Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Originally posted on NaturalStrength.com on July 23, 1999

Reprinted with permission of The Iron Master

It may sound strange to some people to attach low (to moderate) reps with the term "High Intensity," but I've done it for years with great success. IN FACT, IT IS MY FAVORITE WAY TO TRAIN. Too many people assume too many things in the strength training field. They think like programmed robots. They need to follow an organization or play "follow the leader." They can't even be friends with people with different training ideas. They view them as "the enemy." That is one of the many things wrong with this field. If more people would just think for themselves, there would be less division and more brotherhood.

There are many methods that will work and there are many combinations of various philosophies that work. There are many schools of thought in strength training and most of these philosophies work. They each have some value and truth, (just more or less for different people). Why must HIGH INTENSITY always mean HIGH reps? It doesn't have to. It does not always mean ONE set to failure either. (Many high intensity types do multiple sets too.) HIGH INTENSITY means HARD WORK. It is measured by the amount of Work done per unit of time. If you work out for one hour, the more work that you do in that hour, than the higher the intensity.

I have always liked the high intensity philosophy, but I believe that it is even more effective for strength development if there is MORE EMPHASIS ON STRENGTH not muscular endurance. Of course ANY form of progression is beneficial, but I believe that a lower rep range puts even more emphasis on STRENGTH. (Just remember to do a few more warm up sets.) Many people confuse "hard work" with strength development and get too caught up in the image of vomiting or passing out on the ground, etc. Don't get me wrong, this definitely does happen with me too, but it is not the GOAL or the way to measure how hard someone has worked. Some guys are just more prone to get sick while others never do. Vern Veldekens is the type of guy who ALWAYS gets sick so I put his name on my bucket. Most of my people only get sick during the initial conditioning phase of training and once they are conditioned, they rarely do. The truth is, some of the hardest workers that I have ever seen have never vomited. It happens sometimes, yes, but it is not a way to measure a good workout.

I start beginners with high reps of at least 10 or more per set. I train myself (and some of my advanced clients) using a rep range of 5-8 reps most of the time, but will also train several months of the year using higher reps (10-20) too. I believe that it is healthy both mentally and physically to change your rep range periodically. It gives your joints a break from the constant heavy load too. This is what I call "common sense periodization," not the official orthodox definition of periodization which I find illogical. Strength and hypertrophy are built together, not in separate phases. (In my Go Hard or Go Home training video, I chose to use higher reps because I believe it shows effort better on tape as there is less breaks in the action.) Of course, if you are training to compete or demonstrate strength, or your sport is in a specific energy system, then you will have to keep your rep range constant in relation to your performance goal.

I believe that the lower rep range, combined with the high intensity philosophy is optimal for strength development and an extremely tough way to train. I believe it is more productive than the usual high rep sets for strength development as each set is usually kept in the first energy system of 0-45 seconds. This is the system (ATP) where the type 2b Fast twitch fibers are targeted which are the primary fibers for strength and power development. In other words, you should reach muscular failure for the set at 8 reps or less. When 8 reps are done in perfect form, ADD WEIGHT.

The poundage should take care of speed of motion. Controlled positive speed reps are more sensible using higher reps. The first four or five reps are controlled and then as the weight gets harder to move, you let yourself go. This does not apply to low reps. If the weight is HEAVY ENOUGH and you are doing lower reps, there is no time for games. You just focus on getting the weight up. If the weight is HEAVY with low reps, it won't fly up. Just concentrate on LOWERING THE WEIGHT SLOWLY. If you do this, it is not ballistic. You can not use proper mental focus if you are worried about your speed of motion. Your mind should be in the mood of a "disgruntled Postal Worker," or, COMBAT/HATE/ANGRY/ATTACK mode. When your mind is ready and in this mode, you should not ruin it by counting and worrying about how many seconds it takes to ram it up. This splits your mind. Just get the weight up. If the weight is moving too fast (in 8 reps or less), then it's too light. Add enough weight to slow it down!

Alternate pushing and pulling exercises to give your muscles additional time to rest even though your actual rest is minimal. Do sets to failure. If doing multiple sets use the "Controlled Failure" method where you stop at 8 reps (if reached) but on the LAST set, go all out to failure. I usually do three exercises in a row and then give a minute rest. I give a longer rest after leg exercises like squats, deadlifts or leg presses. I manipulate exercise sequence to keep rest to a minimum too. I now do neck work (Hammer 4 way neck) after legwork so not to waste time. They are getting additional rest while still training. These tricks help to raise intensity and keep rest to a minimum.


1. PROGRESSIVE RESISTANCE - The primary way to increase intensity is to increase the LOAD, (or progressive poundages). This is BY FAR the most important way, in fact the other ways are meaningless UNLESS YOU DO THIS AS A TOP PRIORITY. One of my pet peeves with some high intensity advocates is that they always talk about going to muscular failure and maximum muscular contractions as if this were the most important thing. This is important, but secondary to poundage progression. You can go to failure doing pushups or any other bodyweight exercise. If you go to failure using light weights, you are just kidding yourself.

2. MAXIMUM MUSCULAR CONTRACTION (or going to muscular failure).

3. REDUCE REST between sets. If you train for an hour, the more work you do in that hour, than the higher the intensity as you are working more and resting less. Also you are training for strength under adverse conditions. When you get the extra rest when you DEMONSTRATE your strength, you will be even stronger for it.

4. STRICTER FORM. The stricter the form, the more work for your muscles. (Less momentum etc.)
Does modern bodybuilding make you sick? You should write for Natural Strength! I always need good articles about drug-free weight training. It only has to be at least a page and nothing fancy. Just write it strong and truthful with passion! Send your articles directly to me: bobwhelan@naturalstrength.com

Bob Whelan

Bob Whelan

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