Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lifting with Intensity

You aren't in the gym to mess around. It was an act of incredible will to drag yourself out of the comfort of bed to go torture yourself, or you're dead tired after a long day of dealing with the demands of unrealistic project managers who have no idea how you do your job, just how you should do it. So are you going to just go through the motions? No, you want to squeeze every last drop of progress you can out of your workout. That means you're going to have to lift like you mean it.

Don't just go through the motions
There's a big difference between the last rep you can do, and the last rep the unstoppable iron barbarian inside you can do. If you've managed to unleash that monster, you're going to make progress. If, instead, you finish your tenth rep with a slight sigh of effort, you need to kick up the intensity.

An example is the leg press. After you get to your last rep, ask yourself if it was really your last rep. You can almost always get out another one or two after discomfort has made you lock the sled.

Lower your reps
I like the low rep range of 3 to 5. That isn't appropriate for beginning lifters, but there's no reason for you to go over 12. Anything above that is endurance, and if you're not training for something specific (like shoulders for boxing), then you don't really need endurance. Endurance, or conditioning, comes and goes quickly. Strength is built over a lifetime.

When you do a 30 rep bench, you're teaching your muscles to process lactic acid more efficiently and contract in an acidic environment. You are, unfortunately, not getting stronger.

Don't get too comfortable
If you're following the same routine you always have, but you haven't seen results in months, then you need to do something different. Change your rep range. Change your exercises. Change your rest periods. Go to a full body workout 3 days a week. Just do something to get the progress going again, or you're going to give up, and you may not come back. It's very hard to bite the bullet and put a lot of effort into getting back strength you once had. So why not just put in the intensity now and make new gains?

Do the exercise you like the least
I've said it before, but it's a part of intensity. Get in there and do what you need to do. Unfortunately, what you need to be doing is often the least pleasant. You go to work every day, and you eat your vegetables, so do your chin ups. Momma Jeff says it's good for you.

That didn't come out right.


Jennifer said...

I think it came out just fine - and I totally agree. My problem now is increasing my weight and not dropping a barbell on my chest. I workout at odd times and usually alone. Is it okay gym etiquette to ask a gym employee to spot you?

Crabby McSlacker said...

Great advice, though it made me tired just reading it.

I think you make a really important distinction between strength and endurance--so many folks, women particularly, do a bazillion reps with tiny weights and never get any stronger.

That said, I'm not all that ambitious myself--my goal (at 47) is to try to maintain my strength as the years go by. I built up a reasonable amount in my 30's and I'm pretty satisfied with where I am. So far, I seem to be able to do just enough to stay at about the same level of strength over time without getting totally fed up. But I know if I ever want to get more motivated, you've got some really good tips here for pumping up the intensity.

Great post!

Jeff said...

I'd hope that an employee who wasn't busy wouldn't mind spotting you, and I don't think it's rude to ask.

If you have a power cage, you can always roll a bench into it and set the safety arms. If you find you can't position the safety arms low enough, they impede your ROM, try testing it with the bar over your stomach. When you bail you'd push the weight down toward your stomach and you'd have enough room to slide out the side.

Me, I'm terrified of being stuck under a bar. It happened once, luckily on an incline bench, and I rolled the weight down myself, bruising my sternum the whole way. Often instead of doing the traditional flat barbell to incline barbell or dumbbell, I get my stability work in first with heavy flat dumbbell press. Then I go to a hammerstength machine for incline. That way, I never risk being pinned under a barbell, and I work stabilizers and get to go all out. Otherwise, though it's a pain to set up, I use the cage, because feeling safe can add critical reps.

Jeff said...

Sorry for not replying sooner, the email notification didn't let me know I had another comment.

It's awesome that you've built your desired strength and now you can maintain. I've still got aways to go and awhile to do it, but I know I'm going to reach that point someday.

The hardest situation you can be in is to realize late that you need extra strength. Not impossible, it's just much easier to be in a position to maintain muscle at a certain age than to build it.