By Elliot Fisher MS, ATC, CSCS, PES
Intensity techniques are methods you can use to increase the intensity of your training without using a ton of weight. These methods are relatively safe and give good results. Most of these methods revolve around metabolite production so it’s better for developing slow twitch fibers and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. These methods can help you get bigger and increase your work capacity but it’s probably not the best for strength gains.
There reaches a point during a set where you can’t get any more reps. One way to extend the set is to keep doing more reps but decrease the range of motion so you are able to get a couple more reps. The way I incorporate this into my training is do my normal sets and on the last set add partial reps. For example, I might be doing barbell curls and get a set of 15, 12, 10, 8. On the last set of 8 immediately do 20 reps with about 25-50% of the range of motion. This adds a lot of additional metabolites to the muscle after having already taxed it.
Another way to extend a set is to do negative reps. You’ll need a partner to do negative reps for most exercises. To do a forced negative set do as many reps as you can for a certain exercise. Once you can’t get any more reps, have your partner help you get the weight up on the next rep and then go down as slow as you can on the way down on the exercise and do this until you can’t go down easily anymore. So this might look like doing a leg press for a set of 20, then having your partner help push the sled on the leg press up when you’re at the bottom and then controlling the sled down slow.
Short Rest Periods
There is evidence that short rest periods decrease the gains from a resistance training program.1 This is likely due to less total volume being done because of the lower reps due to the lack of recovery between sets. The benefit of short rest periods is you won’t clear out all of the metabolites from the last set so each subsequent set will have more and more metabolite production. To do this without lowering the total volume you can do one of two things. You can do more total sets so it makes up for the lack of reps. Or you can just do normal sets and then on the last set do an AMRAP set take a 10-20 second rest and keep doing AMRAP sets until you can’t do any more. The second option is great because you would get all the volume you would from your regular training but then get extra volume from the short rest period during the final sets. An example of this would be: barbell curls for a set of 15, rest as long as you need, 12, rest as long as you need, 10 followed by 8,6,3,2, with 10 seconds rest between each set.
Rest Pause Sets
Rest pause sets have been used for a long time by trainers and coaches. I like to use this when I want athletes to get a certain number of reps per set but they might be fatigued so they need to take a rest intra set to reach the goal number of reps. You can do this with either a rep total and take minimal rest until you get all of the reps. For example: calf raise for 100 reps: 30 reps, take a short break, 20 reps, short break, 20 reps, short break, 15 reps, short break, and 15 reps to finish the 100. Ideally you would do this in as few sets as possible rather than just do 10×10 because it is easier. The other way you can do this is by having multiple sets at a high number like 5 sets of 20. Try to get all the sets done in one go, but if you need to rest you can to make sure you get the total of 20 reps.
Rep pyramid is just a set number of reps going from high to low back to high, increasing the weight as the reps go down. This was popularized by bodybuilder Kris Gethin in his DTP (dynamic transformation principal) training program.2 In this program he generally does a set of 50,40,30,20,10,10,20,30,40,50. You would use a rest pause if necessary to get all the reps. Kris Gethin has a lot of programs using his method and he changes the reps and sets as he likes for the exercises. You can do the same thing in training by doing something similar. You could go really high like 100,75,50,25,25,50,75,100. Or keep them low 20,15,10,5,5,10,15,20. The reason this seems to work is it forces you to do a lot of reps and take shorter rest periods because you feel compelled to get the set done rather than just splitting the reps into their own sets. This can also be a fun way to train and gets a great pump in the muscle. It can also be really great for breaking plateaus.
- Willardson, J. M. (2008). A brief review: How much rest between sets?. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 30(3), 44-50.
- The Kris Gethin DTP Training to Burn Fat and Build Muscle