November 24


Two simple ways to increase workout intensity WITHOUT heavier weights

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Knowing how to increase the intensity of your workout is vital for continued progress in the gym. Sure, we can continue to lift larger and heavier weights. However, this only works up to a point. There are times when it might not be practical, or even possible to lift heavier. Here's what to do when you want to stimulate your muscles with a boost in workout intensity without lifting heavier weights.


A quick recap on workout intensity

If you read my previous article on how to maximise your time in the gym, you'll be familiar with what's involved in generating intensity.

Don't worry if you didn't read it. We're still friends.

We can apply 4 general principles to our exercise sessions to generate sufficient intensity for our workouts.

These 4 principles of workout intensity are:

  • minimise rest
  • move swiftly
  • train to failure
  • train to failure

Essentially, we can get more done in less time by applying these principles.

4 general principles of workout intensity are minimise rest; move swiftly; train to failure; and train strict

If you're fairly new to resistance training, these 4 principles alone will produce great results.

However, if you're a beginner in the gym when it comes to lifting weights you might want to spend a few weeks before you push to failure (principle 3). This will prevent you from suffering from excessive soreness or DOMS.

After all, you're in the gym to build strength, not demonstrate it.

On the other hand, more experienced trainers can also benefit from applying these 4 general principles.

However, there inevitably comes a time when we need other tactics to produce more intensity.

In general, more intensity = more results.

In other words, we can achieve a greater training stimulus using some new methods to challenge our muscles.

There are two ways we can 'shock' our muscles to increase the stimulus we place upon them.


you're in the gym to build strength, not demonstrate it

How to Increase Workout Intensity Muscle Shock Tactic #1 | Switch out your exercises for alternative movements

While the movement may be similar, and we train the same muscle groups, subtle changes can lead to big challenges.

For example, by performing an alternative exercise, we might change the range and angle of the movement. As a result, our target muscle fibres receive a different training stimulus than they're used to.

This 'new' stimulus is usually enough to enhance our training response.

For example, if you're used to training with the machine chest press, try performing a bench press with a barbell and weight plates. Likewise, a Smith Machine bench press could be substituted for a dumbbell bench press.

Similarly, we might swap a dumbbell chest fly which our muscles have become accustomed to for the pec deck machine.

Muscle Shock Tactic #2 | Change the order of your exercises

Now, when it comes to training stimuli and our bodies adapting to our workouts, our central nervous system plays a major role.

Our central nervous system, or CNS, along with our muscles effectively 'learn' what to expect next. They've become accustomed to our routine and they've adapted to that particular sequence of demands.

In effect, they've conditioned themselves to make the workout as efficient and easy as possible.

While this is great for us getting through a routine, it's not so great for creating workout intensity.

Likewise, this adaptation of the CNS and muscles produces those performance benefits that we actively seek. For example, we get stronger, fitter, faster, etc.

However, if we want to keep progressing in our training and reach new goals, we need sufficient intensity.

Simply swapping the order of your exercise routine can generate a bit of surprise for your muscles. They're no longer accustomed to what you're asking of them. Consequently, they'll have to re-adapt.

And in doing so, you've created the increase in workout intensity that you were after.

Ultimately, exposing our muscles to new and different stimuli is what causes them to grow stronger.

However, there may come a time when your body becomes accustomed to substituting alternative exercises into your routine and swapping its order. In that case, you can then move on to some more advanced tools, but we'll save those for another time.

Paul Stokes Perth Personal Trainer Sports Nutritionist Group Fitness Instructor Massage Therapist

About the author

Paul Stokes

Paul Stokes BSc (Hons) is a Certified Personal Trainer, Accredited Sports Nutritionist, qualified Exercise to Music Instructor, Precision Nutrition coach, Massage Therapist and teaches 8 of the Les Mills Group Exercise programs.

He currently works in the Oil & Gas industry as a Wellness Coach, imparting his vast knowledge and experience to improve the quality of life of several hundred offshore workers.

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