Nothing produces faster and more dramatic change in the human body than working out with short bursts of high intensity that's characteristic of a properly executed strength or resistance program. There's simply no better way to alter the shape of your body. In February 2000 the American Heart Association has also declared that strength training also has a positive affect on cardiovascular health. This is great news for the working firefighter who needs both strength and endurance to enhance safety and job performance. See Related Article
There's no one best way to create the intensity levels necessary to get remarkable results, and every situation calls for a different approach. The challenge is to raise intensity safely and efficiently, and at a pace that's right for you. For some, simply slipping on a couple of weight plates solves the problem nicely. But when seeking to modify intensity, whether up or down, we can do a lot more than just add some extra weight.
1. Muscle Fatigue
Muscle fatigue is experienced at the point in the set where you begin to experience some local discomfort, possibly a low level burning sensation, or even slight pain. You'll also develop an increasing weakness in the muscles being trained. Every firefighter has experienced this when operating a high-pressure hose line, or during an extensive overhauling operation.
While momentary muscle failure is the ultimate goal of all resistance training, results can be achieved at much lower levels. However, at a minimum you'll need to reach a minor level of muscle fatigue with at least one set per exercise. See the Fatigue to Intensity Chart below.
Momentary Muscle Failure
Momentary muscle failure is defined as the point in the set where complete exhaustion of the targeted muscles takes place. Any additional repetitions would be impossible without bringing weaker stabilizer muscles into play, not designed for heavy lifting, where an injury is the most likely result.
Most people tend to halt a set at the first sign of discomfort to the beginning of that familiar burning sensation (brought on by lactic acid build up). Either way, be sure to keep the intensity focused in the targeted muscles by adhering to perfect form with every set. The common thread in most successful resistance routines is not endless hours of training, but the relatively high level of muscle fatigue reached on at least one set per exercise. Results can be obtained at all levels, but the most remarkable progress is achieved at levels 3 and 4.
Fatigue to Intensity Chart
Level # - Symptoms in Targeted Muscles
2. Reduced Tempo
Speed kills -your exercise program! Moving through a set at too great a speed, invariably with improper form, and generating tremendous strain on your joints and connective tissue, is self-defeating. Slow down! A typical repetition should last about six seconds. This leaves two seconds for the push against gravity (positive phase), and four seconds for the lowering with gravity (negative phase).
Slow Motion Training
A very effective way to increase intensity is to slow tempo down to five seconds on positive phase, and ten seconds on the negative. This type of training isn't for the feint of heart, and demands a bit of mental discipline to get through just one set. Slow motion training is an intensity booster of the highest magnitude, and can sometimes require you to rest seven days between sessions. Reps become less important when training slowly. Pay more attention to the timing of each set, which should range between ninety seconds and three minutes. This should limit overall reps to never more than ten or twelve.
3. Reduced Rest
Shorter rest between sets translates into greater intensity, especially as it relates to building endurance. Longer rest between sets allows the muscles to recover more completely, and consequently work at a higher resistance level. If you work with 30 seconds or less between sets, you're circuit training.
Circuit training is a great way to get more intensity out of less resistance, and is appropriate for anyone who has limited time and equipment. More closely resembling an aerobic program, circuit training has become a boom in the fitness industry over the last ten years because of its adaptability and overall safety. If your goals are strictly toning and reducing body fat, and you're not as interested in building muscle mass or brute strength, circuit training could make an excellent choice.
If you're not comfortable with the rapid pace of circuit training, stick to a more traditional program with a somewhat longer recovery between sets (one to three minutes). Shorter rest and higher reps build endurance and tone, while longer rests and low rep ranges build muscle and strength. Customize your routine accordingly.
4. Increased Volume
Adjusting the total number of sets performed per exercise is another way to vary overall intensity. Intensity adds up, so that one very intense set can deliver as much as two or three moderately intense efforts. The more intensely you train, the less you need to do. If you don't want to crank up intensity, add another set or two.
5. Increased Resistance
This will be the topic of an upcoming article on Double Progressive Resistance.
Simply showing up at the gym and going through the motions will deliver only a minimal amount of real results. Take each exercise seriously and apply one or all of the above intensity boosters. Make every set count. The old standby intensity booster, increased resistance, is the topic of my next article, Double Progressive Resistance. Please stay tuned...