Build Muscle With 8 Proven Intensity Boosting Strategies
Build Muscle With 8 Proven Intensity Boosting Strategies by Coach Matt Hartsky, CSCS, PES, CPT
There is nothing worse than training hard and eating right, only to feel like you aren’t making any gains in size or strength. Once you reach the point in your training where you have built a solid base of strength and have polished your technique on the majority of your exercises, it may be time to increase intensity so you can continue to see steady progress. Boosting your training intensity will allow you to increase the time under tension for your target muscle groups and promote full muscle fiber motor recruitment.
So, how do we go about taking your lifting up a notch to explode muscle growth? Let’s talk about 8 strength training intensity boosting strategies I use with my personal training clients that are sure to take your muscle-building progress to the next level.
- Increase weight, load, or resistance. This tip may seem like an easy one to skip over, but I see the need to mention it all the time. People love comfort. We prefer to take the path of least resistance. Unfortunately, for many, this happens in the gym as well. Many folks stop seeing progress in their strength training results because they fail to challenge themselves often enough with resistance that is stressful and makes them feel pushed, uncomfortable, and is well, intense! When it comes to getting stronger and building muscle, we must learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and look for intensity at every opportunity. This includes increasing your training resistance whenever you’re able to reach beyond the target muscle-building rep ranges. For upper body movements, this often means increasing the weight once you can perform more than 8-12 reps with excellent form and control.
- Switch up the exercise, order of movements, or angle of resistance. It can be easy to fall into the rut of repeating the same movements, in the same order, each week. In fact, I see this happen at public gyms all the time. For example, every “International Chest Day” happens on Monday and the first exercise is typically the flat bench press, followed by the lifter’s other favorite movements. Unfortunately, this training approach is one of the quickest ways to reach a plateau in strength and muscle growth. By changing up the exercises used, the angle at which they are performed, or the order they are trained, new intensity or stress will be introduced to the target muscle groups, forcing them to break down and then adapt by growing bigger and stronger.
- Shorten your rest period between sets. When training for strength as a primary goal, longer rest periods are required to allow the target muscle groups to recover and fire optimally. However, when training to build muscle, the muscles need less time to recover because they are working in higher rep ranges with less resistance. Strategically decreasing rest between sets will cause a direct increase in intensity and stress to the working muscle groups. In addition to the ability of this technique to more fully exhaust the target muscles, but shortening rest intervals will also work as a conditioning tool.
- Pre-fatigue the target muscle. Another sure-fire way to immediately spike intensity when bodybuilding is to perform a pre-exhaustion exercise before the main lift. For example, performing pushups before the dumbbell bench press. This is also a great technique when used in reverse to make an easier exercise more beneficial. For example, performing dumbbell chest flys before pushups.
- Employ extended sets. This intensity boosting training technique involves performing Compound Sets: where two exercises are performed back to back as a set, targeting the same general muscle or muscle group; Tri-sets: where three exercises are performed back to back as a set, targeting the same general muscle or muscle group; Giant Sets: where four or more exercises are performed back to back as a set, targeting the same general muscle or muscle group.
- Take advantage of the partial range of motion. When performing a movement to exhaustion, there will come a point where it is no longer possible to complete a full range of motion. Fortunately, there is oftentimes a partial range of motion still available. By continuing the lift to failure through the shortened range of motion, you will be able to fully recruit and completely exhaust all muscle fibers involved in the movement.
- Introduce isometric contractions and slow eccentric movement. Both of these intensity boosting methods are typically used near the end of a set or on the last set of a movement. An isometric contraction involves a static hold at the contraction of the movement. Slow eccentric movement involves slowly lowering the weight through a full range of motion. Both of these techies work extremely well to spike intensity, increase time under tension and fully exhaust the muscles.
- Use forced reps. This method of pushing your effort to the next level requires a training partner to assist you in completing one or more additional reps after you’ve come to complete muscle failure at the end of your set.
If you’ve reached a point in your training where you feel progress has slowed or stalled these training techniques are sure to bring you renewed energy and focus, endless variety, and the boost to help you build more muscle and move you closer to your goals.