Train with Intensity - Ascendment Health & Fitness Blog

Train with Intensity

When you see someone in the gym lying down on the hack squat machine for 20 minutes while messaging their friends on Whatsapp they may as well be laid on the sofa at home. Chances are they are training with very little intensity. They think by at least turning up to the gym they’ll make some progress.

This article is aimed at people who have some experience in the gym. If you’re relatively new to the gym or looking to start your gym journey, we have an article full of advice on starting out at the gym.

The Importance of Intensity

The key to building muscle and making progress with resistance training is intensity. By intensity I mean intensity of effort. Really pushing yourself. Training as hard as you can. Doing sets of 30 reps of bicep curls with 1lbs dumbbells is doing absolutely nada as there is very little intensity being put into it. The weight is far too light meaning the intensity is minimal.

Here’s the king of intensity Mike Mentzer explaining how important training with intensity is. Mike developed a training method known as high intensity training or heavy duty training.

More Weight, Less Volume

If you are training with maximum effort, it means you need to be lifting weights that are heavy. Maximum effort also means you’re going to failure, which means you are working in a rep range until you can’t do anymore. The sweet spot for muscle building is 6-8 reps. So, you need to be picking a weight where you can do 6-8 reps without physically being able to do another rep without assistance from a partner.

When you train with this much intensity you can only do so over a short period of time. It’s physically impossible to train with maximum intensity for over 30-40 minutes. People who train for 90 minutes to 2 hours are training with very little intensity. If you are going all guns blazing, you’ll be hard pushed to train for over 40 minutes. If you do so your level of intensity will have greatly diminished. Once you’re feeling that your strength is severely depleted it’s time to get the hell out of there and recover. You’ve instigated growth, but it’s during recovery (food, rest, sleep) that the muscle rebuilds itself and grows back bigger. 

Lift heavy weights with less volume

So, if you’re training with heavy weight and going to failure every set your strength and intensity will start to wane pretty quickly. Naturally, this means we aren’t going to be able to perform as much volume as we would if we were training with lighter weights and less intensity.

Advocates of high-volume training believe more is better. But as Mike Mentzer famously said, if 30 sets are better than 12 sets per session, then surely 100 sets are better than 30 sets per session. 100 sets would be insanity. This highlights the power of intensity over volume.

Forced Reps & Negatives

In order to push yourself to the limits it’s well worth getting a gym partner who you can train with. They can help to spot you when you’re performing your sets and vice-versa. When performing high intensity training we need to go to failure. We can utilize the assistance of a gym partner once we reach positive failure. Positive failure is when you’re doing chest press for example and you can’t push out another rep. We still have enough strength for the negative movement of the repetition i.e. the lowering of the weight. So, when we are approaching positive failure our gym partner can assist us by spotting us with the positive movement of the weight. This enables us to perform an extra one or two reps that wouldn’t have been achieved without the help of your gym buddy. These reps are referred to as forced reps. This is really raising the intensity of the session.

If you don’t have a gym partner, you can perform partial reps. Once you reach failure on the positive try and force out one or two partial reps where the weight doesn’t quite reach its projected height. You will still get benefits out of these partials, and you are really pushing yourself to perform them.

Get a gym partner to lift more weight

How Many Sessions per Week?

Dorian Yates, the 6-time Mr. Olympia, based his training on Mike Mentzer’s high intensity training. Dorian would train 4 times per week. From personal experience, when training with this much intensity I find 3-4 session per week is the sweet spot. Training sessions last around 30-45 minutes.


To summarize – lift heavy weights and go to failure each set. Get your gym partner to help you with forced reps once you reach failure. Training with this intensity will initiate the growth mechanism. Prioritize food, rest, and sleep to ensure your muscles grow back bigger. When performing high intensity training, the volume or amount of sets you perform, as well as the amount of time you spend in the gym will naturally decrease. Less is more in terms of volume. More is less when it comes to intensity of effort.

If you want to become the best version of yourself our Transform Your Life Guide (coming soon) will help you in every facet of your life. Or start by improving your mindset with our free guide. 

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.