Adding Intensity Without Increasing Risk of Injury By Garrett Soames, PA-C, MMSc, ATC

At Rainier Medical Weight Loss & Wellness, our goal is to help with loss of fat, while maintaining or increasing muscle mass. When trying to lose weight, it is important that you do not lose any muscle along with it, so we recommend resistance training to prevent sarcopenia (muscle loss).  When you have more muscle, you will have a higher resting metabolic rate, helping with fat loss.  Stimulating hypertrophy requires a stressful stimulus.  There are three stimuli to trigger growth:  mechanical tension, micro-tissue damage, and metabolic stress.  Any one of these will create an environment of muscle growth.  However, I believe metabolic stress is the best method for muscle growth while providing for better longevity and lower risk of injury.

Metabolic stress is colloquially known as “the burn.” It is the build up of lactic acid, which is produced as a byproduct of burning energy in an anaerobic (lack of oxygen) state.  This is achieved in resistance exercise by forcing a muscle to reach exhaustion through moderate weight and higher repetitions, while providing for little rest in between.  Using this as the primary modality of stress on a muscle means that you can complete your workout with less risk of injury, and in half the time.

Devoting time to exercise can be difficult, but it is a very important thing you can do for your health.  If you are like me, you can’t find enough time in the day for all your tasks.  You work, have chores, have a family, etc.  However, this lack of time can actually work in your favor when you are trying to increase metabolic stress during your workout.  Shorter workouts can lead to higher intensity.  

Intensity = volume/time.  Volume (amount of weight lifted) can be increased to increase intensity.  However, the more weight you lift, the higher the risk of injury.  Another way you can increase intensity, is to keep weight the same, but lift it in a shorter amount of time.  Some basic math can exemplify this. 

An example is lifting 100 lbs 16 times.  Your total volume lifted is 1600 lbs.  If you lift 140 lbs 12 times, you will have lifted 1,120 lbs.  So, even though you increased the weight on the bar, you have actually lifted less total volume.  And volume is the key to muscle hypertrophy.  So, in order for you to do the same volume of work if you lifted 140 lbs, you would have to do more sets.  However, by adding more sets, you have to add more time to your workout, and time is a precious commodity in our busy society.  The first thing you can do to be more efficient in the gym, is find the weight that you reach muscle fatigue at around 15-18 repetitions.  

When you lift lighter weights (15-18 reps instead of 8-12), you can recover between sets more quickly.  By recovering quicker, you can rest less between sets.  Since, you are resting less between sets, you have decreased time (in the above calculation), thereby increasing intensity once again.  You should try to rest less than 30 seconds between sets to maximize your intensity and to keep your heart rate up.

Lastly, lowering the weight and decreasing your rest time is the safest way to decrease the risk of injury.  By lifting a moderate as opposed to high weight, you are less likely to cause damage to tendons and joints.  Below, I have listed a sample workout following this method.  Remember to pick a weight that provides for muscle fatigue (can’t continue to lift the weight more than the listed number of repetitions).  Also, in order to increase intensity, I have added weighted stretches.  A weighted stretch is essentially holding resistance at the bottom of a movement (in a stretched position) while keeping tension in the muscle.  This is a great way to finish off an exercise to really fatigue a muscle, and it adds mechanical tension (from above) as another source of muscle stimuli to really kick muscle growth into high gear.


***Be sure to speak with your physician or Dr. Sutherland or Garrett prior to increasing the intensity of your exercise.  Use common sense, start low and go slow and listen to your body!

Neutral Grip Dumbbell Bench Press:  Time = approx. 2.5 minutes
    Warm Up – 20 reps        Rest – 30 seconds
    Set 1 – 18 reps        Rest – 30 seconds
    Set 2 – 15 reps        Rest – 30 seconds
    Set 3 – 15 reps        Rest – 30 seconds (move on to next exercise)

Wide Grip Lat Pulldown:  Time = approx. 2.5 minutes
    Warm Up – 20 reps        Rest – 30 seconds
    Set 1 – 15 reps        Rest – 30 seconds
    Set 2 – 15 reps        Rest – 30 seconds
    Set 3 – 12 reps        Rest – 30 seconds (move on to next exercise)

Dumbbell Fly:  Time = approx. 3.5 minutes
    Set 1 – 16 reps        Rest – 30 seconds
    Set 2 – 15 reps        Rest – 30 seconds
    Set 3 – 15 reps        No rest – perform weighted stretch (hold dumbbells at the bottom of the range of motion and contract your chest muscles for 30 seconds without moving the weights, keeping tension in the muscles)
     Rest – 30 seconds (move on to next exercise)

Bent Over Dumbbell Row:  Time = approx. 3.5 minutes
    Set 1 – 18 reps        Rest – 30 seconds
    Set 2 – 16 reps        Rest – 30 seconds
    Set 3 – 14 reps        No rest – perform weighted stretch (hold dumbbells out at the end of the range of motion and contract your back muscles like you are about to lift the weights again.  Keep contracting the muscles in this stretched position for 30 seconds)

As you can see, this workout should only take you around 12 minutes.  If you keep the intensity up, then you will have stimulated muscle growth, even in this short amount of time.  

The staff at Rainier Medical Weight Loss & Wellness are excited to help you reach your health and fitness goals.  Either myself, or Dr. Sutherland, are happy to discuss a program that works for you.

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