So far, I’ve discussed exercise intensity in this series of articles as if there were only one type of exercise intensity. But there are actually two types of exercise intensity. And you need to know what those two types of intensity are, how they differ from each other, and which is the more important one of the two; if you really want to achieve your goals of achieving maximum intensity and building “maximum muscle in minimum time”.
Here’s a very important fact that most people, even most experts, are unaware of : whenever you workout and perform reps (i.e. “repetitions”, or “repeated body motions”) of any kind, the intensity of the exercise constantly fluctuates; sometimes dropping down to zero. And that’s simply because whenever you do reps, the “amount of muscular contraction that you generate per second” constantly fluctuates; sometimes dropping down to zero.
And that occurs, because usually when you do reps, both the amount of dynamic contraction (DC) that you generate per second, and the amount of resistance-induced contraction (RC) that you generate per second constantly fluctuate; sometimes dropping down to zero. And if you have zero intensity, you have zero muscle growth stimulation, at that point in time during the exercise.
So that brings us to the two types of exercise intensity that you need to know about, in order to achieve maximum intensity and maximum muscle growth:
1) momentary or instantaneous intensity
2) average or overall intensity
Momentary or instantaneous intensity is “the actual amount of contraction that you generate in the working muscle for each second, or less”, as you perform an exercise. In other words, it’s the amount of muscular contraction that you generate “in an instant”; hence the term “instantaneous” intensity.
It’s this type of intensity that fluctuates and changes constantly, whenever you perform reps. So whenever you do reps, you’ll have many different values for instantaneous intensity; some of them being as low as zero.
Average or overall intensity is “the total amount of muscular contraction that you generate in a muscle throughout the entire set or exercise, divided by the total amount of time it takes to perform the entire set or exercise”. This type of intensity doesn’t fluctuate or change, because you have only one value for average intensity, for any set, group of sets, or exercise that you do.
And therein lies the problem with using “average” or “overall” intensity as a way to track your progress, when it comes to building muscle: “average” or “overall” intensity doesn’t give you any clue as to what your levels of “instantaneous” intensity were during an exercise.
And it’s those extremely brief, elusive, “hard to track” moments of instantaneous intensity that are really important, when it comes to triggering the anabolic process that can lead to greater muscle growth. Average intensity doesn’t really matter so much, in that regard.
So generally, when I mention “exercise intensity” on this site, or in my books on strength-training and weight-training, I’m usually referring to “momentary” or “instantaneous” intensity. Because that’s the type of intensity that really counts, when it comes to muscle growth stimulation.
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For example, imagine the following scenario:
Let’s assume for a moment that there were a way to accurately determine your “average” or “overall” intensity for any weight-training exercise that you do. You go to the gym and perform one set of the biceps curl; say, “6 reps to failure”. And at the end of the set, you calculate your “average”, or “overall” intensity for that particular set.
Then two weeks later, you do one set of the biceps curl again, hoping that your level of intensity will be greater than it was the previous time that you did the exercise. Or at least, you hope that you can sustain the same level of intensity longer than you did the previous time.
So you calculate your average intensity for that set. And you find that the average intensity didn’t increase, or maybe even decreased for that particular exercise, compared to what you’d achieved the last time you did the exercise. As a result, you might be inclined to think that you made no progress during the latter workout session, for this particular exercise. You might even think that you had a wasted workout session; at least for that particular exercise.
But the truth is that you could very well have made progress during that second workout session, if you had generated “moments” of instantaneous intensity that were greater than any of those generated during the last time, or any previous time that you did the exercise. And even if those moments of greater instantaneous intensity had lasted only 1,2 or 3 seconds, that would’ve been enough to trigger an anabolic response in the central nervous system (CNS), that could potentially lead to greater muscle growth.
And that holds true even if your average intensity had stayed the same or even decreased, from one workout to the next. But you wouldn’t know that just by measuring and monitoring your “average” intensity; because average intensity doesn’t give you any clue as to what your levels of “momentary” or “instantaneous” intensity were during the exercise. And as I stated earlier, “momentary”, or “instantaneous” intensity is what really counts, when it comes to generating greater muscle growth stimulation.
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And that brings us back to Mike Mentzer’s definition for exercise intensity, that I introduced in Part I of this series:
“Intensity is the percentage of your maximum, momentary muscular contraction, that occurs as you perform an exercise.”
Notice the word “momentary”, in Mentzer’s definition. So which of the two types of intensity is Mentzer referring to here? Obviously, he’s referring to “momentary”, or “instantaneous” intensity.
And that’s one of the beauties of Mike Mentzer’s definition for exercise intensity: by using the word “momentary” in this definition, Mentzer alludes to the concept and phenomenon of momentary, or instantaneous intensity. He doesn’t say anything at all about “average” or “overall” intensity.
Why doesn’t Mentzer say anything about “average” or “overall” intensity, or even allude to it? Because as I previously stated, “average” or “overall” intensity isn’t all that important, when it comes to muscle growth.
Again, it’s those extremely brief, elusive, fleeting moments of “momentary” or “instantaneous” intensity that trigger the anabolic process, that leads to greater muscle growth. And Mike Mentzer was obviously aware of this fact, as implied in his definition of exercise intensity.
Another important implication in Mike Mentzer’s definition is that intensity (i.e. “momentary” or “instantaneous” intensity) fluctuates, whenever you perform weight-training exercises that involve reps. And although Mentzer doesn’t actually state that in this definition, the implication is there, as indicated by the word “momentary”.
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And that brings us to the #1 limitation of doing reps, for the purpose of building maximum muscle: since “momentary” or instantaneous” intensity constantly fluctuates whenever you do reps, it’s impossible to achieve “maximum intensity” when you do reps. And theoretically, if you can’t achieve maximum intensity, that means you can’t build “maximum muscle in minimum time”, or even maximum muscle, by doing reps.
In order to achieve “maximum intensity” for any weight-training or strength-training exercise that you do, you need to generate “maximum contraction per second” in the working muscle; and you need to sustain that “maximum level of intensity” throughout the entire exercise.
And that, of course, is impossible to do when using reps, since the “amount of contraction the you generate per second” is constantly changing; sometimes dropping down to zero.
Now, you can sometimes generate maximum intensity in the working muscle momentarily when doing reps, depending on the exercise you’re doing. But even when that is possible, it’s obviously not possible to sustain that maximum level of intensity throughout the entire exercise, when doing reps. And that’s what you need to do, in order to achieve your goal of generating maximum intensity, and building “maximum muscle in minimum time”.
So how can you generate “maximum contraction per second” in a muscle, and sustain that maximum level of intensity throughout an entire exercise? Obviously “reps” aren’t the answer, as I explained above. The solution is simple: static holds.
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What exactly are static holds? Static holds are weight-training exercises that are totally devoid of motion. When doing static holds, all you have is muscular contraction. And that’s all you need to build muscle.
So doing static holds is like doing isometrics with weights. There are no reps (“repetitions” or “repeated body motions”) at all, when you do static holds. Which means that “intensity” doesn’t fluctuate or change at all, when you do static holds. And that’s simply because the “amount of contraction generated in the muscle per unit of time” doesn’t change or fluctuate, when you do static holds.
And that’s why static holds are the only way you can achieve “maximum intensity”, when performing any weight-training exercise. Since static holds are entirely devoid of motion, and there is no change or fluctuation in intensity, static holds are the only way you can generate “maximum contraction per second” in the working muscle, and sustain that maximum level of intensity, throughout the entire exercise.
With that said, just doing a static hold alone doesn’t necessarily mean that you actually have maximum intensity. The static hold has to be done the right way, to ensure that you do indeed generate “maximum contraction per second”, and thus “maximum intensity” in the working muscle, for maximum muscle growth stimulation.
For more on static holds, read my article Static Holds: the Only Way to Achieve Maximum Intensity, and Build Maximum Muscle in Minimum Time
Now that I’ve explained the important concepts of “momentary” or “instantaneous” intensity, and “average” or “overall” intensity, we’re almost to the end of this massive series of articles on exercise intensity. And there’s just one more to go.
As I’ve mentioned several times throughout this series of articles, generating “maximum intensity” in the working muscle is the only way you can build “maximum muscle in minimum time”. and you can accomplish that simply by doing weight-training exercises that last only 1-6 seconds each.
Yet so far, I’ve focused primarily on the “maximum muscle” part of the equation. Now what about the “minimum time” part? How is it possible to obtain “maximum results” from such super-short, super-intense exercises?
That’s the topic of my final article in this series,
Questions? Comments? Care to agree, or disagree? Feel free to do so!