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Nine Simple Ways to Increase the Intensity of Any Workout

Nov 2, 2007
Beginners usually do not need such advanced concepts simply because as a beginner, pretty much anything will work as it's new to your body. You don't need to bump up the intensity because the workout itself is usually hard enough. But for those who have worked out for quite some time, doing a simple routine doesn't cut it. And for those who are entering a competition and may be on low card, sub-maintenance calories and doing cardio twice a day, adding more and more weight is easier said then done. Where's the energy?

That's where some advanced concepts come into play.

These are ways in which you can use the same routines, but thru some clever manipulation, you need not add any weight to make it the most intense routine you've ever experienced. This is especially a good toolset to use when you've worked out for many years and find it hard to make gains or you have a prior injury that makes it difficult to lift heavy weights. Working out heavier and heavier each time, trying to break your personal best can lead to injury and stagnation.

Using some of these advanced training concepts, you can take a simple bicep curl or bench press and maximize the intensity of the exercise without adding a single pound:

1. Repetition Speeds - Rather then 1 second up and 1 second down, there's a little know fact that you can take advantage of to double the effectiveness of any exercise. That secret is slowly lowering the weight on the negative part of the movement. By utilizing this alone, you will have increased the effectiveness of any single exercise by 100%. Not only will you be working on the upward movement but you will work the muscle on the downward rather then most people who just let gravity take over. Vary your repetition speeds for an increase in intensity.

2. Tempo Variations - Have you ever seen any programs listed as 4032? That just means 4 seconds on the down motion; 0 seconds at the bottom of the movement; 3 seconds up; 2 second hold at the top. You can do all types of tempo variations to just feel the muscle working and increase the intensity. For example, how about a set of machine bench presses where it's 8032? 8 seconds down? Not super-slow but very controlled. And with a nice 2 second squeeze at the top. You can take any exercise where you've done the same weight and instantly make it much harder and more intense. Without adjusting the weight in the slightest!

3. Tension Manipulation - If you think about it, some exercises like the dumbbell side lateral raise, when the weights are truly at your side (bottom of the movement) the tension is totally off the shoulder muscles. By using tension manipulation you can stop short of this occurring. Take the leg press for example. Rather then do a full rep where you might lock out and pause at the top, how about a slow 4 seconds down, 0 seconds at the bottom, 3 seconds up, and only go of the way to the lockout, no pause and repeat. This is called "continuous tension" and it will not only increase the intensity of any exercise but it's slow, controlled and the tension is never off the working muscle.

4. Stretch Exercises - With some exercises, there is a perfect opportunity to get a deep stretch with a weight load on the muscle. The calf press is a good example. How many people have you witnesses doing calf raises quickly using momentum? Several? Next time, take a 2 second pause at the bottom and feel the stretch before doing the next rep.

5. Contraction Exercises - Again, the calf raises can be slightly altered to make it feel like somebody has put a flame torch to the back of your legs. At the top of the movement, rather the lower the weight, hold the fully contracted position for 5 seconds and squeeze! This can be done with a set of Smith Machine squats too. At the top of the movement, squeeze like you are holding a flexed pose for 2+ seconds. It's one more way of taking the same old exercise and making it different.

6. Super-Sets - Ever heard that with super-sets you can get more done in less time? It's true. Rather then do a second of barbell bench presses, followed by a 3 minute rest, and then another. How about doing a set of barbell bench presses, immediately followed by a set of cable flyes? You can get more work done in the same time period. The more work you can do in a shorter time frame is a method of making the whole workout more intense.

7. Rest Periods - Take the example above but this time, after the cable flyes, you only rest 30 seconds and repeat. Not only have you done a super-set, but you've just shortened the rest period. The intensity bar is sure to show a spike now. By lowering the rest periods, you can effectively make the workout more intense, without adding more weight. Combine this with super-setting and you can do an amazing number of sets in 60 minutes. At one point, I was able to do 48 sets for my legs in 60 minutes! That is insane.

8. Split the Splits - This only applies to individuals that might have a lifestyle where this is possible in a given day. Take for example leg training. It's very difficult to train the quads, the hamstrings and calves in a single session for the advanced athlete. But if you are able to train quads in the AM and hams and calves in the PM, then you have just obtained an optimal workout. Both are short and intense. Both allow for fully recovery. And focus can be given to particular body parts. The most common type of split of splits is on a leg day where the front of the legs are training at one time and the back of the legs trained at another. Not only is this advanced but it really requires that you have a time period when you can do this. Possibly a weekend if you are disciplined enough to take up an entire Saturday or Sunday.

9. Ascending/Descending Sets - Nothing more then increasing or decreasing the weight in a given set but do not let this technique fool you. It's a wicked way to just blast a body part. Descending sets are commonly referred to as "drop sets." For example, if you were doing dumbbell curls, you could start with a weight and do 10 reps, the move down in weight for another 8 reps, and move again and again. Ascending is just the reverse. There's no set number of moves downward up upward you can do but the maximum that is efficient is no more then 4 either way. For an interesting twist on this move, use a combination of both. Start with a given weight, use the ascending technique and then immediately use the descending technique. This makes for a giant set using both principles. And is very difficult.

By using these nine simple steps individually or in combination, you are ensured to take yourself to the next level of intensity.
About the Author
Marc David is a bodybuilder and author of the, Beginner's Guide to Fitness and Bodybuilding. You can get info on Marc's e-book at: Beginning Bodybuilding. To get Marc's free e-zine, visit JustAskMarc.com
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