T Nation

Workout Intensity?

Thanks to T-Nation, I have a newfound experience with lifting. I have learned that I have been making a number of big-time mistakes that have led to very poor results for me (both in terms of not getting much stronger or getting any larger) - namely not eating nearly enough, lifting to failure all of the time and believing that I am hard-gainer.

I increased my food intake a lot about 4 weeks and, wow, what a difference (thanks to Dr. Berardi and others!). I am now putting on weight while my body fat has actually decreased some and the amount of weight I am lifting is going up and already beyond what I ever lifted before, all at the age of 41. I am already full squatting only 30 lbs less than my parallel squat max just 8 weeks ago.

However, I do have a question on intensity while lifting. I have been reading lots of articles and I see a fairly consistent message from Chad Waterbury among others and that is - don’t train to failure all of the time, if at all.

Since I am used to training to the point of the last rep being do or die on every set, I am trying to figure out what level of intensity leading up to that point I want to go to.

Right now I feel that I am keeping one or two reps left in me when I rack the barbell on the last set, particularly in the squat and deadlift, but the first set or two are not overly taxing. But I am recovering faster and am ready to go again hard in 48 hours (something I couldn’t always do before) and I am not feeling wiped out all of the time.

I am doing Chad Waterbury’s Total Body Workout 3’x per week and am performing full back squats, wide grip deadlifts, chin-ups, cable rows, bench press and seated calf raises in each session.

How do I know if I am reaching a high enough level of intensity since I am trying to get away from maxing out every set of every movement.

Thank you for any advice.

Well, to be honest, I’m kind of a dinosaur when it comes to training…and pretty much everything else. To me, it’s common sense and not science. If you want muscles to grow and get stronger, you have to place them under stress that they haven’t experienced before…going to failure is just that. Your muscles have surpassed their working capacity and are triggered to grow so they can meet the next challenge.

That being said, I don’t go to failure on every set of every exercise. You want to stimulate your muscles, not beat them into submission. And at our tender age, you have to make sure your warmed up before that failure set.

With large muscle groups like legs, back and chest, on my last set, my last rep, is truly the last rep that I can complete without assistance. It takes experience to know when you have reached this point, and you will need a spot until you truly know your limits…you have to fail before you can know for sure what it feels like to be at your limit. Just make sure that your spotter knows what the F he is doing and doesn’t a) take the weight away from you before you fail and b) doesn’t let the bar crash on your face.

On DB exercises, I tend to go to failure on the last set, sometimes the last two. For DB curls, I like to go to failure and then grab lighter DBs and pound out a few more.

This is just me talking, based on experience and not a bunch of scientific analytical BS.

Good Luck

[quote]billsdad wrote:
… Since I am used to training to the point of the last rep being do or die on every set, I am trying to figure out what level of intensity leading up to that point I want to go to.[/quote]

Intensity is a measure of how much load you are using and is usually expressed as a percentage of your 1RM in a particular lift.

Chad’s programs typically define the intensity for each movement as either:

(1) 80% of 1RM
(2) 5RM
(3) “a weight that forces you to near-failure for the last rep of the last set”

High intensity usually means 80-100% 1RM and results in low reps, whereas low intensity usually means 50-80% 1RM and results in higher reps.