It probably won't come as a big surprise to you that there are different theories about how to increase your strength and size over time. One way is simply to add more weight or do more reps with every workout. This kind of slow and steady progress can take you far. But it can also be kind of boring.
Here are seven hardcore ways to increase your workout intensity, see some amazing results, and keep things fresh and interesting.
1. 8 Sets, 30 Seconds Rest
Most people do 3, 4, or even 5 sets per exercise during their workouts. Why not crank that up a bit? Go for 8 sets to make sure you're fully fatiguing that target muscle you're working.
To make it even more challenging, limit yourself to 30 seconds of rest. See how big of a pump you generate with this plan!
2. Add A Pre-workout to Boost Your Focus
Preparing yourself mentally and physically for a workout can help you bring maximum focus and energy to the session. So can having the right pre-workout. If you have yet to try a pre-workout, what are you waiting for?
One ingredient to look for is beta-alanine, which has been consistently suggested to increase muscle power output, strength, training volume, high-intensity exercise performance, and peak oxygen uptake (aerobic capacity). Specifically, beta-alanine seems most effective for supporting exercise lasting longer than 60 seconds.
“I recommend taking it for a high-intensity bodybuilding-style training program, HIIT or interval training, CrossFit, or all-out bouts to exhaustion that last 1-5 minutes, with short rest periods of less than 2 minutes,” says Chris Lockwood, PhD, Jyoto.info’s adjunct supplements editor.
3. Impose A Time Limit on Your Work
Look around the gym, and you'll see people who let their workouts drag on and on. They rest longer than they need to, check their phones, talk to other people.
Even without such obvious distractions, many lifters rest longer than they think they do.
"In my studies, subjects generally claim to rest for very short periods (30-60 seconds)," says exercise scientist Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, an assistant professor at Lehman College in Bronx, New York. "But when taken through the research in controlled settings with 90-second rest intervals, they mention not being recovered enough between sets. They suddenly realize how off-base their claims were."
You don't need to rush like a maniac through your workout, but if you give yourself, say, 40 minutes instead of 90 minutes to get it done, you'll be forced to pick up the pace. You'll push harder, lift faster, take shorter rest breaks, and ramp up your program to a whole new level of intensity.
4. Use Time as Your Main Training Variable
You can also use time as your variable component. Time your working sets. Time your rest periods. Give yourself a target to shoot for and build from there.
5. Try Unilateral Training
If you aren't already making unilateral training a part of your workouts, now's the time to start. You'll be stronger overall, have less muscle imbalance, and potentially reduce your injury risk.
Most people have some degree of muscular imbalances. We tend to carry our groceries on one side of the body, have a dominant arm, and always jump up from and land on one specific leg. Do a barbell bench press, leg press, or barbell bicep curl and you're bound to work one side a bit more than the other.
To balance your musculature, incorporate some type of unilateral training in every workout. Single-leg deadlifts, dumbbell lunges, kettlebell split squats, dumbbell bench presses, dumbbell incline presses, dumbbell shoulder presses, dumbbell hammer curls, and bent-over dumbbell rows can all fit the bill.
Start each set with your less-dominant side to set a benchmark for the number of reps and weight you should be doing.
6. Add Burpees Between Sets
The burpee is, hands down, one of the most hardcore exercises you can do. In one compact exercise, you develop your strength, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular fitness—and it feels like it.
It just so happens that burpees are the perfect bodyweight exercise to do between weight-lifting sets. To go full-on hardcore, do a set of 10-15 burpees during your rest periods.
You'll probably have to rest for 30-60 seconds afterward, but by supersetting your main lift with burpees, you'll notice an increase in your overall conditioning levels. You'll also notice that you're no longer able to walk, talk, or lift a feather…but it'll be worth the sacrifice.
7. Do Pyramid Sets
To make your workout truly hardcore, train with near-maximal loads for at least one big compound lift per session. To make that happen, do pyramid sets.
Start with a lighter weight and a higher rep range and work your way up to your max weight, doing just 3-5 reps for that single heaviest set. Then, cycle back down to lower weights and high reps. You'll get a good amount of volume and build strength at the same time.
If you're mostly after building strength, do just a few ascending sets up to that max so you aren't too fatigued to lift heavy. Then, do more sets on the descend once you've completed your heaviest set.
You now have seven new tricks in your bag to toughen up your workouts. Don't try to pack them all into a single session, though. Instead, cycle through them, raising the bar on one or two exercises per workout. In short order, you'll start to see and feel the difference!