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Intensify your workout

Champaign, IL-The same old weightlifting routine performed daily won't yield increased muscle mass. According to strength training expert Nick Evans, a sculpted physique requires pushing muscle fibers to their limits. “You must go beyond failure and step into the zone of higher intensity to ensure every last muscle fiber is maximally stimulated to the point of exhaustion,” Evans says. “The rule of high-intensity training is that the set is just beginning when the muscle fails.”

In the upcoming new edition of his book Men's Body Sculpting (Human Kinetics, 2010), Evans offers 12 steps to intensify training techniques and turbocharge any workout.

  1. Increase resistance. Gradually increasing the weight you lift intensifies the stimulus the muscle receives at the point of failure during the last repetition. Added resistance raises the intensity, and the muscle will go beyond its previous point of failure. “Aim to add more resistance to each exercise every two to four weeks,” Evans says.
  2. Add an exercise. Working the muscle from a different angle intensifies the overall stimulus by bringing additional muscle fibers into action. “For complete muscular development, all the muscle fibers must be recruited and exhausted in every section of the muscle,” Evans explains. “Adding exercises is a way to ensure maximum intensity for all portions of the muscle.”
  3. Shorten rest intervals. The less time spent resting between sets and exercises, the more intense the workout becomes. “Shortening rest intervals is a safe, effective way to intensify,” Evans says.
  4. Prefatigue the muscle. This technique relates to exercise sequence and employs an isolation exercise to prefatigue a muscle before moving to a compound movement. “Performing an isolation exercise exhausts the target muscle so that when you proceed to the compound exercise, the fatigued primary muscle will fail before the smaller assistance muscles do,” Evans explains.
  5. Add supersets. A superset involves performing two exercises back to back without a rest interval. “When you superset two exercises for the same muscle group, the total time under tension increases, and you tap into different muscle fibers as you go from one exercise to the other,” Evans says. “This activates a greater percentage of the muscle area, which stimulates extra growth.”
  6. Add drop sets. A drop set extends an exercise beyond failure by reducing the weight so more reps can be performed. “When you reach muscular failure at the end of a set, immediately decrease the resistance by 25 to 40 percent and continue the exercise, squeezing out a few more reps until you reach failure with the lowered weight,” Evans says. “Rest only for the few seconds it takes to reduce the weight.”
  7. Change repetition tempo. A repetition performed at a fast tempo typically allows the use of a heavier weight, but the rapid acceleration introduces momentum. Performing a repetition slowly reduces momentum and maximizes muscle tension throughout the range of motion. “Switching from a slow tempo to a fast tempo taps into different muscle fibers, ensuring maximum muscle recruitment,” Evans notes.
  8. Use power-paused repetitions. “A paused rep allows you to push past the point of positive muscular failure by providing your muscle with a few seconds' rest in static isometric contraction mode,” Evans says. The power pause can be taken at any point during the positive phase of the repetition.
  9. Use partial repetitions. Muscular failure occurs when the last repetition can't be completed through the full range of motion. “Instead of quitting when you can no longer complete a full repetition, do partial reps to take the muscle beyond the point of positive failure,” Evans says.
  10. Use static contraction. A static (or isometric) contraction is the force generated in a muscle when there's no motion and the weight is held still. “By squeezing a peak static contraction in the muscle, the muscle is forced to continue working past the point of failure,” Evans explains.
  11. Add negative reps. The strongest phase of a repetition is the negative phase of lowering the weight. “This high-intensity technique uses the strong eccentric (or negative) muscle contraction to perform extra work beyond concentric and isometric muscular failure,” Evans says.
  12. Add forced reps. A forced rep is an assisted repetition. “When you reach the point of positive muscular failure, your training partner helps you perform another complete repetition by assisting with the lift,” Evans explains. “This technique allows you to push past the point of positive failure.”

For more information, see Men's Body Sculpting, 2nd Edition.