Intensity and Time
Below a certain level of intensity, strength training will do little for you. If you are capable of lifting two hundred pounds for eight reps, and you stop at seven, it should be obvious that the exercise was not as productive as it could be.
The one thing that separates strength training exercise from other types of exercise, such as running or biking, is that it is much harder to do. The dramatic changes that occur in the body as a result of lifting weights are due to the intense nature of the exercise. There is simply no other way of working the muscles as hard with any other type of training. Beyond what is needed for daily tasks, the body does not want to put on a large degree of muscle. The tissue is metabolically costly, meaning that you have to feed it to keep it alive. And of all the things your body needs to do to survive, conserving energy is number one. It needs this energy to produce the heat that allows for daily living. In the Cave Man days, carrying an extra thirty pounds of muscle was of no advantage when the famine came! For this reason, to get stronger and more muscular, you had better give your body a real good reason to do so!
You must place your muscles in a critical situation. The effort level must be at a maximum. Your brain will only recruit the minimum number of muscle fibers necessary to do the job. This is why you must do as many repetitions as possible. "As many as possible" is a confusing point for many young trainees. Some think that when the exercise is uncomfortable they have done as much as they can. Or they may think that when they have reached ten reps that is all they can do. Let's set the standard right now. When you think you have done as many as you can, imagine that your life depends on you getting one more rep. Literally believe that if you do not get one more, you're done for. If at this point you can't do another rep, try to get a half of a rep more. Then try to get a quarter of a rep. Try to move the weight one inch. When you cannot move the weight a fraction of an inch more, you have finished a proper set. You have successfully completed the exercise and you should feel proud of your effort.
Don't make the mistake of thinking you can make up for this effort by doing more work at less intensity. Given enough time, almost any size muscle can do almost any amount of work. This is called labor and it has nothing to do with strength training.
As fatigue sets in on the playing field, you are gradually bringing more fibers into play. It could be during a long drive, the fourth quarter, or halfway through practice. If your training consists of a few heavy reps or stopping your exercise short of fatigue, you'll eventually be using muscle fibers on the field that you failed to strengthen in the weight room.
Suppose you have a stick of dynamite in front of you. If you took a hammer and lightly tapped it, nothing would happen. You could literally hit it forever without it exploding.
But one strike with enough force behind it will set off a huge explosion. And so it is with your strength training. The amount of work you do has nothing to do with your strength development.
Muscle responds to tension over time. You can get stronger performing almost any number of reps. Performing only a few heavy reps is more dangerous, too time consuming, and not specific to the muscular needs of the athlete. The competitive weight lifter has needs specific to his sport, while the athlete has needs specific to his. The longer the tension is applied to the muscles, the more fibers that can be activated. Research and our experience shows that the best results will come from training the muscle to fatigue within the anaerobic time frame of approximately 30 to 90 seconds. Assuming about five or six seconds to complete a rep, this would be a rep range of about five to twenty. Each individual responds to some rep ranges slightly better than others depending on such factors as neuromuscular efficiency, muscle fiber type, and lever length. We will usually use about eight to twelve, though this can change for individual needs and variety sake.
There has been much written about the "best" set and reps scheme without anybody really defining what is being talked about. When discussing the number of reps, we are really talking about the amount of time. If someone states that five sets of five is the best set and rep scheme, are they really saying that the best way to work the muscle is with two and half minutes of work broken up into five 30 second segments? When they then prescribe three sets of ten for another exercise, are they saying that this muscle needs three minutes of work broken up into 60 second segments? Why should it change for different exercises? What are we talking about here? The fact of the matter is that muscles don't count reps. The majority of the research has indicated that one to three all out sets are equally, effective.
There is not a magical formula in strength training. An athlete can spend 30 minutes in the weight room or three hours and accomplish the same thing. But as the intensity of the work increases, the amount of work must decrease disproportionately. For instance, if you were to walk at two miles per hour, you could continue that pace indefinitely. If you were to increase that to four mph, you would be able to keep at it for about eight to ten miles. Double that to eight mph and two miles would be about all you could stand. Increase the pace to 16 mph and 200 meters will have you wiped out.
Not only must the amount of work decrease when the intensity increases, the frequency of the workouts must decrease also. Make no mistake about it, if you train hard enough to induce the physiological change you are looking for, you will need to recover from it. Plain and simple, the only people who can lift every day are those that don't lift hard. While you may be able to do a walking and jogging program every day, just try a hard sprint workout every day and see how long you last. You must recover from hard exercise, which is the only kind of exercise that can make dramatic changes in your body.
Strength training at MARQUETTE UNIVERSITY is not a recreational activity and this is not intramural athletics. Consequently, the amount of time you take between exercises will affect how much weight you can lift. If one lifter decreases the amount of time it takes to do his workout, he will find that he can't use as much weight. And if another lifter increases the amount of time to do his workout, he will be able to lift more weight than if he takes less time. But if both lifters are increasing in strength, then it becomes completely relative. And when the slow worker decreases his rest time, he will find that he can do less, much less, than the athlete who had conditioned himself to move quickly through the workout. Decreasing the amount of time it takes to complete a workout is an excellent way to increase the intensity of the workout. It is also a great way to develop "metabolic" conditioning that can be transferred to the playing field.
At MARQUETTE UNIVERSITY, sets are not terminated short of fatigue. Our workouts our brief by necessity. We ask too much of our athletes to have them do a lot of work. It is not that one to three sets per exercise and thirty to sixty minutes of lifting is the magical amount. It is all that can be tolerated. Inexperienced athletes who question the effectiveness of this have never experienced a properly supervised workout. We have supervised thousands of workouts of some the toughest and strongest people around and we have never been asked to do three more sets of a leg press exercises. And we have never been asked if the workout could be repeated again. The name of the game is effort, and as a GOLDEN EAGLE athlete you are expected to train as hard as possible.
GOMARQUETTE.COM THE OFFICIAL HOME OF MARQUETTE ATHLETICS