Apr 15, 2002

Increasing the Intensity

April 15 "The brain is like a muscle. When it is in use we feel very good. Understanding is joyus." -Carl Sagan

Mystery Guest


"In his 27th season [in the NFL], our mystery guest is the dean of NFL strength and conditioning coaches. A hard-driving coach who still maintains an easy rapport with his players, he has set up strength and conditioning programs for a number of NFL teams.

He is known nationwide for his outspoken stance against the use of steroids in strength training. His team’s training program was aggressively steroid-free long before official sanctions against the drugs became a nationwide norm.

Our mystery guest has seen many of his athletes perform impressive feats in the weight room, but that’s not his goal.
“We train very hard, but we’re not training our people to be weight lifters or power lifters,” he says. “We always keep the perspective that we’re working with these guys to be the best football players they can be.”

An outstanding running back at the University of Wisconsin during his college days, he has worked under all eight head coaches in his team’s history. He joined the club in 1975, Paul Brown’s final season as head coach, and has since coordinated strength training for Bill Johnson, Homer Rice, Forrest Gregg, Sam Wyche, Dave Shula, Bruce Coslet and Dick LeBeau.

PLAYING AND COACHING HISTORY — 1964-66: Played running back at Wisconsin. 1975-2001: Strength and conditioning coach, (Just 1 AFC Team the whole time!)".
**Note** Much of this bio was taken from another website which will be recognized on Friday, as we don’t want to just give away the answer now do we?

Increasing the Intensity


There are some elements of strength training that, regardless of training protocols used, remain true. One of these “truisms” is the fact that through increased intensity an athlete can gain strength. As coaches we should try and introduce as many various techniques to intensify our athletes' workouts.

First, it should be understood that for optimal work of the type IIb muscle fibers, also known as the fast-twitch fibers, the muscle must be worked to failure. StrongerAthletes.com believes that there is a difference between muscle failure and cardio-vascular failure and the two should not be confused during a workout.  It was acknowledged at the 2002 National Strength & Science Seminar that any intensifying techniques used should not exceed 60 seconds following the point of muscular failure. This ensures muscle exhaustion rather than cardio-vascular exhaustion.

The following list is just a sampling of many techniques to increase the workout intensity. Also, the ones below work well with our program in terms of being able to apply them following the set to failure by the athlete. So for example, if Johnny fails at 8 reps on the leg press his spotter or coach would help to incorporate the following techniques.

  • Forced Reps Most coaches and athletes are already doing this. When the athlete can no longer push or pull the weight, the spotter gives slight assistance in order to finish the rep. We like to perform 2 forced reps following the point of failure.



  • Negatives Studies have shown that the muscles have to work up to 40% harder on the eccentric movement of the exercise. This would be the downward movement on the bench press and leg press and the upward movement on the pulldown for example. The negative is performed by lowering the weight slowly, lasting up to 10 seconds. It is recommended that athletes perform this technique on a machine for safety purposes. We like to perform a negative following the 2 forced reps.



  • Static Holds At the point of failure athletes should resist the urge to rack, drop, or lower the weight. Rather, hold the weight where it is continuing to push or pull, depending on the exercise. Some athletes have a strong static hold and the spotter may be forced to add resistance to the weight. When the static hold begins to fail, the athlete can turn this into a negative. **Note the static hold should be done 3/4 of the range of motion and not with the joints locked-out. We want to keep the load on the muscle at all times.


To fully exhaust the muscle, a routine we like to recommend on the bench press for example... following the reps to failure then the 2 forced reps...and a negative...an athlete can then roll off the bench and begin push-ups... at the point of failure- static hold into 1 final negative.

Some additional intensity builders are listed below. Thanks to Coach Jim Bryan and Coach John Thomas for sharing and modeling these for us.

  • Breakdowns As the athlete reaches the point of failure the coach or spotter can start removing weight from the bar/machine to keep the athlete working. We saw Coach Thomas use this with an athlete on the leg press. It is important to remember that you should try and keep the athlete under 60 seconds post-initial point of failure.



  • 10 or 30 Second Holds After completing a rep, hold the weight in a static hold for 10 or 30seconds before completing your next rep. Continue until the point of failure. We think it would be hard to gauge progress with this technique but feel this would be a great supplement to an exercise periodically. Remember, it is also important to individualize an athlete’s workout program depending on their needs. If you notice that an athlete is having trouble gaining strength on an exercise and you have added a rest period, try prescribing a technique such as this.



  • Manual Resistance This is a terrific and efficient way to fully exhaust the muscle. Coach Thomas modeled this with an athlete for shoulder and neck work. We use it for bench, shoulder, leg and neck work. A coach or spotter simply gives manual resistance to the athlete as opposed to using a bar or machine. Again this is difficult to track progress but if it is simply used as an intensifying technique an athlete can still track their initial point of failure before incorporating manual resistance.



  • Finishers What Coach Bryan calls finishers we have used in our high school programs as “games”. For example, following a team work out we divide the athletes into squads and then perform relay races with a “Farmer’s Walk,” or “Tractor Tire Flips.” The “Farmer’s Walk” is done by carrying heavy dumbbells a certain distance. The “Tire Flip” is simply flipping a large tractor tire a certain distance. Why? The farmer’s Walk is a great way to work grip, forearms, shoulders etc... The tire flip is fun. As mentioned before these were used in our sports programs to end our training sessions in a competitive manner while getting that last bit of strength work in.


We encourage you to try some of these intensity techniques in your next workout. You probably already do some of these. It is so important to maximize every second of the working set when we are attempting to lift to failure. Remember, to get faster you must work the fast-twitch fibers. These can only be worked in a manner of exhausting the muscle entirely. These techniques can help your athletes reach that point effectively and efficiently.

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