What Kind of Intense Are You?

12 Oct What Kind of Intense Are You?

What Kind of Intense Are You?

The idea of intensity has been confused and the record needs to be set straight. Muscle size does not always equal strength and more reps is often times not the answer to your progression. Do you even know what the ideal rep range is for strength?Read on.

I’ve yet to meet a guy who likes to be called a pussy. So when your fellow “bro” tells you that you have “two more reps in you” (whatever that means), you’re damn well going to grind those reps out at all costs regardless of the cost. Butt comes off the bench during a bench press?

Doesn’t matter, you got your training partner there to do two more “forced reps.” Never mind that he’s doing a 225 pound barbell curl to ensure this because you’re sure not lifting any of the weight anymore.

But hey, Arnold did it right? Why not compare yourself to him?

To end the notion that everyone who lifts weights should be doing everything Arnold did, I present exhibit A:


Unless you’re willing to live your life like this and make these kinds of sacrifices, six month “veterans” of the local gym should stop comparing their training and physical development to him or anyone like him.

Most aren’t there yet, trust me.



Figure Out What You Want

Assuming you’re still reading this and not heading to the gym after that awesome Arnold special, I want to clarify something. If you’re a competitive bodybuilder or an advanced lifter of over 15 years and you’re only goal is to develop your physique as much as you can, I have no problem with the use of forced reps every now and then.

I’m in no place to tell either one of those types of people what to do.

If you’re neither though, you may want to read what “the Evil Russian” Pavel Tsatsouline writes in Power to the People! : Russian Strength Training Secrets For Every American :


“When it comes to building muscle and might, the gym wisdom is quick to sum it up as the attempt to do another rep when all the reps are done and lift another five pounds when all the pounds are lifted. Sounds cute and macho, like a teenage rock station. It also has as much semblance to reality as that same station’s trash morning talk show.
The idea that strength and power are related to how much muscle you have is an incorrect one.

Let me repeat and rephrase that — building bigger muscles does not mean you will get stronger and it is possible to gain very little muscle and get a lot stronger.

Ever hear stories of mothers lifting cars off of their children who were trapped underneath? In that moment of, the mother, who I’m sure wasn’t bulging with muscle, was able to overcome some of her strength deficit and lift the car because of neurological excitation caused by a rush of adrenaline and fear.

Most who’ve heard these stories conclude that she was able to lift the car through a rush of adrenaline without examining it further.

The average untrained person can, at the most, only contract 30% of his muscle fibers. Elite lifters learn to overcome some of the strength deficit and contract well over this (some texts say up to 75%-80%, some say lower).

The strength deficit is easily explained as the remaining potential strength between what you can actively use and what your muscles are capable of. The only time all of the body’s muscle fibers contract and completely overcomes this strength deficit is through electrocution.

Extreme emotional and physical duress, like in the example of a mother lifting a car, can also overcome the deficit to a certain degree.

Our bodies protect us from overcoming this deficit at will because, if we were able to actively do this, we would consistently break bones and tear soft connecting tissue straight off our bones.

This begs the question —If the nervous system is so important in regards to strength and you want to get strong, why are you spending so much time worrying about building muscle and not increasing neurological efficiency.

Bigger and Stronger?

So how do we get stronger?

Neurological efficiency is directly related to strength. That means that you need to train the nervous system to activate more muscle fibers and send signals more efficiently throughout your body. This is done through what’s called intramuscular coordination (coordination of signals within a muscle) and intermuscular coordination (coordination of signals across different muscles) along with synchronization of impulses and a bunch of other stuff that’s best saved for science journals.

Although some lean muscle is usually bound to be built in this process, this can be largely done without the addition of that much bulk.

Act Strong Be Strong

To train the nervous system you have to keep your repetitions to 5 or fewer reps in any given lift. This is the strength range. Yes, I said it, anything above 5 reps is no longer in the strength only rep range. In fact, according to Pavel, it’s been shown to actually hinder the development of strength.

Think about it, most high rep guys almost always achieve the best strength gains of their lives when they use 5 x 5 set/rep scheme.

I rest my case.

Momma was right, I should have gone to school to be a lawyer when I was younger, damn speech impediment.

I digress… Although it’s a good rule of thumb to keep repetitions to five or fewer when you’re training the nervous system for strength, there is more to it.

Using 1-3 reps at 85%-95% of your 1RM for a number of sets is one of the most effective way to train the nervous system. Using 1-3 reps with a submaximal weight of 55%-80% (depending on who you ask) is another great way to train the nervous system. The submaximal weight should be treated the same as the heavier weight and moved as explosively as possible.

There’s Strength in Less

Strength needs to be defined for what it is — the ability to generate force/tension. High rep ranges to fatigue is not the answer to generate this tension. Read what Pavel has to say about high rep sets in regards to strength training:

“Besides, as the result of fatigue, the last reps of a set are performed against decreased excitation of the nervous system. This impedes the formation of the complex conditioning reflex loops needed for further strength development.


In fact, when talking about strength and explosiveness, Mel Siff actually says that an untrained person as more Type IIX muscle fibers ( the more explosive type) and that they convert to Type IIB ( still fast twitch but less explosive) through prolonged resistance training. When a strength athlete de-loads for a competition they are essentially and sometimes unknowingly trying to convert some of these Type IIB back to Type IIX through slight de-training.


Wrapping Up

Not to sound contradictory, but there are times when you need to increase the reps in your workouts and there are times when you need to do sets to failure. There are some benefits to high rep sets like some hypertrophy and growth hormone and testosterone increases.

These benefits are few though for the average lifter who just needs to increase their maximal strength. The use of high reps still needs to be examined and used sparingly when we’re dealing with strength.

We need to evaluate what we do in the gym more closely and stop spinning our wheels.



 Tsatsouline, P. (2000). Power to the people: Russian strength training secrets for every American. 1st U. S. ed. St. Paul, MN: Dragon Door Publications.

Verkhoshansky, Y. V., & Siff, M. C. (2009). Supertraining. (6 ed.). Rome, Italy: Verkhoshansky.


What about you? Have you ever manipulated your training and strength gains with lower reps? What kind of methods do you prefer? Let me know in the comments.



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