4 Ways to Increase Your Workout Intensity
by Evelyn Valdez·
When it comes to driving progress and increasing workout intensity, most lifers stick to one technique – increasing the weight. Lifting heavier weights is just one way to achieve a fitness goal like building muscle, but there are other ways to increase the intensity of a workout and practice progressive overload.
Plus, most aren't able to increase the weight at every single training session. You should always aim to increase the weight of any exercise, but if you really want to shake things up in your strength training workouts try something new that will help increase your heart rate and intensity levels! We're going to help by showing you how to increase exercise intensity when you need variety and something other than just adding more weight.
How to increase intensity of workout
Try the five methods below to increase your workout intensity, get your heart rate up, and burn more calories without needing to increase to a heavier weight.
Supersets involve combining two movements in one to work multiple muscle groups at once or exhaust a muscle group for better muscle growth. You basically go from one exercise to the next without resting in between which allows you to do more exercises in less amount of time and most importantly, it increases the exercise intensity!
There are various ways to go about creating a superset, the method you choose will depend on what you want to achieve with the superset. Do you want to exhaust a certain muscle group? Or simply work opposing muscle groups to create an efficient and effective full-body workout?
Once you know what you want to achieve, you can create your superset by doing one of the below...
- Opposing muscle groups: This is the most common type of superset that involves workout out two different sets of muscles back-to-back. So, while one muscle group rests, you work on another. An example of this would be doing dumbbell bicep curls, and switching to dumbbell tricep extensions shortly after. Another example would be doing an incline chest press and following that with dumbbell rows.
- Pre-exhaustion: This type of superset is one that will really increase the exercise intensity because it involves working out the same muscles, but performing two different exercises. Typically starting with an isolation exercise and following that up with a compound exercise. For example, doing leg extensions and following up with squats, or doing lateral pulldowns followed by seated rows.
- Post-exhaustion: This one works similar to pre-exhaustion, except that it involves performing a compound exercise and an isolation exercise right after to further target a specific muscle. The compound exercise fatigues the targeted muscle while the isolated movement exhausts the muscle fibers even further. An example of this would be following the leg press followed by leg extensions or doing a close-grip bench press followed by overhead tricep extensions. Post-exhaustion sets are a little more challenging, so we recommend following your free weight compound exercise with a resistance band isolated exercise. For example, if you're doing a heavy shoulder press, instead of following it with a dumbbell lateral raise, use a long resistance band instead. You'll still increase the intensity of your workout, but avoid overworking the muscle group being targeted.
- Isolation sets: This superset involves doing two isolation exercises back to back to target a weaker muscle group. It's a great option for beginners, and it'll prepare you for compound sets by helping develop your fitness level and improve muscular endurance. An example of isolation sets is doing barbell curls followed by hammer curls, or doing standing dumbbell lateral raises followed by front raises with a long resistance band.
- Compound sets: This superset is for more advanced lifters who need vigorous intensity. It involves two compound exercises that hit the same muscle groups but at different angles. An example of this would be doing barbell squats followed by bodyweight lunges (or weighted depending on how much you want to increase the intensity).
You'll seriously feel the burn performing supersets! Just remember to take a 2-3 minute rest in between sets to let your muscles fully recover before jumping into the next set.
Increase the time under tension
To really up the ante and get the vigorous intensity you're looking for, increase the amount of time your muscles are under tension. The time under tension (TUT) technique involves moving slower throughout the exercise and then pausing at the bottom or top of the movement to increase the time a muscle is under strain. So, instead of blasting through the exercise in a few seconds, you increase the total amount of work you put on a muscle by lengthening the set.
On average an exercise set lasts 15-25 seconds, a TUT set typically lasts nearly 40 seconds. This doesn't mean you'll be sending 40 seconds per set, instead, that's the amount you'll be working the muscle groups in an entire exercise set.
To implement TUT, follow a 4/1/4/1 rhythm. For example, when performing a barbell curl, you would lower the weight taking 4 seconds to do so, stay in the extended position for 1 second, lift the barbell back up for a 4-second count, and then squeeze at the top for 1 second. Typically one rep will take 2-3 seconds, and this increases the time to 10 seconds. Depending on the number of sets performed, you'd be increasing the total amount of work on the muscle and putting it under a longer strain.
This can be applied to any exercise to help put the muscles under intense resistance which will then break down your muscle fibers further and lead to better growth and endurance.
Decrease rest periods between sets
If you normally take long rest periods between sets (which is advised for heavier weights), we recommend reducing the rest period, along with the weight, to increase the intensity. Typically, powerlifters take 3-5 minutes to let their muscles fully recover and to perform maximum energy during each lift. However, if you want to build muscle, consider slightly reducing the weight and reducing your rest period between 30-60 seconds.
Start by reducing the rest period to 60 seconds, and if you feel that is too long and does not increase your workout intensity then drop your rest to 45 seconds or 30 seconds. You want to be breathing hard and feel fatigued, but not to the point in which you can't finish your set.
Reducing the rest period will have dramatically increase the intensity of your workout, but it also means that you need to pay attention to the clock! Focus during each set, avoid checking social media and talking to friends, simply watch the time and take a sip of water to cool down a bit.
Try circuit training
This approach is similar to the approach above. Circuit training is a type of strength training, except it involves cycling through 5-10 different exercises that target various muscle groups with no rest in between sets and then repeating the circuit 3-4 times with rest in between each cycle.
An example of a circuit would be to perform four exercises back to back, alternating between the upper and lower body to not over-exhaust your muscles. For example, starting with goblet squats, followed by chest presses, then lunges, then pull-ups. Once you complete the cycle take a 30-60 second break before starting the next. You can either do the same group of exercises for each cycle or to target more muscle groups, you can have a different set of exercises for each set.
You don't need to increase the weight to increase the intensity
As you can see, there are various different ways to increase your workout intensity without needing to lift heavier weights. Lift heavy is ideal but implementing different techniques, like the ones listed above, will help give your muscles a different challenge to overcome and drive more progress – plus, it'll help you bust through workout boredom!
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