Intensity Techniques

It’s not about the weight and reps, it’s about the intensity and form of each and every REP!

Here are some different Intensity Techniques I use to help me get more out of my training.  Also, I will rank them in order in the ones I feel are the best and the worst.

Negative/Eccentric-Focused Training

  • This technique focuses on the negative portion of muscle contraction (the eccentric or lowering phase).
  • You are 20 to 30% stronger in the eccentric phase vs the contraction phase.  By doing a rep that forces you to spend more time under tension, you are forcing more stress on the muscles to adapt and change for the better (bigger, stronger, denser and move flexible).
  • Do the contraction at normal speed and on the eccetric contraction, stretch and control the movement for 4 to 10 seconds negatives before doing the next rep.

Rep Targeting

  • Set a target of a certain amount of reps and get that target of reps no matter how many sets it takes you to get there.
  • For example, if you pick a target of 50 reps on chin-ups, say you get 30 on the first set. Rest a little while 10 to 30 seconds. Do another set. Say you get 10 reps. Rest. Get 5 reps. Rest. Get 3 reps. Rest. Get 2 reps. Done.
  • A different version of this is do this is time subtraction. The amount of time you rest between sets is the amount of reps you have left to get to your target. For example, your target is 50, you get 30 reps, your rest period is 20 seconds. The next set you get 10 reps. That leaves you with 10 reps to go, you rest 10 seconds and go again. You get 4 reps, you have 6 left, rest 6 seconds.


  • Same Part Supersetting:  This is the most common type.  do two different exercises that workt he same body part, e.g. incline curls then barbell curls
  • Isolation/Compound Supersetting: This is essentially pre-exhust supersetting.  Do a set of an isolation exercise then a set of a compound exercise, e.g. chest flyes then bench press.
  • Antagonistic Supersetting: Do a set of an exercise for one bodypart then immediately do a set of an exercise for the antagonistic bodypart, e.g. barbell curls then tricep pushdowns.  Antagonist supersetting can help each muscle group recover while working the other muscle.  It also makes you stronger in both.  For the arms, it has the advantage of keeping the blood localized in the upper arm area.  Back and chest or quads and hamstrings are other examples of antagonistic muscles.

Pre-Exhaust Training

  • Do a set of an isolation exercise for a muscle group, then, with no rest, do a compound movement for it, e.g. dumbell flyes then barbell bench press. This fatigues the target muscle then allows the fresher secondary movers push the target muscle harder.
  • A variation of this is the pre-exhaust giant set. A good example is triceps, shoulders and chest. This variation will push the triceps to the limit, and work the shoulders hard.
  • Start with a triceps isolation exercise such as pushdowns.
  • Go to shoulder press, which works triceps and shoulders.
  • Next, do bench press, which works the triceps, shoulders and chest.
  • Each progressive set will allow another muscle group to continue assisting. For lower body, try it with hamstrings. Start with legs curls which isolate the hams then move to stiff-legged deadlifts, which work the hams and glutes, then move to lunges which work the hams, glutes and quads.
  • The pre-exhaust concept can be extended to an entire workout. If you wish to push your triceps harder, try doing them first, followed by chest. You may limit your chest workout but your triceps will be pushed a lot harder by doing chest first. This can be applied to biceps and back, shoulders and chest, or calves and thighs.

Drop Sets

  • This entails doing a set to failure with a weight then immediately doing another set to failure with a lighter weight.
  • This can be done as double-drop (reduce the weight once), triple-drop (reduce the weight twice), or down-the-rack (use every consecutive set of dumbells down a rack) sets.
  • As a basic rule-of-thumb, reduce the weight around 10% with each drop.
  • Another useful way to do drop sets is to pull 45 pound plates off if you’re doing an exercise where several are being used (e.g. squats). It is also possible to load the bar with smaller plates to reduce the amount of weight dropped.
  • This is one of the most time/energy efficient ways to train, especially if doing an abbreviated or maintenance program.

Variation Triple Drop Sets

  • Do the first set with the strongest variation of an exercise (e.g. decline bench press) and go for power. Do the second drop with the next strongest variation (e.g. flat bench press) and go for feeling the muscle. Do the third drop with the weakest variation (e.g. incline bench press) and use very strict form. You can also do that backwards and start with the weakest variation first.

Fiber Sweep Triple Drop Sets

  • This type of triple drop set works three different ways.
  • The first set of the drop, use a very heavy weight (about 85-90% 1RM) and do 2 to 3 reps with it. This will work on relative strength and connective tissue strength.
  • For the second drop, use a weight that allows 8 to 10 reps. This builds muscle mass and circulation.
  • For the third drop, use a very light weight and do 6 to 8 fast, explosive reps (one second up, one second down). This will work the explosive fibers and the neuromuscular system. Another option on the last set is to do a set of very high reps with a very light weight (30 plus).

Giant Sets (good if you only have time for a short workout)

  • Same Muscle Group: Do several exercise for one bodypart in a row without resting in between exercises, e.g. chin ups, seated rows, straight arm lat pushdowns, then pull overs.
  • Full Body: Select one exercise for each muscle group and perform then back to back without rest.  E.g. Barbell Squat, Machine Leg Curls, Push Ups, Chin Ups, Hpyerextensions and Bicycle Kicks.

Heavy Supports (powerlifting only)

  • This is simply holding a weight in the lockout position of an exercise for as long as possible.
  • An example of this would be just standing there with a huge weight on your back. This would be a squat support.
  • These are best done in the big movements like bench, squats, deadlift, dips, shoulder press, etc. because of the amount of weight that can be supported.
  • These will build connective tissue strength as well as increasing muscle density and confidence. After holding a thousand pounds on your back, squatting with three plates won’t seem quite so daunting.

Partial Training (powerlifting only)

  • This is simply moving the weight through a partial range of motion (usually, but not necessarily, the strongest range of motion of the exercise, e.g. the top 6 inches of the bench press). This allows much more weight to be used.
  • Partials can also be done at the end of a set to extend it. Continue with the same weight but do partial reps, shortening the range of motion more as you tire until you are just doing lockouts.
  • Pure partials are often done in the power rack with the pins set at appropriate levels. Partial squats are done with the pins in the rack set near the top of the range of motion. Moving the bar only a few inches with a huge amount of weight on your back, is a great way to build power, density, and confidence.
  • Partials can be done anywhere in an exercise’s range of motion. They can help you get through sticking points if you do partials at and through the sticking point. The heavy weight is very useful for building tendon and ligament strength. Sometimes when you hit a plateau, it is not due to muscle strength but connective tissue strength. Partials can help overcome this.
  • Partials can be done in a continuous without taking tension off the muscles, or in brief reps, allowing the weight to be supported on the racks for a few moments before doing the next rep. The continuous style provides more muscle tension but reduces the amount of weight that can be used. Don’t bounce the bar off the pins. Develop tension in the muscles gradually so you don’t jerk anything out of the sockets.

Cheat Reps (only if you do not have a spotter)

  • At the end of a set, when you can’t do any more reps with good form, use a bit of body swing or momentum to help get the weight past the sticking point, e.g. swinging the weight up a little at the start of a barbell curl.
  • Do not cheat excessively or you may cause injury.
  • Cheat only to work the muscle harder, not to make the exercise easier.

Forced Reps (worst and most absued)   

  • This is the most popular and consequently the most abused intensity technique. A spotter is used to provide enough assistance for the trainer to be able to complete the rep.
  • The abuse comes when the trainer relies on the spotter for assistance during most of the set.
  • The most obvious example is the bench press.
  • Forced reps should not be done every set like some trainers do. Properly executed forced reps are very demanding and can severely tax your recovery systems.
  • Spotters should also provide only just enough help to keep the weight moving. They should not take the weight away from the trainer.

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