by James Herried
Have you ever wondered what the #1 key to muscle-growth stimulation is?
Have you ever wanted to know the secret to ‘building maximum muscle in minimum time’?
To answer those questions, let’s take a look at this topic via the words of Mike Mentzer, one of the bodybuilding greats of the 20th century.
As you probably know, Mike Mentzer was a famous pro-bodybuilder, one of the greatest of the 20th century, who was a contemporary of Arnold Schwarzenegger, back in the days when they were both at their bodybuilding peaks.
Mike Mentzer promoted and popularized High Intensity Training (HIT), which is an approach to strength-training and building muscle, that emphasizes doing weight-training exercises that are higher in intensity, shorter in duration, and thus more effective for muscle growth than those normally done most most people in the gym.
And although Mentzer was never as famous as Schwarzenegger outside the field of bodybuilding, some people belief he was the smartest bodybuilder who ever lived (no affront to you Arnold).
So considering Mentzer’s status in the history and field of bodybuilding, anything that he said about intensity, as it relates to strength-training and muscle growth stimulation, should carry a lot of weight.
And for those of you who don’t yet know about the crucial role that intensity plays in the process of building muscle, here’s a rundown:
The #1 Key to Building Muscle; the Crucial Role of Intensity
The #1 key to muscle growth stimulation lies in that powerful little word intensity. Intensity is also the #1 secret to building ‘maximum muscle in minimum time’. Here’s how it works:
The ‘Maximum Muscle’ Part: the Higher the Intensity of an Exercise, the Greater the Muscle Growth
In order to get a muscle to grow bigger and stronger, you need to subject the muscle to a higher level of intensity than what the muscle is currently accustomed to. Doing so triggers a response in the central nervous system (CNS), that causes the muscle to gradually grow bigger and stronger, in order to adapt to that higher level of intensity.
Then once the muscle has adapted to that level of intensity, you need to go through the same process again. You need to subject the muscle to an even higher level of intensity, in order to get the muscle to grow even bigger and stronger; and so on.
The fact that you have to subject your muscles to progressively higher levels of intensity to achieve prolonged muscle growth is called the Rule of Progressive Intensity. And the higher the level of intensity, the greater the muscle growth stimulation is likely to be.
So to obtain maximum muscle growth, especially ‘maximum muscle growth in minimum time’, you to need to generate maximum intensity in the exercising muscle, for any strength-training exercise that you do. That’s simply a law of nature that applies equally to everyone.
So any workout plan that enables you to achieve maximum intensity will work to build maximum muscle in minimum time, in 100% of all cases.
The ‘Minimum Time’ Part: the Higher the Intensity of an Exercise, the Shorter the Duration
That explains the ‘maximum results’ part of the equation. But what about the ‘minimum time’ part? How exactly does maximum intensity enable you to build maximum muscle ‘in minimum time’?
That’s easily explained by one simple, but often overlooked concept:
Intensity is inversely proportional to duration.
So the higher the intensity of an exercise, the shorter the time duration has to be. That’s simply a law of nature that applies equally to everyone. Nobody can generate and sustain maximum intensity for a long period of time. That’s impossible.
So if your weight-training exercise lasts longer than about 1-6 seconds, you don’t have maximum intensity. And if you don’t achieve maximum intensity, you won’t obtain maximum muscle growth in minimum time; or even maximum muscle growth at all.
Thus it turns out that the fastest and most effective way to build muscle is actually the least time-consuming way; if you know and apply the secrets for achieving ‘maximum intensity’ to any weight-training exercise that you do!
So What is Intensity?
The crucial role that intensity plays in the process of muscle growth stimulation was actually proven by researchers in Germany over 100 years ago. So nobody finds that theory controversial today. What is still controversial, however is this:
What exactly is intensity, as it relates to strength-training, weight-training and muscle growth stimulation? Obviously, to achieve maximum intensity, or even high intensity, you need to know what intensity is.
Surprisingly, that’s the big question that the German researchers never answered adequately. And amazingly, for almost 100 years, nobody answered that question adequately. Or if they did, they sure kept it a secret. And knowing and applying the correct,complete answer to that question is your key to obtaining ‘maximum results in minimum time’ from your workout plan.
So let’s take a look at a definition for intensity handed down to us by the late, great Mike Mentzer, the pro-bodybuilder who popularized high intensity training (HIT).
Mike Mentzer’s Definition for Intensity
Mike Mentzer defined intensity as being “the percentage of maximum, momentary, muscular effort being exerted”, when performing an exercise.
So Mentzer was basically saying that the greater the ‘momentary muscular effort’ that you exert, the higher the level of intensity at that point in time; and thus the greater the muscle growth stimulation is likely to be. So in order to achieve maximum intensity, you need to exert maximum, momentary, muscular effort.
Well, good luck trying to achieve maximum intensity and muscle growth by using a definition like that. I can assure you that it isn’t going to happen.
I don’t mean to say that Mike’s definition for intensity is incorrect or wrong. In fact, his definition for intensity is one of the best ones that’s been given to us, as I explain below.
What’s Right About Mike Mentzer’s Definition for Intensity
Mike Mentzer’s definition for intensity actually has two very strong points going for it:
1) It includes the time factor, as any good definition for intensity must do. And it does this by using the word “momentary”. And the time factor is essential for any correct definition of intensity. Because you can expend a lot of effort when performing an exercise; but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a high level of intensity.
For example, if all that effort is spread out over a long period of time, you’ll probably have a low or moderate level of intensity, regardless of the ‘amount of effort’ you exert.
So, certainly Mike’s definition is preferable to something like, “intensity is the amount of effort you exert when performing an exercise”, or “intensity is the amount of energy you expend when performing an exercise”. Definitions like that would be almost totally useless, because they don’t include the time factor.
2) Another good thing about Mike Mentzer’s definintion is that it alludes to the concept of momentary or instantaneous intensity. And again, it does so by using the word “momentary”.
This too is significant, because there’s a big difference between momentary or instantaneous intensity (i.e. the intensity that is generated “in the moment”, i.e. per second or less), and overall or average intensity, which is the average intensity calculated over a longer, more extended period of time.
This is important to know and remember; because intensity can fluctuate when performing a weight-training exercise, often dropping down to zero. And when you perform reps (repetitions) of any kind, intensity always fluctuates.
And whenever you do reps for any weight-training exercise, you can be sure that your momentary or instantaneous intensities will always be different from your average or overall intensity for that particular exercise.
So when doing reps, you have only one value for your average or overall intensity for any extended period of time. But you have many different values for your momentary or instantaneous intensities during that period of time.
And it’s the those extremely brief , elusive, hard-to-track moments of instantaneous intensity that are really important in the muscle growth stimulation process; much more so than overall or average intensity is.
Nonetheless, Mike Mentzer’s definition for intensity is still incomplete, and not specific enough for practical application. Here’s why:
The Problem with Mike Mentzer’s Definition for Intensity
It is true that in order to achieve maximum intensity, you need to exert ‘maximum, momentary, muscular effort’. But just because you’re exerting maximum, momentary, muscular effort doesn’t necessarily mean that you have maximum intensity. It depends on how you define ‘effort’; or more specifically in this case, muscular effort.
And that brings us to the main problem with Mike Mentzer’s definition for intensity:
In this definition, Mentzer doesn’t specify exactly what he means by the word effort. And how can you determine your exact level of momentary ‘effort’ when doing an exercise, if you don’t know what effort is? Obviously you can’t, because you’ve got nothing to measure. So you wouldn’t know for sure if you’re effort is really at it’s maximum level or not, or how close it is to your maximum level.
Nor would you know for sure if your ‘momentary, muscular effort’ is exceeding any such efforts made previously for that particular exercise. And ideally it should do that, for maximum muscle growth stimulation; or for any muscle growth stimulation.
But with nothing to measure, you would just have to go by the feel of it, to determine those things. And going by ‘the feel of it’ to gauge and track your progress in the gym is definitely not the way to go, if you want ‘maximum results in minimum time’ from your workout sessions.
Of course, most people just go by the amount of weight they use to determine the progress they make during their workout sessions. But that’s not a reliable indicator of maximum intensity or progress, because there’s a lot more to intensity than just the amount of weight you use for an exercise. How you go about using the weight, to generate the maximum level of resistance for your muscle to work against, also plays a significant role in the amount of intensity that you generate. And I explain that later in this article.
So any definition for intensity that uses the word effort needs to elaborate on that, and provide a valid, relevant, useful definition for effort.
So what exactly is effort? Effort can be defined in 3 ways, as follows:
1) the energy expended to perform the task at hand
2) an attempt to perform the task at hand
3) the result of the energy expended or the attempt made
We can discard #1 and #2, as there’s no way to measure either of those, nor will they get us anywhere.
Now let’s take a look at #3:
What is the ‘immediate result’ of the energy that you expend when you’re working out with weights? Isn’t it contraction; specifically, muscular contraction? Isn’t that why you’re expending all that energy when weight-training; to generate as much contraction as you can in the working muscle, throughout the exercise? Of course!
So we can simply substitute the word contraction for the word effort in Mike Mentzer’s definition for intensity, and we come up with the following:
Intensity is “the percentage of your maximum, momentary, muscular contraction that’s generated, when performing an exercise”.
It could very well be that ‘contraction’ is what Mike Mentzer actually meant by the word ‘effort’. I’m strongly inclined to think so. But who knows for sure?
In any case, substituting the word contraction for the word effort in Mike’s definition for intensity is a huge step in the right direction, in our endeavor to define intensity correctly and completely; and in a way that can be applied practically.
Intensity Defined Correctly and Completely
So that finally brings us to the correct definition for intensity:
Intensity is the amount of contraction that you generate in the exercising muscle per unit of time.
So the more contraction you generate in a muscle per second, the higher the intensity of the exercise at that point in time; and the greater the muscle growth stimulation is likely to be.
MAXIMUM CONTRACTION per unit of time (i.e. per second) = MAXIMUM INTENSITY
This is the correct definition for intensity, because it’s the only definition for intensity that works for any weight-training or strength-training strategy that you use; whether you’re doing full-range reps, partial reps, the concentric phase of motion, the eccentric phase of motion, or static contractions (which involve no motion).
Applying the Correction Definition for Intensity
Ok; so now that you know what intensity really is, how do you apply that definition, and generate “maximum contraction per second”, and thus achieve maximum intensity?
To answer that question, we first need to ask another one:
What exactly is contraction, specifically muscular contraction, as it relates to strength training, and muscle growth stimulation?
Obviously, in order to generate ‘maximum contraction per second’, you need to know what muscular contraction is. And that’s another question that almost no workout plans have ever addressed adequately; if at all.
Muscular Contraction Defined
Simply stated, muscular contraction can be defined as ‘the activation of a muscle fiber’.
And when strength-training or weight-lifting, a muscle fiber can be activated for two purposes:
1) To work against a ‘net external force’, such as that provided by a weight. This force is called resistance.
2) To move a body part, such as when you bend your arm, or straighten your leg.
In the Maximum Intensity Strength Training (MIST) plan, the first type of contraction is called weight-induced contraction (WC). And the latter type of contraction is called dynamic contraction (DC), because it involves motion.
And since intensity is ‘the amount of contraction that you generate in the muscle per unit of time’, you obviously need to maximum both types of contraction simultaneously throughout the entire exercise, in order to achieve maximum intensity.
MAXIMUM INTENSITY = MAXIMUM WEIGHT-INDUCED CONTRACTION (WC) per unit time +
MAXIMUM DYNAMIC CONTRACTION (DC) per unit time
What’s described above is the only correct and complete definition for intensity. So it’s the only definition that works and can be applied practically to achieve maximum muscle growth in minimum time, in 100% of all cases. And that’s exactly why I chose this definition for intensity to form the foundation of the Maximum Intensity Strength Training (MIST) plan.
All of the exercises in the Maximum Intensity Strength Training (MIST) plan are designed so that you can generate both maximum weight–induced contraction (WC) per unit of time (per second) and maximum dynamic contraction (DC) per unit of time, simultaneously throughout the entire exercise. That’s the only way you’ll ever achieve maximum intensity and maximum muscle growth.
In fact, Maximum Intensity Strength Training (MIST) is the first and only workout plan ever to be built upon this correct, complete definition for intensity, and show you how to apply that definition to every motion that the human body can perform with weights.
And that explains why MIST is the first and only workout plan ever, that enables you to achieve maximum intensity, obtain maximum results, and thus build “maximum muscle in minimum time”; simply by doing exercises that take only 1-6 seconds each.