The first time I lifted weights with any serious intention whatsoever was in 1992 at the age of 33. Before that I did what most people do and just wandered blindly from one machine to the next and banged out enough reps to get the target muscles tired. I never truly exerted myself. I’m sure we’ve all seen this in the gym, just look at 99% of the people exercising and none of them is treating it like a life or death struggle to reach a new peak of exertion. They work out like they wash their car or drink a cup of coffee – casually and with zero passion or purpose.
The ‘ah-ha moment’ for me came when I learned about the role of intensity in causing muscle growth. It’s one of those things that makes perfect sense. A skinny guy can lift 100 pounds one time, a guy with bulging muscles can lift 400 pounds one time. Fine. We understand that big muscles can lift more. But the skinny guy can rest a bit and lift 100 pounds four times. So he also lifted a total of 400 pounds. Why isn’t he as strong? Why aren’t his muscles as big? It’s obvious. He took more time to lift 400 pounds than the big guy took. So muscle building isn’t just about what you can lift, it’s equally about how much time it takes you to lift it. And that, my friends, is the definition of intensity. Yet everybody – and I mean everybody – in the gym was completely ignoring the time side of the equation. So what if you did three sets of twelve reps with 265 – how long did it take you, Pal? Without knowing the time there is no way to know how intense it was compared to the last workout or the next workout.
Once I saw that with total clarity the next twenty years were about measuring intensity. The Power Factor measurement came first. It measured pounds per minute. Simple. Bench press a total of 6,200 pounds in two minutes and your bench press Power Factor was 3,100 pounds per minute. That was the intensity of your output. The skinny guy always has a lower Power Factor number than the guy with huge muscles. Makes perfect sense. But the more important thing is always the next workout. If you want to force your body to make bigger, stronger muscles you have to increase your intensity. So next time you bench press you need to have a Power Factor intensity of 3,150 or 3,300 or 4,000 lbs/min or whatever you can muster. In this universe there is no room to debate this issue, it’s well established; it always takes more muscle power to lift 8,000 pounds in two minutes than it does to lift 7,500 pounds in two minutes. Always. (Yes, assuming the distance is the same. Which it always is with the Power Factor workout.)
Next came the knowledge that very, very brief exercise could still trigger muscle growth. That was the birth of Static Contraction training that measured intensity in seconds rather than minutes. We started with 30-second holds. They worked. So we did 20-second holds. They worked. So we did 10-second holds. They worked too. Finally, we tested 5-second holds and, not surprisingly, they generated the highest intensity per second because you can always hold a heavier weight for five seconds than you can for ten seconds. The absolute highest intensity we could reliably measure with barbells and stopwatches was 5-second static holds. And boy, did that build muscle! It also absolutely minimized the wear and tear on the body that older people like me have to take into consideration. There has never been a more efficient way to build muscle and reduce the repetitive wear and tear of weightlifting. The only thing that will improve Static Contraction training will be the machine that measures output to the millisecond to determine every individuals optimum rep duration. That’s in the works.
And by the way, when you are shooting for a clear goal that – by definition – you have never hit before, you can’t do it without passion. You have to psyche yourself up before the lift. You have to exert yourself with every scrap of concentration and determination. That isn’t boring. That isn’t like sipping coffee and daydreaming. It is classic ‘man against himself’ and it makes you feel the power of personal victory and triumph. And you get the certainty of mathematics to prove you are a better man today than you were last week. That is an astonishingly powerful feeling and I believe it’s also it’s own vaccine against common depression. But that’s another blog post.
Speaking personally, my ‘overnight success’ is yet to come in this realm. Power Factor and Static Contraction training are not household words. When that day does come, and it eventually must, it will be like every other ‘overnight success’ in that many years of quiet experimentation, trial and err and not a little ridicule laid the foundation for the inevitable widespread recognition of the bloody obvious. It was ever thus. People always resist new knowledge. But math and physics are never disobeyed for long and any honest attempt to maximize the intensity of weightlifting always leads down the inevitable path of measuring weight lifted per unit of time. You can measure in troy ounces per fortnight or grains per millisecond but whatever answer you get you always have the challenge of besting it the next time you’re in the gym. And that will take everything you have. If you succeed, you trigger new muscle growth. If you fail, you won’t grow. Period.
You can still choose to train in a blind, haphazard way, never knowing your muscular intensity. But, knowing the facts of how intensity is objectively measured, why the hell would you? Seriously. What is to be gained by never knowing your all-important intensity of output?
“It never ceases to surprise me at the infinite capacity of the human mind to resist the introduction of useful knowledge.” Thomas Raynesford Lounsbury