Other than genetics, the most important thing that will influence training results is intensity. Nutrition is vitally important, but unless you are training right no matter how good your nutritional plan is, the body will never progress. Simply put, results are just the body adapting to the rigours of training. If we stress the muscles, the body will adapt in different ways, depending on how we place the muscles under trauma. Low weights are more likely to see an increase in endurance capacity and higher weights an increase in muscle size. Authors note: I do not buy into the whole ‘toning up’ idea of taking things easy and not hitting muscles hard. No matter what your goal is (toning/sculpting or building muscle), the body needs to be taken outside of its normal boundaries to progress.
Cardio based High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT training is still a relatively new concept in the fitness world, but its roots date back many years. The most commonly adopted protocol was pioneered by Dr Izumi Tabata in a 1996 study on Olympic speed skaters. The mechanisms behind this are still being researched, but the principles are quite simple – 20 seconds of maximal intensity exercise, followed by 10 seconds recovery x 8 sets.
Intensity is the Key
Conclusions that can be drawn from this style of training are that intensity is undoubtedly the most important factor influencing results. There were no groundbreaking new exercises; because it was such a short burst of effort, athletes worked far harder. They trained at an intensity high enough to shock the body into changing. Four minutes of exercise three times a week was proven to be more effective than hours of exercise. For results, intensity is king.
Weight Training Applications
Applied to weights training, this would mean short, massively intense sets in limited amounts. Although the sets and recovery would be changed to promote muscle growth, the principle would need to remain the same; hugely intense sets to failure whilst trying to keep perfect form. Followers of Dorian Yates’ training methodology will know he has been following this approach for years. There’s no doubting the effectiveness of it.
The problem with many complex training methods is that they don’t allow you to go all out on a set. They may be designed to, but mainly this fails because even on a subconscious level, you know you have several sets to get through. The intensity will be medium-high over a period of sets as you need to pace yourself. Ultimately some results will be gained, but focus will be lost and recoveries tend to become longer. Think of the last time you were in the gym and you saw some guys talking between sets. How hard could that set have been for them to be talking after it? A lot of the time they just take so long in-between sets they have time to have a chat. Size up when the last time their body shape changed was and decide for yourself whether they went all out. The results speak for themselves.
Adopting a high intensity approach gives you a strong mindset. Before you start you know you only have one working set per exercise. Mentally I will give it everything I have and more, knowing there won’t be any second chances. One set to give it everything. Why operate at 80% of your maximum for repeated sets when you could hit the muscles far harder in one set. When undertaking volume training you do have to wonder how much of failure is caused by cumulative fatigue over the sets rather than true, all out muscular failure. Both training methods would cause trauma and micro tearing to the muscles fibres, prompting muscle growth. However one is more likely to be more effective than the other; you simply cannot train the muscle to a really high intensity over many sets and exercises.
There is a lot of conflicting evidence out there with regards to what is the most effective method for building muscle. Personally I believe that every body responds differently to different training methods so you need to explore what works for you. Having tried both volume and high intensity training I found I got better results with high intensity training. This is not to say it will suit everybody, but it is worth taking the leap of faith and trying a workout that lasts 20-30 mins. Staunch supporters of high volume training will argue that many sets are needed to hit the muscles hard enough to encourage micro-tearing and subsequently growth. This author truly believes that the vast majority of people get great results from this sort of training, but they could get even better gains from high intensity training. They can overload the working muscles to a far greater degree from less sets and this can have a greater effect in promoting muscle growth.
Pick exercises that will work the muscles from every angle. These can be changed every week or two to keep things fresh. Personally I will look to increase my weights in at least one exercise each session. If I don’t manage it, I substitute an exercise I like for a similar one I really hate the next week. Everyone has different ideas and favourite routines so I’ll borrow Dorian Yates’ original format to use as an example:
Chest: Flat Bench | Incline Dumbbell Press | Dumbbell Flyes
Back: Dumbbell Pullovers | Close Grip Pulldown | Dumbbell Row| Wide Grip Cable Row | Deadlifts
Shoulders: Dumbell Press | Lat Raise | Low Pulley Side Raise | Rear Delt Raises
Biceps: Concentration Curls | Standing Barbell Curls
Triceps: Cable Pushdowns | Laying Barbell Extensions | Seated Dumbell Press
Legs: Leg Extensions | Leg Press | Hack Squat | Seated Curl | Stiff Leg Deadlifts | Calf Raise | Seated Calf Raises
The first exercise in every workout should be performed twice with a light weight as a warmup (12-15 reps per set). Then an all out ‘work’ set should be performed (8-10 reps to total failure). After that move onto the next exercise and perform 1 warmup set, moving onto the work set straight after. This forms the pattern for the workout. Rest time between any sets/exercises is ideally always 1 minute (if possible with free kit). This makes things far more intense to the target muscle group. Applied to chest as an example:
- Flat Bench Press: Warm up set 1
- Flat Bench Press: Warm up set 2
- Flat Bench Press: Work Set
- Incline Dumbbell Press: Warm up set
- Incline Dumbbell Press: Work set
- Dumbbell Flyes: Warm up set
- Dumbbell Flyes: Work set
So, a faster workout that promotes muscle growth and gets you lifting heavier. Give it a try, what’s not to like?