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School of Hard Gains | Intensity


Being a “hard gainer” sucks… You walk into the gym day-by-day, and even though you are putting in the work it’s just not working right. Your chest just isn’t catching up, your deadlift is sub-par and to top it all off your buddy @JonDoeIFBBPRO just took first at his first powerlifting meet and your girlfriend watched. Okay… maybe it’s not that bad, but to someone struggling to progress it certainly feels that way. Hypertrophy and strength go hand in hand as the size of your muscle tissue is in direct relation to the force being put out by it. Though bone length, lever angle and all of the other little genetic factors play a large roll into how the tissue looks… let’s face it… a little extra meat on those bones really couldn’t hurt. How exactly do we increase force? Well my sinowy friend, we increase intensity… and no I do not mean benching aggressively and quickly and screaming at the top of your lungs… I mean:


  • Quality of Movement in Range Of Motion
  • Perceived Exertion
  • Appropriate progression.


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Intensity is often a very misunderstood concept in the fitness world. We open magazines and they show ripped up guys throwing around 100lb+ dumbbells screaming at each other when really intensity is a principle more directly related to quality, and not entirely JUST aggression. Quality of movement, range of motion, appropriate weight and progression all play large rolls within a movement just as much as the application of aggression. A well pulled aggressive deadlift may result in a well attempted personal record, while a poorly pulled aggressive deadlift generally results in injury either immediately or over time. When we see training videos, we see the grimace of a body builder doing a light weighted bicep curl but what we don’t understand is that they may be on the 16th set of a very slow tempoed curl (and anyone who knows tempo work, that last few reps can be a bitch). In the modern world, Execution is the key issue, and once efficiency is achieved in this realm… Gains are to be had.


When in ROM


Quality of movement in range of motion is a concept I keep near and dear to my heart alongside their brothers in arms, accommodating resistance and strength curve principles. I would be preaching to the choir when I say “Form Is King” really truly is… but to me personally, its only part of the puzzle.


“If form is the king, muscular activation is his queen.”


When pressing or curling, we don’t want to just move the weight… we do that all the time when getting milk from the fridge or picking up your girlfriend’s french bulldog… we want to FEEL the movement and make the muscles work. One way to teach this concept we use “tempo” or timing through the eccentric and concentric portions of a movement. For example a 3 second count within each portion of a bench press can teach an athlete how to activate and time the press appropriately to make it more efficient and beneficial not only in progression but safety. Tempo work (aka time under tension) also benefits tendon and joint health when executed appropriately and strictly with good form. Changes in speed as an individual develops this awareness of activation through correct form spills infinite possibilities in tools and progression. Getting in tune with what muscles are activating assists then with our next bit of intensity, perceived exertion.


PE 101


Perceived Exertion is basically just that… How one is perceiving the stress, range of motion and overall fatigue being accomplished by a movement. Typically scaled on a 1-10 basis, RPE (Rate Of Perceived Exertion) is a simple use of communication between coach and athlete, as well as an easy way to judge intensity of a movement in relation to the quality. With 10 being the highest, it’s a great tool for those training alone or in a group to help judge the quality and benefit of a movement. If an athlete of mine told me they accomplished an RPE of 8 while performing their working sets of squat, given the programing volume and the fact that the squat was executed correctly, I would allow them to continue with what was issued to them. If they accomplished an RPE of 8 during the first couple reps of their last warm up sets then I may reconsider their prescribed weights. If Range of Motion is sacrificed for the sake of moving the weight, then it definitely needs to be adjusted. Maybe an RPE of 8 can be better accomplished with a lighter weight for the rep range given. It is all based off of the individual’s present condition and adjusting to appropriately accommodate that condition without sacrificing safety or stimulus.


Practice Makes Progression


Lastly, we need to keep in mind appropriate progression of movements being done. The human body needs stimulus in order to grow… and force output provides that stimulus; however, the human body will consistently find a way to level the playing field. This is called Homeostasis...What happens when we turn the thermostat in a house to 70 degrees during the winter? It stays there until we turn it up more… The same goes for your muscular development. The human body will maintain itself at its level of progression until its stimulated to do otherwise (the same goes for lack of stimulus as well). To make it simple... Once it is easy, it’s time to move on. Changing rep scheme, changing weight or changing style can make a huge difference when executed correctly and steadily.


Use of these 3 simple principles can not only provide that intensity that you are looking for to stimulate growth but also provide better quality progression and safer results that will last. Chronic injury is far too often the cause of misinterpreting intensity, and unless you want a torn pec… save the half reps for the 80’s… we are living in a new and well versed era. Get yourself on the fast track to some gains by using quality.


TEAM USPlabs Anthony Thomas


Written by Rob Saeva of No Coast Strength and Conditioning


Follow Rob, Professional Strength and Conditioning Coach and Amateur Powerlifter


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of USPlabs or any employee thereof. Examples used within this article are only examples. USPlabs is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the authors of this article. Content contributors are not employees of USPlabs. Authors may have been remunerated by USPlabs.


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