If you're training hard but not gaining muscle, it may be time to change things up. Your body tends to adjust to a workout after awhile to avoid adding muscle.
One of the best ways to boost your muscle-building efforts is with the training intensity variation principle. You divide your training schedule into sections, terminating exercises and moving on to the next round when reaching mild difficulty.
For example, during a set of Curls at a weight you can normally grind out for 10 reps, finish at 8. Rest 1-2 minutes between sets, with total sets per muscle group at 3-4 for small muscles and 4-6 for large ones.
Sample Chest Workout
- Dumbbell Flys, 2x12
- Machine Dips, 2x8
- Incline Bench Press, 2x6
After three weeks, increase the training intensity of your sets by finishing them at your maximum. For example, if you are capable of completing 10 reps of Barbell Curls with a given weight, end the set there. Since you've increased the intensity, reduce the set count to 2-3 for small muscles and 3-4 for large ones. Rest no longer than 45 seconds between sets.
Sample Back Workout
- Incline Bench Rows, 2x12
- Dumbbell Bench Pull-Overs, 2x15
- Seated Medium-Grip Pull-Downs, 2x10
After an additional three weeks, progress to the highest level of intensity. To maximize intensity, end all sets at the point where you cannot grind out even one more rep. Add intensity variables such as negative-accentuated, negative and forced reps.
Negative-accentuated reps are great for bodybuilders training without a partner. They allow a trainee to experience the benefits of pure negative training safely.
To do them using the Leg Press, press the footplate with both legs but resist the downward movement using only your left leg. Then press the footplate with both legs and resist the negative with your right leg. Continue in this manner until the end of the set.
Perform pure negative reps with a partner. He or she raises the weight and transfers it to you. You lower the weight, usually to a count of eight before repeating. Negatives are great for building new strength and size when hitting a plateau.
Forced reps allow effort to progress beyond the point of typical failure. After reaching failure during a set, your partner applies just enough assistance to allow completion of additional reps. You can use more than one HIT variable during a set to maximize intensity--and therefore, muscle growth stimulus.
Sample Biceps Workout
- Dumbbell Concentration Curls, 1x8+3 forced reps
- Seated Palms-Facing Pull-Downs, 1x10+4 negative reps
Since the intensity is high, reduce the set count further to avoid overtraining.
This article outlines HIT intensity variation—an effective protocol for muscle development.
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