High Intensity Strength Training: Build Muscle Faster

Quick Summary

high intensity strength training

A Powerful Alternative To Traditional Weight Training

Pay attention, because this is important. High intensity strength training might be the weight lifting answer you’ve been looking for.

Particularly if you:

  1. Are busy and can’t spend lots of time in the gym.
  2. Have tried multiple weight lifting workouts that didn’t get you the results you were hoping for.
  3. Participate in long cardio sessions that drain you.
  4. Have hit a plateau and are no longer progressing toward your fitness goals.

If any of the situations above resonate with you, let me introduce you to a muscle building strategy that is proven to produce excellent results (my own results included).

Multiple studies show (I’ll get to them) that high intensity strength training can be better for increasing strength, increasing muscle size, reduce your overall training time, and get you the results you’re after.

While this sounds like a great program that fits into your life, notice I didn’t say it’s easy.

Easy is the enemy of progress.

I love the effort that gym-goers expend day in and day out – they obviously care about themselves and are striving for improvement.

The problem is that the way most people lift weights is likely to diminish potential gains to muscle strength and size.


What Is High Intensity Strength Training?

High intensity strength training is a method of completing the first step in the two step process of increasing strength: 1) muscle stress, and 2) muscle recovery.

You’ve probably heard of high intensity interval training (HIIT), which shares a similar concept to high intensity strength training.

High intensity strength training is the act of slowly and deliberately prolonging the concentric phase (lifting the weight) and the eccentric phase (lowing the weight).

Rather than focusing on how much weight you can lift, you’ll be focusing on how long your muscles stay under load. 1)McGuff, Little. Body By Science. McGraw-Hill, 2009. Print.

HIST requires you to spend 5-15 seconds with each lifting and lowering cycle.

There is solid scientific research showing obvious benefits to HIST. 2)https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/lift-slow-to-get-fit-fast#33)https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/superslow.html4)https://www.webmd.com/men/features/want-more-strength-slow-down#1

I also need to include a caveat about the HIST muscle building strategy…and it’s very important.

There is no workout program on earth that will work if you aren’t eating properly.

Success in health, which incorporates useable strength, physique, and a constantly high energy level, is 80% diet and nutrition.

Hard work in the gym is the easy part, and only accounts for 5% of your success (the remainder is 10% habitual/lifestyle and 5% tactical supplementation).

Ok, enough of that. Let’s get back to the weight lifting.


Serious Gains From High Intensity Strength Training

Wayne L. Wescott, PhD, conducted two studies that showed how much strength can be gained in a relatively short amount of time.

“In each, about 75 people trained with the SuperSlow program — for 8 and 10 weeks, respectively. Those doing SuperSlow in both groups experienced a greater than 50% gain in strength.” 5)https://www.webmd.com/men/features/want-more-strength-slow-down

His results show that those using a prolonging of the concentric phase (lifting the weight) and the eccentric phase (lowing the weight) can produce a 50% increase in strength when compared to typical lifting methods.

Another study, performed by Len Kravitz, PhD, showed similar results of high intensity strength training.

“The results indicated that the slow speed group attained superior strength gains, gaining an average of 26 lbs in strength for the 13 exercises combined, compared to an average of 18 lbs for the regular speed group.” 6)https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/superslow.html

That accounts for a 31% increase in strength over those that lifted weights using a traditional method.


How Does Slow Lifting Affect A Muscle?

The first step to increasing muscle strength is to stress muscle tissue so it has a reason to rebuild itself.

Muscles don’t care about how much weight is being lifted. They care about how much tension is being created.

Slow concentric and eccentric actions are the most efficient way to cause deep, thorough tension in muscle tissue.

“An objective of superslow resistance training is to create more tension in a muscle for a given workload. This is accomplished by decreasing the speed of movement. The amount of force or tension a muscle can develop during a muscle action is substantially affected by the rate of muscle shortening (concentric phase) or lengthening (eccentric phase)…Thus at slow muscle action speeds, a higher number of cross-bridges can be formed, which leads to a maximum amount of tension for a given workload.” 7)http://www.physiology.org/doi/10.1152/japplphysiol.00789.2006

This shows that the most efficient way to cause muscle hypertrophy is slow muscle action during each lift and each lower.

Unfortunately, the majority of fitness enthusiasts only spend 2 seconds or less during the concentric and eccentric phases.

According to research, 2 seconds or less isn’t enough time under load to cause deep muscle tension – the catalyst to hypertrophy and increased muscle strength.

In fact, most weight lifters compensate for this lack of tension by performing multiple sets of an exercise – which is an ineffective strategy.

In addition to efficiently stimulating the muscle rebuilding process, high intensity strength training can also produce visibility larger muscles “at a striking rate.”

“Along with increased muscle strength, this study reports for the first time significant quadriceps muscle hypertrophy (3.5–5.2%) after only 20 days of a 5-wk training period in young adults. This finding not only represents the earliest onset of muscle hypertrophy so far documented but also shows a striking rate of increase in muscle size of ∼0.2% per day over the first 20 days of training…the present study shows for the first time that changes in muscle size can be observed at a macroscopic level after only 3 wk of resistance training, providing that the training stimulus is sufficient.” ((http://www.physiology.org/doi/10.1152/japplphysiol.00789.2006))

Increased strength is phenomenal, but let’s be honest. We all want to have visibly larger, leaner muscles as well.


Burn Fat Long After Your Workout

Conventional knowledge has always suggested that you should perform weight and cardio workouts separately.

High intensity strength training is far superior to traditional weight training – it allows you to perform strength training and cardio workouts simultaneously.

This is because the slower muscle action and longer time under load without resting will elevate your heart rate to a much higher and sustained level.

One study comparing traditional weight training and high intensity strength training shows that shorter, more effective HIST workouts could be more beneficial.

“Our data suggest that shorter HIRT sessions may increase REE after exercise to a greater extent than TT and may reduce RR hence improving fat oxidation. The shorter exercise time commitment may help to reduce one major barrier to exercise.” 8)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3551736/

[Editor’s Note: Don’t panic about the abbreviations in the citation above. You simply need to know that HIRT = High Intensity Resistance Training (a different name for HIST), REE = Resting Energy Expenditure, TT = Traditional Training, and RR = respiratory ratio.]

Like high intensity interval training, HIST can increase your resting energy expenditure.

This means that after HIST your body will continue to burn fat long after your workout is complete.

As a comparison, your body typically stops burning energy when you finish a normal workout.

The same study shows that the subjects who engaged in high intensity strength training continued burning fat for at least 22 hours after completing their workout!

“HIRT showed a greater significant increase (p < 0.001) in REE at 22 hours compared to TT (HIRT22 2362 ± 118 Kcal/d vs TT22 1999 ± 88 Kcal/d). RR at HIRT22 was significantly lower (0.798 ± 0.010) compared to both HIRT0 (0.827 ± 0.006) and TT22 (0.822 ± 0.008).” 9)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3551736/

There are a lot of numbers in this one, but the takeaway is that after engaging in HIST your body continues burning stored energy for at least 22 hours after you stop working out.



If you’re unhappy with your current weight training results, high intensity interval training could invigorate your progress.

You can clearly see that high intensity strength training:

  1. Can increase your muscle strength.
  2. Can rapidly increase the visual size of your muscle.
  3. Can shorten the length of your training time.
  4. Can decrease or replace your cardio workouts.

HIST also shows some serious potential for weight loss and lowering your body fat by stimulating fat burning long after your workout ends.

But, again, keep in mind that a strong, scientific strength training strategy is only a small piece of the puzzle.

Your overall strength, physique, and high energy levels are largely governed by your eating habits.

Diet, physical training, lifestyle, and supplementation are all key factors to reach the strength and visual goals you’re striving for.

Thoughts? Introduce yourself and send me an email at matt@covertbody.com.

Meeting new people is my favorite part about this website. 

Chat soon.



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