5 Intensity Techniques To Ramp Up Your Training

I’m sure you’ve heard it before.


Whispered in the hollows of grimy locker rooms, hushed rumblings from the squat rack, and spouted by bro after bro, year after year.


“Progressive overload is the only key to building muscle, burning fat, and busting through plateaus.”

While that may be so, the method in which you “overload” is open to much interpretation. Yessir – piling more weight on the bar for the sake of achieving overload (while often deteriorating your rep quality), is not the only way to go about moving the needle forward, and challenging your body to new heights.

Take a look around…specifically at how many diehard meatheads train.

You’ll notice that their focus is placed upon ensuring rep quality, creating loads of tension, and doing so while finding creative and safe ways to ramp up the intensity of their training session.

And it’s through using methods such as the one’s we’re going to talk about below that help create the necessary degree of overload, without placing undue, dangerous amounts of stress on your muscle tissue.

Below are 5 of my favourite intensity techniques – absolutely perfect for ramping up your training.

#1. Isometric Contractions

Extended isometric contractions are especially powerful if you’ve got a weak or lagging muscle that you can’t connect with all that well. Thanks to their ability to help overload the peak contraction point of an exercise (or mid-point), this forced and enhanced contraction is a great way to improve your “feeling” in a muscle.

Improving mind-muscle connection aside, isometric holds are also a great way to drive blood flow to your target muscle, and squeeze every last muscle fibre until it’s about to burst. Doing so will help you be stronger in subsequent sets (if you start your session with some isometric work), put the finishing touches on a tough session, and really “wake up” a muscle.

In particular, isometrics work well for most exercises. To capture all your muscle fibres and set into a contraction easily, bring the weight to it’s peak contraction, then you can either hold and flex there, or lower to just above the midpoint and contract there. Bonus points if you have a training partner apply pressure to the weight, trying to force it down. As you resist, you’ll have to contract all the harder.

intensity techniques

Bonus points if you have a partner lightly press down, forcing you to contract even harder.

#2. Partial Reps

If you want to subject yourself to obscene amounts of pain and muscle damage, look no further than the tissue building power of partial reps.

Which are a brutally painful and effective way to overload either the peak contraction or stretch portion of a movement (and drive nutrient-rich blood and metabolites into your working muscle).

Partial reps work exceptionally well when tacked onto the end of isolation exercises such as lying leg curls, incline dumbbell curls, dumbbell or machine presses. To execute partial reps properly – keeping in mind that is controlled work in a shortened range of motion – finish your last working set, then sink into a deep stretch. From there, thinking of “pulsing” out 10-20 reps that work the bottom 1/5-1/4 range of motion. Try not to let the tension go slack, no matter how painful it gets.

You will flood your target muscle with blood – be prepared for a wicked pump.

#3. Drop Sets

Ahh, drop-sets. Perhaps the most prolific and time-tested method of increasing training intensity. Honestly, how can you not love the roots that it comes from?

“Here, let’s do as many reps with this weight as we can, then grab lighter weight and do the same thing…and once more for good measure.”

Oh, meatheads.

Anyway, drop sets are near the top of my list when it comes to picking a method for extending a set. Largely because you can keep going…and going…and going…and going…and going…and going.

(Okay, that might be a little much, but you get the picture).

The execution is delightfully simple. Knock out rep after after rep until you hit your target for the first set, cut the weight by 30-50% (relative to the exercise), bang out as many reps as you can until form failure, repeat as needed.

A word off warning: despite using progressively lighter loads, pay close attention to your form. As you fatigue, the likelihood of letting your form slip, or doing something stupid rises dramatically. No injury is worth a few extra reps.

#4. Eccentric Enhanced Reps

The eccentric portion of a movement (lowering the weight) is where much of the muscle fibre trauma and hypertrophic stimulus occurs. This is when you’ll see many larger, stronger lifters slowly lowering their weights instead of knocking out rapid fire reps using their momentum.

The eccentric portion of each rep also happens to be where you can control the most weight. Supposedly you can handle about 75% MORE of your one rep maximum on the eccentric than you can on the concentric (contracting against the weight).

While it’s not a great training practice to throw 175% of your one rep max on the bar and knock out singles (you’d certainly need someone to help you get the weight back up), this does nod to what is is an excellent principle of training to abide by.

In the interest of hypertrophy, execute your reps with methodical care. Focus on feeling every millimetre of every rep.

While there are no hard and fast rules around just how long the eccentric portion of a movement should be, 2-4s is a good range to stay within.

Or if you’re feeling particularly frisky, try a few sets with 6-8 second eccentrics, and a pause in the bottom.

intensity techniques

Slow (4-8 second) eccentrics on the leg press will be absolutely torturous.

#5. Loaded Stretches

The idea behind loaded stretches is to work your target muscle through a full range of motion, stretch our your fascia, allow blood to flood your working muscle, improve your mobility, range of motion, and muscle fibre recruitment and of course…get a ridiculous pump.

In my humble experience, stretching a pumped muscle seems to aid recovery via enhanced blood flow and nutrient delivery (if you’re taking in nutrients while training). Personally, I noticed a marked improvement in recovery and reduction in soreness the following day(s) when I started throwing some intra-set and loaded stretches into the mix.

The execution is straightforward as well. Simply let the weight pull your working muscle into its stretched position, and let it sit and hang there for anywhere from 10-30s.

Note: don’t try to flex against the weight, as tempting as it is. Let the weight do it’s thing.

The final reps.

While adding the entire basket of intensity techniques into your training is very appealing, it’s an ill-advised move.

Thanks to the higher levels of muscle damage dealt, increase in metabolic stress, and elevated importance of recovery, you cannot use all these movements all the time, nor all at the same time.

In this case, knowing how to intelligently implement these techniques into your training is true muscle building power.

Below is a 12 week timeline on how you might intelligently increase your training volume, mix in intensity techniques, avoid injury, and stave off falling into a state of under-recovery.

Week 1 – This is your baseline. Use whatever your normal volume you may be (or set a new baseline). Take nothing to failure, and don’t use any intensity techniques.

Week 2 – Add 1-2 sets to each exercise in each session.

Week 3 – Add a double drop set to 1-2 exercises per session.

Week 4 – Add isometric holds to the last 2-3 sets of the first exercise in each session.

Week 5 – Finish your sessions off with an additional isometric hold, then slip into a loaded stretch.

Week 6 – Cut out all intensity methods and drop volume by 30%.

Week 7 – Bring volume to what you did in Week 2.

Week 8 – Perform 1 & 1/4 reps for one or two exercise per session.

Week 9 – Lengthen your eccentrics on all movements where it makes sense.

Week 10 – Add partial reps to the last two sets of both your first and last movement of each session.

Week 11 – Throw the kitchen sink at yourself. Start your session with partial reps, use loaded stretches midway through, and finish with a nasty drop set.

Week 12 – Drop all intensity techniques and revert to Week 1 volume.

Go forth, my friend.


About the Author

alex-mullanAlex is a short shorts enthusiast, espresso connoisseur, and budding master chef (certainly not your average meathead). When he's not training legs or learning how to better serve his clients, he can be found exploring how to further crush life, perfect his flair in the kitchen, or pull the perfect shot of espresso. He's recently polled 19 of the top muscle building minds for their best training tips. Click thru here to grab your copy of the prestigious Hypertrophy Handbook (it's free).