How have your workouts been lately? Are they still really challenging, or have the once challenging lifts become easier? As you continue to perform a workout, exercise, or movement in general, your body and muscles adapt to the movement, becoming stronger, and making the movement easier. In order to grow muscle size, endurance, strength, or stability, the intensity must be increased past the point of adaptation. This is a principle in fitness known as Progressive Overload. There are many ways to easily increase the intensity of your lifts to ensure that you are making sufficient progress from them.
Increase the Weight
The easiest way to increase the intensity of any movement is to increase the weight used. How do you know that it’s time to increase the weight? Let’s talk about the 2 for 2 rule. This rule states that when you feel as though you could do extra reps in each set, from the last two workouts, it’s time to increase the weight. This ensures that you won’t be increasing weight prematurely, or before your body is actually ready. To reduce the risk of injury, you should be sure to gradually increase the weight, with no more than a 2.5-5lb increase on upper body movements, and a 5-10lb increase on lower body movements.
Increase the Volume
Another easy way to increase the intensity of your workouts is to increase the volume of exercise you perform in the workout. Volume refers to the total amount of sets and repetitions of movements in a workout. To increase the intensity, you could increase the amount of sets by one (two to three sets, three to four, etc) or you could also increase the amount of repetitions you perform (12 instead of 10, 6 instead of 4, etc). I would not increase both the sets and repetitions at the same time though, as this may increase the intensity too much too quickly, with little time for adaptation. If you decide to increase the repetitions, be sure that it is still within your intended range, so as not to change the intent of the lift. This means to keep the range within 8-15 for hypertrophy, 1-6 for strength, and 15+ for endurance.
SuperSet for Super Gains
Instead of performing a straight set, of three sets of 10 repetitions of an exercise with a one minute rest in between sets, try to superset two exercises. This means combining two exercises into a single set, by performing all reps of exercise One and then all reps of exercise Two with no rest in-between. You rest after all reps of both exercises are complete. Increasing the amount of work without increasing the amount of rest will increase heart rate, breathing rate, and the amount of stress placed on muscles. You can either combine two similar exercises, such as a squat and a lunge, to really stress your leg muscles, increasing the volume and intensity placed on those muscles, or you can combine two opposing muscles, such as with a row and a bench press, working back and chest. This type of superset allows for more work to be done with less rest in between, as the rest period for one muscle group occurs when you are performing the repetitions for the second muscle group. For pure strength gains, I perform straight sets, with no second exercise, as the rest time for those lifts are two-three minutes. After I have performed my strength lifts, I then superset lifts for an increased intensity, and stress on the muscles to make them grow.
Between these three variables, it is very easy to increase the intensity of your workouts. Remember, without proper intensity, your muscle size and strength won’t increase, as they don’t have the proper stress to stimulate the adaptations. What would be the point of working out if you weren’t actually gaining anything from it? Each workout should be difficult and challenging, giving your body the necessary stress to progress.