One of the most misunderstood and underutilised variations in training is intensity and the various methods with which intensity can be altered in order to progress muscle growth, endurance and strength.
Particularly in the world of bodybuilding, where the athletes regularly having to break through plateaus and spark new hypertrophy responses to continually help their muscles grow beyond a reasonable amount of mass, varying intensity in all its forms is vital to continuous progression. Some of the most popular forms of gym-based intensity is measured in the amount of weight (resistance) and the amount of reps (time under tension) performed. But these are not the only intensity variations you should be considering if you’re facing a plateau.
Rest time is a big factor for conditioning, muscular endurance and sparking hypertrophy. Reducing rest time between sets keeps the muscle fibres under stress without the time to recover. Many individuals will find that at a given level of resistance there is a limit to how many reps they can perform without some form of rest. But by reducing rest time from say 2minutes to just 1 minute, you’re putting far greater strain on the muscle and forcing more blood and nutrients into that muscle which in turn motivate your bodies need to start recovery.
In a similar vein to rest time, when reaching a limit in weight and reps you’re able to perform, rather than pushing yourself to the point of extreme discomfort and risking injury, try adding extra sets on to your usual workload. This way you’re allowing your body rest so that you’re able to confidently perform each set, but the muscle is being worked a lot harder in a single session, again sparking your body to respond and promote recovery. It may be worth considering drop sets for your extra sets the first few times performing these as your body will be accustom to a level of work you’re now going to be greatly surpassing.
Tempo is a very overlooked muscle building intensity variant. Performing the negative phases of resistance movements to a much slower tempo than your used to puts the muscle fibres under serious tension for a lengthy amount of time and forces a greater mind and muscle connection. This approach can be painful for those who haven’t done it before but is proven to increase your bodies hypertrophy response for the targeted muscles in play. Reducing the tempo is also another way to reduce the use of momentum when using free weights, which in turn again makes sure the muscle fibres are really having to contract to complete the movement.
Don’t jump in at the deep end and throw too many variations of intensity in to a single training session though, try taking one principle in to any given session and progressive work from their until you are seeing results.