4 Rules for Increasing Training Intensity



When you are trying to improve your ability to grow muscle, improving your execution is absolutely fundamental.  The foundation for all other physique based training comes from execution. You have to have the skill to contract the muscle you want and keep tension in the muscle under load and fatigue.  If you have never taken the time to slow down and focus on feeling the working muscle, you may be very poor at isolating it.

The body naturally adapts to learning movements unconsciously.  Just like throwing a ball, after you have done this a few times, you do it without thinking.  Isolating and overloading a single muscle is not a naturally learned motor pattern. In terms of your biology, you body would much rather disperse load among different muscles and levers to make the movement as easy, and little energy demanding as possible.  When you are trying to grow muscle, this is the opposite of what you want. You want to force the targeted muscle to do as much of the work as possible and expend as much effort and energy as possible.

You don’t naturally develop the ability to isolate muscle well.  You have to train this skill meticulously. This requires you to slow down, use a slow controlled tempo, lighter weights, and work at the pace in which your mind muscle connection can improve.  Holding in the short position and squeezing the muscle as hard as possible is (called an isometric) great for developing that connection to the muscle. But once that skill is developed you have to put on your boots and go back to work.  

But how do you know when you are ready to graduate from learning how to contract a muscle to progressing the intensity of those contractions.  This may differ from body part to body part and exercise to exercise.


Rule 1

You should be able to feel the muscle in all portions of the range during an exercise.  So if you are doing a dumbbell press, you should be able to feel the pecs in the bottom, middle and top of the press, and squeeze it in all positions.  If you have a dead spot in the range, you will lose tension there. You need tension throughout the entire range of motion to fully train a muscle. Any time you lose tension at a portion of the range, other muscle will start taking over, especially as you fatigue.  This means the harder you train, the less you will grow the muscles you’re targeting. Make sure you can feel the muscle at every portion of the range.

Rule 2

You should be able to control all aspects of the contraction with the working muscle.  You should be able to initiate the movement with the target muscle, keep tension throughout the concentric and eccentric portions of the range.  If you can perform part of the contraction with the working muscle, again you are going to being leaving gains on the table, your body will continue to learn motor patterns that are dispersing the load rather than overloading the target muscle.

You have to be able to make the target muscle contract from a dead stop to initiate the movement or there is no chance that muscle will dominate the movement.  Most people learn the concentric portion easily and can keep tension on the muscle they are contracting during this phase. However, many people bail on the eccentric.  When you think about the typical tempo, you are spending the majority of your time in the eccentric phase. 3-4x as much. So if you take the average bro at the gym that lets the weight just drop or lets other muscles resist the eccentric, they are only doing ¼ of the workout with the target muscle.  Not to mention the eccentric portion has consistently be shown in many studies to be the most important for hypertrophy.

Rule 3

You have to be able to make the target muscle work under fatigue.  It’s easy to focus on the target muscle when you’re fresh and the weight is light.  When a muscle fatigues in the typical hypertrophy rep range, it fatigues because of the build up metabolites more than lack of fuel.  Consequently this buildup of metabolites interferes with your control of the muscles.

This is why muscles start to spasm and shake as you push that lactic acid threshold.  So when you get to the last few reps, or the deeper sets in a workout, your body is going to want to find help from the surrounding musculature, momentum, anything to take the load off the fatigued muscle.  This is where not only do you have to be skilled at contracting the muscle, but you have to have the discipline and mental toughness to force that muscle to keep working and resist the urge to find help elsewhere.

This is the biggest mistake people make when they desire to move up in weights.  It’s much easier to go up in weight by slow cheating little by little from set to set, workout to workout, and before you know it, you’re using a weight that is 20% more than you can train the target muscle with, and you’re not progressing.  You have to deserve heavier weights, and a huge predictor of that is, do you continue to keep the target muscle working when it’s hard, when it’s tired.

Rule 4

You can completely exhaust a target muscle without loss of form.  This is like a double check of Rule 3. Before progressing in weight, you should know what true failure feels like for each specific muscle, and be able to go there with no loss of form & execution.  When you fail a muscle, the movement, and technique should not change at all, you should simply lose range.

Take a dumbbell preacher curl for example.  As you fail, you should get to the point where you can’t get the dumbbell all the way up, yet you can do another partial rep.  Maybe this time it’s half way up, but you can still do another partial rep, maybe ¼ of the way and so on until you can only move a couple inches at the most, but it’s still 100% bicep doing that inch.  Taking yourself to this point of failure in a target muscle should serve as the final right of passage that you have the skill and discipline to start focusing on more intensity.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

A membership is required to read this section.
Checkout the membership options .

More Articles

More Videos

Back to Blog