There's an ongoing debate among bodybuilders as to which type of training protocol is superior. Most people believe that a significant quantity of training volume is necessary in order to stimulate muscle growth. Since this practice has proven itself thousands of times over, one would think its credence was indisputable. Nevertheless, there are others, equally qualified, who feel that it is momentary intensity alone which determines muscle growth. Only when a muscle is pushed beyond the stress in which it has never received will the impetus for more growth occur. But where and when does that occur? As a matter of fact, the term "high intensity" is perhaps the most misunderstood concept in bodybuilding.

Some proponents of high intensity training, also known as H.I.T. and Heavy Duty, go under the assumption that intense means going to failure with heavy weights. Unless total failure is reached, with the utmost poundages, true failure is never obtained and maximum development is stunted. What I never understood was, why must failure occur at 6-8 reps? Why is it that if a muscle is pumped, suddenly the inference is that there isn't enough resistance to grow muscle?

The standard axiom is that any activity which can be performed for more than 10 reps incorporates the slower twitch (red) muscle fibers whereas it's the bigger fast twitch muscles which are responsible for the most mass. I believed that myself. But I'm starting to wonder.

Many champions have developed outstanding physiques training for the pump. That doesn't mean their workouts were "easy." It's just a different kind of intensity. One of the arguments for short bursts over longer periods of activity is the comparison of sprinters to long distance runners. Sprinters tend to have legs that would make most bodybuilders envious. Long distance runners, on the other hand, have thin, stringy muscles. That pretty much proves the notion that brief bouts of exertion build muscle better than voluminous training sessions, doesn't it?

No. And this is why.

For one thing, there's the genetic factor. People with muscular legs are better suited for sprinting. Skinny folks are more geared for marathons.

Be that as it may, let's give the "effects of function" concept a fair shot.

Even though a sprinter's "set" (e.g. running 100 yards) lasts only about 30 many "reps" is he doing? In other words, how many steps does it take to travel that distance? 80? 90? Over 100? It sure ain't 6-8! This proves a vital and incredibly overlooked point. It isn't so much the amount of reps or the level of resistance -- but the intensity itself as well as the time under tension which determines muscle growth. The sprinter also doesn't practice one sprint a week. He does dozens a day.

Intensity comes in many forms. Naturally, there's the length of each session and the poundages used. There's also the rest, or lack thereof, between sets. The speed of each rep, especially the eccentric portion, is a factor as is the force of contraction. The use of partial or static reps comes into play as well. Even the combination of movements will have an effect. There is so much more to stimulating muscle fiber than merely lifting X amount of weight for X amount of reps. That's why I've never been all that interested in keeping a training log. All that does is tell you how much you lifted and for how many reps. It doesn't tell you how intense each set was. And that's the biggest factor when it comes to muscle growth. Please realize, I'm not referring to strength gains or weight gains. Just muscle growth.

There was a technique which was a staple among the old time bodybuilders which has fallen out of favor. They used to say; "make a lighter weight feel as heavy as possible." What that meant was, get inside each rep and force the muscle to strain! It may not look as impressive but that's what induces growth. Your muscles don't give a shit what your training journal says. Numbers mean nothing to them. All they know is stress.

The very notion of "training to failure" is fraught with ambiguity. What constitutes failure? The inability to complete a rep? If so, what about 10 seconds following the set? More reps would then be possible. The only undeniable gauge of total failure would be working to the point where the muscle is torn from the tendon insuring no potential for any further reps! The theory of total
failure being the only effective stimulus for muscle growth is as idiotic as claiming aerobic capability can only be increased if you reach the state of near cardiac arrest. The truth is, there is no such thing as "failure." There's only that point within a given range where your brain and nerve endings say "enough!" Yes, it's imperative to get as far into the pain zone as possible in order to grow. But you don't have to live there every day -- every workout -- every set.

This might be a good time to address the Heavy Duty Demigod, Mike Mentzer. I have a problem with Mike. Maybe it's because I, too, was influenced by his mentor Ayn Rand. Yet, I believe, in true "Randian" fashion, that the development of thought is an ongoing and individual pursuit, not the blind adherence of some ideology. That's where Ayn Rand herself was off base. In her novels, she made sure every situation worked out in favor of proving her point. But that's not life. Mike Mentzer makes the same mistake. He may be intelligent and articulate but his arguments are merely an attempt to elevate his own status and subjugate those who oppose him. Influence through intimidation. Sorry Mikey, but I ain't buying it.

Heavy Duty training isn't the only way. It's one way -- as viable and as inexact as all the others. I don't deny its place in every bodybuilder's battle plan. However, its exclusive use will not yield optimum results. Not to mention the potential for injury is higher than any other method. Sure, there will be those who insist that it works on a consistent basis. (Which is ridiculous. No method yields constant growth. Anabolism isn't a linear process. If that were the case, people who have been training for 10 years would have 60 inch chests and 30 inch arms!) There will also be those who will claim they've never been injured using maximum poundages. Great! But everyone is different. Belief to the contrary is the epitome of illogic.

It should be noted also that Heavy Duty's biggest endorser, Dorian Yates, does not train "one set to failure." He trains one exercise to failure, using up to five exercises per bodypart -- very different from the Heavy Duty principles. He also uses a warm-up movement for each new exercise. Let's see...five exercises, each with a warm up...sounds like ten sets to me!

"Periodization" is the term most people use when describing a method of training that varies its principles. It's nothing new. This is what legendary training coach Vince Gironda referred to as "muscle confusion." Going with the premise that the body will attempt to adapt to any form of stress, it's important to "mix up" the ways in which your muscle perceives stimuli. This keeps the system off guard and consequently, instigates more muscle growth. It also keeps at bay the biggest detriment to training progress: boredom. By attempting to do what the body isn't expecting, it forces the creative aspect of one's personality to come into play. This keeps things fresh. Performing the same workout week after week may work for some people. Personally, it would bore me out of mind in no time. It's best to change routines often. Better yet, don't do a "routine" at all. As long as you make an honest effort, you'll continue to improve.

When it comes to training, two constants apply. One: Everything works to a degree. Two: Everything stops working after a while. The key is acquiring an extensive training vocabulary in which to draw upon.

Intensity is an elusive topic -- vague and indefinable. Yet one thing is certain. You know deep down when you have it. It isn't determined by a fancy title or the decree of some exercise authority. It's inside. You can't fake it. Your muscles won't let you. That's what's so amazing about bodybuilding. It's you -- against yourself. You do the work. You reap the reward. Just remember, there's a difference between passion and hostility. Don't try to beat your body into submission. Approach each set, each rep with concentration and dedication and the intensity will take care of itself. Training doesn't need to be a constant "all out" effort, nor does it need to take hours. Just make sure you get the job done.

  1. Richard 31 October 2007 at 11:58  

    An important point for you, but not for training.
    You wrote:
    "That's where Ayn Rand herself was off base. In her novels, she made sure every situation worked out in favor of proving her point. But that's not life.

    Avoid conflating two very different contexts. The novel is an essentialization of her observations. Of course "she has made sure every situation worked". However, all of the points she made were proven in Reality first.

    Dagny had to see Reality for herself before she could understand Galt's strike of the minds action as necessary and proper. It was no accident that Dagny's struggle to understand was an extended thread through the novel! Nor was it an accident that Eddie Willers believed in doing what was right, but never engaged himself in that struggle. You are actually trying to do the very things she advocated... that is good, but it is hardly fair to negate what she is saying as you are doing it.

    Finally there is no fault in accepting an ideology that is right and correct, unless you do not understand why it is so. If significant areas are right, one owes it to oneself to take the time to explore it further, and with great care. In other words, be like Dagny not like Eddie.

    Many times I disagreed with things Rand wrote, but then in another area of her writings (including her non-fiction) I discovered why she was right and why I had not understood it --I usually had some idea misinterpreted, un-clearly held, or merely accepted without properly understanding.

    As she often said, "Check your premises", and keep doing what you are doing.

  2. Curtis 1 November 2007 at 13:32  

    Are you saying that Ayn Rand was a blind adherent to Objectivism? And, for what purpose did you attack Mike Mentzer and Ayn Rand if not to cheaply admit that you failed to grasp Objectivism. Stick to fitness.