A long time ago, exercise physiologists discovered that exercise or any human activity is essentially comprised of two important features, intensity and duration. Simply defined, intensity is the percentage of momentary effort expended, while duration is the amount of time spent engaged in a given activity. These two factors exist in an inverse ratio to each other.
In other words, they are mutually exclusive — you can have one or the other, but you can't have both together to any significant degree. The more effort one invests in a particular exercise, the less the duration of that exercise will be. And likewise, if you want to protract the duration of exercise, then the intensity or effort must and will decrease.
So, either you train hard or you train long, but no one in the world can train hard and long at once. All of this is pure and simple, not subject to debate or arbitrary change, not my opinion or anyone else's just plain simple fact.
The same physiologists discovered that intensity is the one feature of exercise most responsible for inducing size and strength increases, while duration primarily effects a cardiovascular response. Now here is where it gets a bit technical and tricky.
You can gear your training either to size and strength or to cardiovascular response or, yes, to both. However, since the human body possesses a finite or limited adaptive response, maximum increases in size/strength are only possible when you train 100% specifically for size/strength. This is possible only when training intensity is absolutely 100% and duration therefore is very, very brief.
Anything less than 100% intensity of effort will enable you to prolong the duration of your training, but will also result in less size/strength increase. For now you are dividing adaptive response, or specificity, between size/strength and cardiovascular response.
Think about it this way. If you want your muscles to grow progressively larger and stronger, then something about your workouts must progressively increase. This is why when it comes to bodybuilding a great majority of bodybuilders become confused. The common though mistaken notion is that progress is contingent upon duration. That is, as you grow and get stronger, you will need more in terms of amount of training. The obvious fallacy here is that as one progresses toward the upper limit of his size/strength potential, he might be training 10, 12, 20 hours a day. This would be impossible as the body only has a limited ability to compensate for the effects of stress.
In order to make your body grow progressively bigger and stronger, the intensity of your training must increase. If you are not progressing, it is because you have adapted to a particular level of training intensity, and further progress will not come until you increase the intensity level. This is the nature of the body's adaptive ability. You must impose an extraordinary demand upon the muscles to stimulate the adaptive response.
Size and strength increases signal that the intensity of your training efforts is sufficient to tax your physical reserves. Because the body's reserves are limited, the body will enlarge upon its normal abilities so that future assaults of high intensity training won't use them all up. As you grow and get stronger, the same amount of intensity will use up less of your reserves. In time, progress will halt altogether as you adapt to a particular intensity level.
For many, the dilemma of inducing more progress is not knowing or understanding the nature of adaptation. For the beginner who has never trained, any type of training represents a big step up the ladder of intensity. Even mild calisthenics would prove sufficiently intense to stimulate an adaptation resulting in bigger and stronger muscles. Not for long, however.
Soon more intensity would be required for more progress. This can easily be supplied with the added resistance provided by barbells and a basic routine. This step up the ladder of intensity will again stimulate more size/strength increases until full adaptation occurs. And so one must climb progressively up the ladder of intensity to reach the dizzying and frightening heights of one's ultimate size/strength potential.
There is also a strong mental barrier to inducing greater and greater muscular contractions. A very large and strong muscle contracting with maximum intensity places much greater demands on the body's recuperative sub-systems than does a smaller, weaker one. Because these demands upon the body's resources are potentially life threatening, your mind as well as your body will do everything possible to prevent such taxing high intensity exertion.
Lassitude, anxiety and even a preference for low intensity workouts are manifestations of the mind's disinclination to engage the body in such maximum efforts. Therefore, as your muscles get stronger and stronger, you must exercise your will to get stronger apace. Being muscularly massive and very strong at the moment, I have been able to grasp rather profoundly the notion that intensity refers almost exclusively to the human mind and the ability to will your muscles to contract against the only real resistance, your own mind.
For now, I hope I have clarified what intensity of effort implies. For some, words and ideas will always prove to be inadequate conveyors of intent. The only alternative left then to communicate what is untransmissible via the written or spoken word is action. Perhaps witnessing another person engaged in maximum possible momentary muscular exertion or experiencing it yourself is the only way. See you in the gym!
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