Weight Training Intensity – Train High Intensity To Build Muscle


People ask me all the time what is intensity? How do you apply it to your training? Do I really need to train with high intensity to grow? Let me take a few moments to share with you my perspective on this topic. You can define intensity in 3 ways, well actually 4 ways. You can increase reps, increase weight, decrease the time in between sets, or a combination of all 3 which would give you the 4th element.

It is difficult to have high levels of intensity, if your training model is centered on volume training. I say that because most people operate in this realm of intensity already. Let me give you an example. Joe is a serious weight lifter and wants to put on size. Joe has been training in a pyramid volume format for the past 6 months to 1 year. However, he has noticed he has hit a plateau. Joe cannot understand why, when he trains, he does 4 sets 12, 10, 8, 6 and increasing the weight after each set. Based on what I said in the beginning of this article, Joe is doing 1 of the 4 ways to include intensity in his workout. So why has Joe plateaued?

Muscle Confusion is a Real Concept That Should Not Be Ignored!
Now lets look at what Joe is doing a bit closer. True enough he is increasing the weight on each set, but he also decreased the reps so he added one intensity principal and took one away which nets a return of 0! This is why most people who do volume training will almost always hit plateaus. Earlier, I gave you the textbook definition of intensity, now let me give you mine. By using multiple training principles, I can in effect stay in a constant state of muscle confusion which will help me avoid plateaus thus making my training far more effective!

Always Go To Failure!
Let me give you an example of this training. We are training back in this example:

  1. Rear deltoid flyes with constant tension and working muscle to failure.
  2. Stiff arm pull-downs with pauses at the top of the movement to failure.
  3. Lat pull-downs with a reverse grip, slow reps with force negatives to failure.


Let’s look at this set a bit closer. This 1st set is a giant set with constant tension on the working muscles, pauses, and force negatives (negs). In this first set, I am implementing 4 training principles.

  1. Giant set
  2. Constant tension on working muscle
  3. Pauses
  4. Force negatives

Now, here is an important item to point out. Since I am going to failure on every movement, there is no need to increase reps, increase weight, or decrease the time in between sets. The very nature of how I am doing this set already includes these principles in the set. Technically, this back set has 8 training principals in 1 set (4 plus 4).

For those of you who have done volume training and increase the weight on each set, you can imagine what an 8 training principal set would do to you. That is why I do not do a lot of sets per body part. For smaller body parts like chest, shoulders, bicep, triceps, and calves, I will only do 2-4 total sets. For back and legs, I only do 3-5 total sets (not per exercise)!

Is This Training Style Right For You?
Let me be perfectly honest here. Do you need to train like this in order to maximize your gains? The answer is no! I know a lot of guys who do not train hard and who are huge but most of these guys have help in gaining that muscle mass. Besides, if you are a competitor in whatever discipline, the very thing that separates us from men and women is how we train! I don’t know about you, but all things given equal, if you have two people natural or not and one trains hard and the other does not, which one do you think would get the first call out?


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About Author

Turk Fickling

I have been a certified personal trainer for over 20 years. During that time, I have attained several certifications including the A.C.S.M. in personal training, nutrition, and C.S.C.S. (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists). I have also competed in bodybuilding, winning several competitions. See my profile page for more information!

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