Mistaking Duration for Intensity

Two out of three people you see in most gyms are training all wrong. Often, they are doing programs they found online or ripped out of the pages of a magazine designed for steroid abusers. Because of this, they are stuck and can’t seem to get results from training. They start mistaking duration for intensity, thinking that if they just stay in the gym longer, it means they will have a better workout. 

One thing that really makes me laugh is when I see someone not going 100% and casually strolling through training on autopilot and then bragging to all their friends on Facebook about the 2-½ hours they spent hangin’ and bangin’ at the gym. 

“ You should look at anyone who spends more than 45 minutes working out as a time waster, not a role model.” – Martin Rooney 

High Intensity Training

All human have the same basic anatomy. Medical science and exercise science are based on the principles of human anatomy and physiology.

So biochemical changes that result in muscle growth are always the same in all people and are induced the same way. And it just so happens that these biochemical changes come from what we call High Intensity Training. 

High intensity muscle contraction is the most important requirement for increases in muscle strength and size not sets and reps. Duration is not important. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“Most Bodybuilders make a single mistake, a fundamental mental error, which in turn is responsible for all their other training mistakes: they fail to recognize that bodybuilding is a part of exercise science, which flows from medical science. And that science is a discipline that absolutely requires man to use a specific method of thought (logic) to gain precise knowledge of reality so that he can successfully achieve his goals.” –Mike Mentzer Mr. Universe 1978

If you get under the squat rack and do 12 reps of a weight you can easily handle for 20 reps, that is not high intensity. Doing 8 reps of a weight that you can’t possibly get another rep out of is high intensity. You will get more benefit out of that one set of 8 reps than 3 sets of 12.  But it’s not about the sets and reps, it’s about the fact that you pushed it to the limit, and are not choosing an arbitrary number of sets and reps just because that’s what the program calls for.

Recovery Periods

Intensity has an inverse ratio to duration; so true high intensity training can’t be carried on for more than 30-45 minutes. By nature if you go longer than that your intensity would have to go down. 

Too much training can cause overtraining, which not only makes you feel terrible but leads to muscle loss. Your body takes time to recover. When you train too much, not only does your body not have enough time to recover, repair and grow stronger your form invariably breaks down and cause you to become sloppy and get injured. 

Almost every injury that happens in the weight room is because someone was pushing themself beyond the point of exhaustion, got sloppy, and hurt themself because of poor technique.

Cortisol Release

During training, our bodies release hormones like testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin. All of these help with muscle growth. But your body also releases another hormone called cortisol. Cortisol increases blood sugar levels and fights inflammation, but it can also screw with your body’s ability to assimilate protein and build muscle. 

Cortisol spikes during training sessions will improve your ability to build muscle (if you needed more reasons to switch to higher intensity training research has also shown that training in your 75% max range leads to more cortisol production than training with lighter weights) but if cortisol levels remain too high for too long it can become a problem. 

So the best thing you can do is to keep your workouts short 25-40 minutes (actual training not including the warm up and cool down) make sure you keep the intensity high and give yourself plenty of recovery and you will be amazed at the results you can get.  


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