I’ve had a number of requests both here and on Twitter asking about my high-intensity workout routine. Since I’m doing a version of high-intensity training, people are curious as to what that entails, whether I do HIT cardio also, recovery days, and so on, so I’ll discuss it here.
I’ve retained my 2-way split workout from my previous, conventional routine — one in which I performed multiple sets, as many as 5, for each exercise.
I do most of these exercises at one set to failure — that’s complete and utter failure, in which, as Drew Baye said, you couldn’t do another rep even if someone was holding a gun to your head.
I say “most” because there are a couple of exceptions. One is if I choose a weight for my set that turns out to be too heavy and I can only get in a few reps, say 4 or 5, in which case I’ll drop the weight a bit and knock out a few more reps.
The other exception is for isolation exercises like curls or triceps pulldowns; on these, I often do 2, sometimes 3 sets. My rationale for that is thinking that it can’t hurt, and that since they involve smaller muscles, it won’t hurt my recovery.
I also use negative reps, in which you increase the weight and then only lower it. This is possible on, for example, a chest press machine, which allows you to use your feet to extend the load, after which you lower it with arms only.
I use drop sets also. This works best on machine moves, since it’s easy to set the weight lower and then immediately continue the set.
My workouts have become short. Yesterday it lasted 30 minutes, and I could have finished earlier but for thinking that I should be working out longer. Typically, my workouts are no longer than 40 minutes.
I currently go to the gym once every 4 days. I need the recovery time; while I’m dedicated to increasing my fitness and muscularity, I dread the feeling of utter exhaustion that happens starting about 24 hours after a hard workout, or when I’ve gone into the gym more frequently than I should.
Another question I’ve heard a few times lately is whether I still do high-intensity interval training, what I referred to as “HIT cardio” above. The answer is not much. While I would like to be doing more of it, it cuts so much into my recovery time from lifting that I’ve often ended up having to take an extra day before I return to the gym for a lifting session, and I don’t want to do that.
Between high-intensity lifting and high-intensity cardio, you put a lot of stress on your body. If you find that you can do both, say a couple sessions of each one per week, and you don’t get overly fatigued, by all means go for it.
In my lifting sessions, I move from one exercise to another as quickly as possible, taking time only to catch my breath, or to break down or set up equipment.
The big compound moves such as deadlifts and squats, when done in a high-intensity style, will leave you gasping for breath, which confirms the aerobic aspect of lifting weights.
When you work out in this way, moving quickly to the next exercise, it appears that everyone else in the gym isn’t doing much work. You see them sitting between sets, playing with their phones, talking; and when they are actually lifting, you notice them jerking the weights around through use of momentum, not going to true failure, taking 5 minutes between sets, doing lots of isolation — not compound — exercises, in short, working out ineffectively and not making good use of their gym time.
Mike Mentzer said that you should cultivate a “siege mentality” when in the gym. No distractions, great concentration, focused on the goal, which is to put your muscles and cardiovascular system through an intense workout.
I sometimes do my workouts after a 16-hour fast, and when I do, I take about 5 grams of leucine before. This helps to prevent muscle breakdown while lifting.
Whether I work out fasted or fed, I drink a shake with 25 grams of whey and 5 grams of creatine immediately after, to promote muscle protein synthesis.
I’ve been working out using a high-intensity style for about 3 months now, and it seems to me to be more effective than the conventional, multi-set style, so much so that I don’t see myself returning to that conventional style. Although you never know.
I’m getting gains with this style, although since muscle growth for veteran bodybuilders is slow, it may take awhile before I can definitively answer for the superior effectiveness of high-intensity training.
In his book on high-intensity training, Mike Mentzer advocated what he calls “consolidated training” for advanced bodybuilders. In consolidated training, one does very brief workouts consisting of only a few exercises. Here’s Mentzer’s suggestion for a consolidated routine:
That’s it. All are one set to failure, with 5 to 6 days rest in between each set.
While I’m skeptical about such a routine, I’m interested in learning more about it. Mentzer claims that an advanced bodybuilder needs an incredible amount of rest to produce maximum muscle growth. But his claims clash violently with standard bodybuilding prescriptions, hence my skepticism.
To try and answer some of the questions I have about high-intensity training, and to improve my routine, I’ve scheduled a consultation with Markus Reinhardt, who bills himself as “Mr. High Intensity” and who can be seen training with Mike Mentzer in several videos.