Sneak a Little Intensity Into Your Workout
Tricks To Make Your Workouts Count
By Tony Hale
You know you’re on autopilot during your workouts when, halfway through you’re set on the pec dec, you realize you’re sitting on someone’s lap. It’s time to shake things up a bit. Every gym has a variety of people who come in and do the same routine time after time. The same movements, weight, reps, they even do the exercises in the same order, every workout. Three years later, their body still looks the same. If you don’t know the guy I’m talking about, you’re that guy.
My suggestion is to put some intensity into your workout. The human body adapts very quickly to whatever we throw at it. If you’re not giving your body a reason to make changes, it won’t. If your wife just kept asking you to clean the garage, it would probably never happen. But, when she introduces new tactics, like threatening to tell all your friends how you set your Tivo to tape "The Facts of Life" reruns every week, then voila. Clean garage. Your body is the same way. As opposed to the same old nagging, it responds better to variety. If you’re doing the same workout, with the same weight, over and over, you’re literally boring your body into staying out of shape.
As a trainer I often have clients tell me that they only get a good workout during our sessions together. That, unless someone is pushing them, they don’t feel like they’re working hard. To solve this problem I’ve put together a list of techniques that will help you sneak some intensity into your workouts without having anyone yell at you. If you can follow these methods as I’ve described below, you will experience an unfamiliar sensation during your next workout. Don’t be alarmed…you’re just sweating.
Keep in mind; this article is about increasing the intensity in your resistance workout. For information about intensity in your cardio workouts, read “Using Nutrition to Boost Your Cardio” here:
How: Take, for example, the incline chest press on the Smith machine. Place your hands on the bar as wide apart from each other as you can. Now, engage the Smith machine and do 10 reps with about 60% of your max weight. Rest for ten seconds. Now, bring your grip closer together by about 3 inches and do 10 more reps. Rest for another 10 seconds. Now, bring your grip closer together until they’re about 4 inches apart and do 10 more reps. That’s one set.
Why: With a standard grip incline press, you only work certain muscle fibers in your chest. In this example, by changing your grip, you work the fibers across your whole upper chest. Use this technique with other exercises by simply changing your grip or the width of your stance.
How: In this example we’ll use the wide grip pull down. With 40-50% of your max weight, do 30 reps a little faster than you would normally go. (Not a typo – 30) Immediately after, bump the weight up to about 80-90% of max and shoot for 10 reps.
Why: You’re just trying to fatigue the muscle. It’s like doing your 3rd or 4th set, every set. The shock value alone is phenomenal. If your body could talk, it would say “What the $#$% Are you doing”?
How: After a warm up set of your favorite exercise, do 10-12 reps with about 90% of your max weight. Right away, drop the weight by about 20% and do 10-12 more reps. Again, drop the weight by 20% and do another set without resting. That counts as one set.
Why: By dropping the weight each set, you’re allowing the muscle to continue working even though it’s too tired to lift the weight you were previously lifting. You should get a great burn by the third set.
•Compound Sets & Super Sets
How: A compound set is two different exercises for the same muscle group that are completed without resting in between. (For example: Preacher curls and hammer curls.) A superset is two different exercises for opposing muscle groups that are completed without resting in between. (For example: Chest press and bent over rows.) Simply perform one exercise, followed by the second exercise, without resting in between.
Why: Compound sets will allow you to further fatigue a muscle group while often working different heads of the muscle. Supersets will allow one muscle group to rest while working the opposing muscle group. Both methods add intensity and are great for squeezing in more sets when you don’t have time for your full workout.
•Target Range of Motion
How: For example, when performing the standing biceps curl, during the upward movement phase, only bring the bar halfway through the range of motion (Until your forearms are parallel to the floor). Perform three of these partial reps followed by one rep that covers the full range of motion. (Bringing the bar all the way up to your shoulders). Count the three partial reps and one full rep as one total rep and shoot for 10.
Why: Just try it. You’ll definitely feel this one.
How: I’ll use standing dumbbell biceps curls for this example because it’s easy to visualize. With your left arm, bring the dumbbell halfway through the range of motion (until your forearm is parallel to the floor), and hold it there while you complete12 (full range of motion) reps with your right arm. Now, switch and hold the right arm static while completing 12 full reps with the left. Next set, switch the arm you begin with.
Why: The arm that is static still has to work to keep the weight where it is. This is effective as a type of pre-exhaust. The other arm has to work to hold the weight in the static position after completing 12 reps, like a post-exhaust.
Of course, if you choose one of these methods and use it for every exercise, in every workout, then you’re wildly missing the point. Use one or two in each workout and continue making changes to keep your body from hitting any plateaus. And for crying out loud, clean the garage.