Here are 5 methods you can use to increase the intensity of your workouts so you can make more progress in the gym:
1. Forced Reps
Forced reps are probably the most common and straightforward approach to increasing the intensity of any exercise. This method involves performing an exercise to momentary muscular failure and then having a partner assist you in completing additional (i.e. forced) reps. Forced reps are not my favourite method of increasing intensity for two reasons: First, forced reps require you to go beyond muscular failure, which is not necessarily a good thing when it comes to making progress in the gym. Second, the key to this method is in finding a partner that will provide you with the right amount of assistance. Too much and the method becomes useless at increasing the intensity of the exercise. Too little assistance and you could end up hurting yourself or really burning up your central nervous system. For these reasons I only recommend using forced reps sparingly, if ever at all. Additionally, this type of method is best suited with basic exercises like bench press, barbell curls, seated dumbbell shoulder presses etc. You definitely wouldn’t want to try doing forced reps with any type of barbell squat, deadlift, clean, or any other complex movement. That would be a recipe for disaster.
2. Rest Pause Technique
The rest pause method is another excellent technique you can use to increase the intensity of a variety of exercises. This method involves performing an exercise for a prescribed number of reps (or momentary muscular failure), racking the weight and taking a few extra seconds to rest before performing a few additional reps. This process can be repeated as many times as needed. In fact, this is the same technique that is used for the infamous 20 Rep Squat Routine program popularized in the book Super Squats by Randall Strossen. Personally, I think the rest pause technique is great for pretty much any exercise including squats, deadlifts, bench press, barbell curls, leg press etc. and an excellent way to blast through plateaus.
3. Drop Sets or Strip Sets
The drop set or strip set method involves performing an exercise for a prescribed number of reps (or to momentary muscular failure) and then reducing the load before proceeding into another set with little to no rest in between. This process can then be repeated any number of times equating to several drop sets within one larger set. This is one of my favourite techniques and can be used quite effectively in increasing the density (the amount of work performed per unit of time) of your routine. My only recommendation would be to stick with machine or dumbbell exercises. Any exercise that requires you to load a plate can become quite cumbersome with this method (unless you have a couple of partners handy).
Incorporating heavy negatives into your routine is an excellent way to encourage more muscle growth. That’s because the majority of muscle fiber damage (aka microtrauma) occurs during the eccentric portion (i.e. muscle lengthening phase) of the exercise.
A good example of this is the bench press. The eccentric portion of the exercise is when you lower the bar to your chest, while the concentric portion is when you lift the weight off of your chest. Because you can handle roughly 25% more weight during the eccentric portion of the exercise, negatives offer you a great opportunity to really overload the targeted muscles.
In my opinion, negatives are best performed AFTER you have completed the main work sets for a targeted exercise. For example, if you were training your biceps using barbell curls for 2 sets of 10-12 reps, you would perform the negatives AFTER you completed your last set. The best way to do this is by having a partner help you curl the weight up (concentric portion) while you lower the weight (negative) down under control. Remember that you can handle roughly 25% more weight when doing negatives so don’t be afraid to bump up the load after your last work set.
My advice would be to use this method sparingly and with only a select number of exercises as negatives are very taxing to the central nervous system. I wouldn’t even dream of performing negatives with deadlifts or squats and I would only attempt negatives on the bench press if I had two spotters.
5. Giant Sets or Supersets
Giant sets or supersets involve completing one set of one exercise and then immediately moving into another set of a different exercise with little or no rest in between. In a way this is very similar to circuit style training and another effective method to increase the density of your workout routine.
My favourite way of incorporating supersets is using them for my accessory (i.e. secondary) movements. Things like barbell curls, dumbbell bench presses, lateral raises etc. are all great movements that can be incorporated well using supersets. For example, you could superset seated dumbbell shoulder presses with lateral raises for an excellent 1-2 combo for your deltoids. In fact, one of my favourite combinations was a giant thigh set that I used to do that went like this:
1 set of squats 10-12 reps
1 set of leg extensions 15-20 reps
1 set of leg press 10-12 reps
I would perform these three exercises one right after another with little to no rest. Once I got through the giant set I’d rest for a few minutes and perform the set again 1-2 times. It was an excellent mass builder for the thighs.
If you’re looking for a way to step up the intensity of your workouts then these 5 methods are an excellent place to start. Feel free to incorporate as many of these methods as you like (and don’t be afraid to combine them). They are a great way to make exercising fun again and re-ignite your passion in the weight room.
Here’s to staying fit!