This is the first in a series of articles by local trainer James White. He specialises in high-intensity training and has been featured numerous times in Men’s Health, most recently for his outstanding work in training the Black Sails cast.
People want results, and they want them fast. We’ve all been promised a magic formula that gets results quicker than any other, but here’s one that actually works: increase your work capacity. In other words, increase the amount of reps you would normally do during your gym session.
It stands to reason that if you’re able to double the amount of work you would ordinarily fit into an hour, your aesthetic and athletic results will follow suit.
In order to do this you’ll have to follow three rules. If you stick to them, they will work. It’s not easy, but nothing worth having is.
Rule One: Hide the work.
The best way to do this is to use ladders or timed intervals.
A ladder helps you to psychologically manage a bigger workload. A 20 – 1 push up ladder would involve doing 20 push ups, resting a few seconds, then doing 19 push ups, resting a few seconds, doing 18 push ups, etc, all the way down to 1 push up.
If you complete a 20 – 1 ladder you would have completed 210 push-ups. That’s a lot of work. It’s far easier to break your training up this way than to just start off trying to get to 210 push-ups without a plan. It’s also easier to manage each ‘mini set’ in your head.
Timed intervals work the same way. Using the push up example again, set a stopwatch for 15 minutes. If you do 3 push-ups every 15 seconds you’ll end up doing 180 push-ups in the 15 minutes.
Using ladders will also help with rules two and three, as they require you to focus on the work at hand by limiting rest, while also stimulating muscle growth through working the muscle to failure.
(Read about James’s epic fitness journey at Gym Jones here)
Rule Two: Bring intensity to each session.
This means really dialing in when it’s your turn to train. This is your time in the day to be physical, so don’t let anyone interrupt it.
Intensity generally means the speed at which you perform repetitions.Using the push-up ladder as an example, during the first few sets that are the longest, you should be working at eighty percent intensity.This means you should work at eighty percent of the maximum speed you can perform push-ups with good form. Increase your intensity as you get to the shorter sets, until eventually you’re down to five reps or less, at which point you should be working flat-out.
One of the best ways to ensure that you train at the correct intensity is to be strict on the rest you take. I’ve found that people generally don’t fit enough work into their training session. You’re always capable of doing more.
Buy a stopwatch and don’t use the timer on your cellphone because it becomes another distraction from the task at hand. The maximum break you should be taking between any set is two minutes. If that feels too long then you’re not working hard enough.
(Intensity doesn’t mean using improper form. Check out our Perfect Form series for the correct way to do the bench press, squat and more)
Rule Three: Work to failure.
If you really want to see a change in your body you’re going to have to push it to places it isn’t used to going.. Please don’t confuse failure with feeling discomfort. Failure is when you can’t perform another repetition. Think of a push-up and not being able to move from the position of your chest being on the ground to the top of the push up. That’s failure.This will also have the added benefit of showing you the limits of your muscle capability, and therefore guide you when you want to push these limits in the future.
It’s absolutely fine to fail when you’re trying to squeeze as many reps into a time period as possible. Just because you fail though, doesn’t mean you have the right to stop working. Count to five once you’ve failed and start squeezing out reps again until the absolute last second possible.
All of the above is meaningless without a proper plan. Take some time each day before you go to the gym to actually plan your workout. Make sure your ladders and intervals fit within the time you’ve allocated, and once you get to the gym remember that you’re there with, and for, a purpose.
(Think you’ve got what it takes? The following 4 tests have been known to make men sweat waterfalls, collapse from exhaustion, speak in tongues, and even weep. Here are the 4 Quick Tests Only Truly Fit Men Can Pass)