve already covered that in previous articles. Let’s focus on what I have learned with my own experiments.
Intensity is the key to real results and it’s also the area where I’ve been faltering. Most of that is for safety concerns. When I train clients, I’m always there for them as a spotter and coach. I can push them for that “One more rep” because I’m there to catch the weight when they fail. I workout at home and though my gym is nicely equipped I still lack some basic safety equipment such as a safety Power or Squat rack. I usually have to stop with one or more reps left in the tank. Don’t get me wrong; the amount of weight I can lift is steadily growing, but I’ve realized how beneficial it can be to work out with a partner or in a fully stocked gym. The lack of a spotter or safety catch is like a nagging voice in the back of my head when I workout. I know I could go further but I’m afraid to.
Besides the safety factor though and more telling is that up until just recently I’ve lacked the personal determination and discipline to really hit my workouts with intensity. I work and throw some impressive weights but over the past two weeks, I’ve realized I can lift more and should be. I tell my clients that they should aim for 5-6 reps with the last one being a real struggle to move. When I’m squatting 225lbs for 10 reps I could be going heavier, the same for my bench press. I need more intensity.
I think the real issue is that I became more focused on just moving through the workout to complete the prescribed number of sets and movements and lost focus on whether I was actually working through those reps; the final reps of any movement should be true hard work. It’s during the final reps when your muscles are tired and stressed that you get the most effect. Those tired muscles must recruit the maximum amount of fibers to move the weight; they have to contract with everything they have to get the job done. It’s here at the point where they can no longer move the load that your body registers that more muscle is needed to move the weight and the process of building is triggered.
Too often we just aren’t lifting as much weight as we should be, whether its safety concerns, complacency, or just lack of motivation. Take some time to look at your workout and ask yourself; “Is my intensity high enough? Am I actually working or just doing the moves?” I’ll give you a clue to help guide you along the way. If you’re able to think about anything other than the weight in your hands when actually doing reps you’re not lifting heavy enough. When you’re one second’s lack of focus away from being crushed by a loaded barbell, the weight is the only thing on your mind.
If you can lift with friends, do so. It is a proven and measurable fact; people who workout together push harder and get more “pump” from the friendly rivalry. They are also willing to go harder when there’s the safety of a spotter nearby. If you have access to a power rack or cage take advantage of the safety bars and really test yourself, these work great for the Bench press as well, just don’t be an idiot and do moves like curls in there please. Finally remember this each time you begin your workout. You are there to stress your muscles and test your limits. Each workout shouldn’t be about setting personal records but it should be about pushing yourself harder. If you’re not breathing heavy after a set and sweating you’re not attacking your weights with the intensity and focus needed to achieve real results. Five reps done to failure with perfect form, high intensity, and laser-like focus will achieve more than 10-12 half ass reps every time.
As always I am discussing workouts based on building muscular size, cutting body-fat, and increasing absolute strength. Those preparing for obstacle races, endurance events, and CrossFit style contests will naturally want to add more reps to their routines to build muscular strength endurance and work ability. I also recommend a workout incorporating more total body movements, climbing evolutions, and real-world type exercises such as sand bag carries, and farmer walks.