How Hard Should You Train To Build Muscle with High Intensity Training?
So, in this video I’m talking about how intensely do you have to train to build muscle naturally using high intensity training.
Now there’s a lot of emphasis in most traditional high intensity strength training styles on momentary muscular failure being the holy grail of training. Meaning that if you train to a point where you literally cannot go anymore in your last rep and you couldn’t do one more rep even if your life depended on it, at that point in time, you will stimulate muscular hypertrophy and your muscles will get bigger and stronger.
My experience over the past 33 years of training myself in high intensity training and also training literally hundreds of men and women, many of them competitive natural bodybuilders as well, is that as far as muscle growth is concerned, it is far more complicated than that.
Stay tuned. I’ll talk a little more about this.
So, in this video I’m talking about how intensely do you need to train in order to stimulate muscle growth naturally. But before I go any further, I’d like to thank everyone for tuning in, especially those who have said this channel should be a one stop place for anyone interested in training naturally, without drugs, and without supplements. (See my article Why I Don’t Recommend Bodybuilding Supplements). Thank you so much for the support. And do be sure to like, subscribe, and hit that bell as well so you’re first in line to get the new content as it comes out.
So on to our topic at hand, how hard do you have to train in order to experience optimal results naturally training with high intensities? It’s a very difficult question to answer because it’s extremely nuanced and I think that one of the problems we have in the fitness industry is that people really love to have simple and binary yes or no answers to some aspects that in reality are extremely complex.
Training At High Intensity Increases Muscle Size and Density
Training intensity is one of those things and I can tell you for a fact that there is a very different look that a natural athlete will have if they train at extremely high intensities compared to someone else who is also natural who does not utilize a very high intensity approach. (See my article How To Burn More Fat Lifting Weights- High Intensity Training)
And my experience as well has been that by training at really high intensities, people seem to be able to preserve more muscle mass as they cut down and it can look bigger, fuller, and more muscular at lower body fat levels because of the intensity of their training.
Now the thing about intensity is that it’s relative. It is completely 100% relative, but again, as it’s nuanced to a point.
Relative Training Intensity Explained
Muscles get stronger (and bigger) as a response to unaccustomed stimuli that creates overload so you don’t need to train as hard as I do to build muscle or always train to momentary muscular failure in order to grow. What matters is how hard the training is relative to you.
Momentary failure is just one tool you can use in order to build muscle. If you increase the intensity you can experience a potential increase in muscle growth as long as there is significant overload but you have to really push yourself relative to what you were doing before.
It’s all completely relative and by no means easy!
The Problem of Perceived Training Intensity For Building Muscle
Now the problem with intensity is that everyone thinks that they train really, really hard. And intensity in training is a little bit like how people perceive driving ability. There are many studies out there that shows people almost always rate their driving ability to be above average.
However, when tested, most people driving abilities tend to be average. And this goes across the board. There was even a study in suite among the visually impaired and almost all of them thought that they had above average driving abilities.
And most importantly, if we don’t have anything to compare ourselves with, we tend to automatically think that what we are doing is at the highest level and very often it is not.
There are very few men or women who train at very high intensity without someone coaching them. As it’s human nature to follow the path of least resistance, we don’t want to train any harder than we have to and so 99% of people out there will take their foot off the gas long before they get to a point where they really can’t physically go anymore.
And you need someone behind you to push you in order to see how far you can go.
Now I’m going to talk a little bit about my own experiences with high intensity training to kind of highlight a little bit about relative intensity. I’m sure as well that changes in intensity tends to bring about an increase in overall muscle growth.
So, some background, I started training in ninjutsu as a young teenager where almost everything is based on the idea of being with a do far and more than what you thought possible.
Intense training for me came very easy.
Or so I thought.
I went to the gym, and I thought I was training extremely hard where I first started off until one day there was this one guy in the gym whose name was Sterling, and he pulled me over. He was a very big guy and said, “You’re going to train with me today ’cause I’m going to show you what intensity is.”
And I remember thinking to myself, “I know what intensity is, I train pretty hard.” And so I was not in any way, shape, or form ready for the beat down that this man put on me.
I had never thought it was possible to train as hard as he was training.
And within the course of only a few weeks of training with him, I started to see some noticeable differences in my overall muscle mass.
And then a couple weeks afterwards, one of the biggest guys in the gym who name is Gully, came over and said, “Hey kid, you’re training with me.”
Now Gully was huge, much bigger than my scrawny 130-pound frame, but he somehow or the other saw that I had this spark and this fire and he wanted to see what I could do. And so, I started train with Gully and the intensity of training with him was even more than when it was training with Sterling. And I was training at a point where I was really close to throwing up almost every single time we worked out.
And then one the instructors at the gym, Tony started working out with us and Tony was an absolute mad man. And at that point we were training literally to a point where I would routinely throw up.
Now training with Gully and Tony, as absurdly hard as it was, I was making tremendous progress.
I was getting bigger, I was getting stronger.
I could literally feel the muscles growing, but like all fantastic things, at some point they have to come to an end.
And for some reason, Gully and Tony who were instructors at the gym had lost their jobs. They left the gym. And I went with Gully over to another gym and at that gym Gully and I weren’t able to coordinate our training schedules and I had to train on my own, at which point the instructors at the gym, who were all extremely accomplished bodybuilders, took it upon themselves to see what this young kid could do.
And the intensity that they put me through was unlike anything I’d ever experienced training with Gully and training with Tony.
And once again, there was another quantum leap overall in my muscularity.
And when I came to the point where I started musing about high intensity training and trying to figure out what was the best route for me to go as a natural athlete, someone who did not want to use drugs in terms of building muscle from an academic point of view, and everything that I read from all the journals focused on the idea of overload and intensity and unaccustomed stimulus driving muscle hypertrophy.
And so I devised this way of training for myself. And I wrote down the workouts and I gave them to my gym instructors and told them, “I’d like for you to carry me through these workouts.”
Now, they looked at the workouts and looked at me and said,
“You really want us to carry you through these workouts?”
And I said, “Absolutely,” not understanding at all how ridiculously impossible the workouts I wrote out really were.
And when they started putting me through the pace of these workouts, not only would I often throw up, but I would not be able to complete them. I’d barely get through 10, 12 minutes of the entire workout.
It simply wasn’t possible to go any further. And I was doing a bit of an experiment whereas I was going to tell myself I was no longer going to train five or six days a week.
Instead, I was only going to train three days a week.
But I was a little concerned because if my workouts were so ridiculously short and I was only training three days a week, I felt like I was missing out, especially given the fact that almost everyone else in the gym was training a lot longer than I was and a lot more frequently than I was.
But with these workouts, no one was really training more intensely.
And what happened at that point from the combination of ridiculous intensity and the increased recovery time I had by training only three days a week, I made the greatest gains that I’d ever made in my entire life.
And I’ve trained that way for the duration of my career.
Short, high intensity workouts three times a week, same training split, no changes whatsoever.
So as the years went by, I got to a place where I could train not having someone telling me what to do but I could do it on my own.
Why You Don’t Need To Always Train To Failure to Build Muscle
And so, in my late teens, I was really training all out plus. At that point in time, I became a personal trainer and woe onto all of my clients back in those days because I would literally push them very often to the point where they got physically ill because I was taught that was very important that you train your clients the very same way that you train because that’s the only way that you can really know what’s going on if you yourself experienced it.
One day, one of my coaches came over and said, “Kevin, wouldn’t it be a good idea if you trained your clients to a point where they didn’t throw up?”
I’d honestly never thought of it.
Remember I was a teenager at this point. Teenagers aren’t necessarily the smartest of the lots. But being a science-oriented person, I said to myself, “You know, it would be interesting. What if I trained my clients to the point where not necessarily, they felt like throwing up, but right before? What if I got to that place where I stopped them from getting physically ill? Would that make a difference?”
Now, I had clients who loved the challenge of training that hard, and the ones who did, I kept on training them that way. And the ones who didn’t want to train to the point where they were throwing up and looked like they probably would benefit from me going a little easier on them, I went slightly easier on them.
Now, they probably didn’t feel like I was going slightly easier on them because it was still really, really hard but at least none of them were throwing up during their workouts.
And what I saw interestingly, enough, was that the progress being made by those who weren’t throwing up compared to those who were throwing up was exactly the same.
At which point, being an evidence-based person myself, within my own training, I thought to myself,
“Well, I don’t have to train to the point where I throw up in order for me to make progress.”
But I also mastered the art of taking almost anyone, even the most unathletic, and learning how to push them, how to motivate them, how to find a way to get someone to do something that absolutely every fiber of their being would tell them not to do, so they would get fantastic results from their high intensity training as well.
Now, that might sound that all you have to do in order to maximize your muscle growth is train really hard.
It’s not that simple. I have trained everyone from professional natural bodybuilders, triathletes, and Ironman competitors, US Navy Seals, US Army Rangers, high level CrossFit competitors, and all manner of endurance athletes.
At every single instance they’re always surprised by how much more intense the training system that I put them through is from what they’ve ever done before.
Some would say because you have to be slightly crazy, you know, to train this hard, and I’ve been called something like that once or twice.
But seriously, there’s a reason why so many coaches out there have a reputation for really taking people and pushing them above and beyond and helping them achieve more than what they thought they could achieve.
And I think intensity has a lot to do with it.
Kevin’s High Intensity Training Recommendations
So, here’s what I recommend you do.
Increase your training intensity.
Add some super sets, add some compound sets, add some giant sets.
Yes, momentary muscular failure is a tool within the realm of high intensity training, but it’s not the only way that you can bring about a higher intensity to your training workouts.
Variety is also important. I never do the same workout twice, which sometimes it’s hard for people a grasp a fact that when they ask me, “Kevin, what’s your workout like?”
That it’s impossible to really answer that question because every workout is different.
The only one common denominator is the intensity.
And again, how do you know if you’re training hard enough? If you can do more than three days a week, and if you can train for more than 15, 20 minutes of that workout, you’re probably not training hard enough.
Now, if you’d like to see what a high intensity workout really feels like, just contact me at my website at naturallyintense.net. I’ll make it happen.
Go out there and train harder.
I hope this video is helpful.
Thanks so much tuning in and as always, Excelsior.