5 Interesting Differences between Overload via Intensity and Overload via Effort (Intensity of Effort – AKA HIT)

There are numerous ways to achieve progressive muscle overload, but one of which (which is my favorite) is via implementing intensity of effort or what we all know as using HIT techniques.

Now while I already discussed that “Intensity Overload” emphasis is different from overload via emphasis to Intensity of Effort this issue is worth repeating as many lifters refer to one as the other.

Intensity refers to how much weight you can lift while Effort or intensity of effort refers to introducing HIT techniques in order to introduce more and more muscle microtears and make muscles grow.

While it’s true that introducing HIT techniques such as rest pause, drop sets, inflitonics, pre exhaust, supersets, omni contractions, negatives etc will make your training sessions feel more “intense” and productive; technically when it comes to resistance training the word INTENSITY and emphasis on intensity refers to how besting any given percentage of your 1RM (1 rep max) on any given lift and the goal of gradual increments of “intensity” is to train you to be able to lift more poundage after a given period of time.

Here are some critical differences between the two:


Intensity of Effort is dependent upon the potential to induce “Damage” to the muscle cells (micro tears)

Intensity of effort on the other hand is progressing by means of gradually adding a variety of HIT moves to induce more Time under Tension and fight through muscle failure with the goal of inducing more muscle micro tears. Micro tears are the microscopic damage that you do to your small muscle fibres on a cellular level – which the body would repair and once the body is able to fully compensate and “repair” these damages hypertrophy results.

Metaphorically speaking inducing micro tears is like digging a hole in the ground so that the body can fill it up and put more soil atop.

This is how aesthetic lifters are able to grow bigger and bigger muscles after a period of training intelligently and living a lifestyle that allows their body to recover adequately.

On the other hand training with high intensity may not do much damage to each and every muscle fibres or induce micro tears but it certainly will challenge your CNS. Intensity or power training causes CNS overload which is also the same thing that makes you stronger – your CNS will get used to lifting and controlling that much weight therefore will increase your poundage and will increase the weight that represents any give percentage of your 1 RM.


The weight you use when you lift is always a percentage of your 1 rep max for that lift (%1RM – Get it?). For example, if 300 lbs. is your 1 RM for Flat Bench press, therefore 150 pounds is your 50%1RM for that lift.

Make 1000 pounds your 1RM:

thousand pound squat


Since Bodybuilders and aesthetically driven lifters would (and SHOULD) prioritize Time under Tension and control over the bar by means of executing each and every rep as excruciatingly controlled (and HARD) as possible to really “feel” each rep (for example doing Negatives wherein one lowers the weight very slowly to increase the rate of micro tearing), he would therefore be wise to only utilize around 50-70% of that 1 RM.

There even exists a code among body builders to forget his “pride” while lifting which means that he must not look to just utilize a heavy set only to impress or feel proud of himself but to use the weight he needed no matter how light it needs to be so that it can more optimally stimulate a controlled mind-muscle connection and be able to execute a rep as meticulously as possible but at the same time challenging the muscle which he is training.

Intensity overload on the other hand would prefer training with as much as >90% of their 1RM in order to progressively best their record weight. Although this may vary in accordance to the system that the lifter follows, in general powerlifters would be playing around the high end of the %1RM for any given lift they are training for. In short:

-Effort training would not even care about %1RM nor even have much of a reason to know what it is but it can be observed that this doesn’t require more than 80% of %1RM in general for most lifts

-Intensity overload lifters would generally strive to train using around 81-95% of their 1RM to be able to train themselves to best their own records and the idea is to progressively increase their 1RM (check this article out to learn more from CSSloan, one of the best writers when it comes to strength training – Russian strength method by Sloan)


From the reasons stated above we can therefore see that Intensity of Effort emphasis is used mainly for aesthetic development (muscle growth)

While Intensity emphasis on training is mainly used for developing raw strength and/or explosiveness


Effort Training or HIT always reaches for and beyond failure

Intensity on the other hand may or may not reach for failure as long as they progressively are able to lift heavier and heavier weights. This is where “grease the grove” would come into play where it would not for HIT since Effort Training literally and deliberately requires damaging your muscle fibres which would prioritize recovery (and conditioning) over greasing the grove over a certain skill.


Emphasis on Effort should take 1 hour at most each session – why? Because you would be taking lesser sets since you cannot do so many sets to and beyond failure. At most you would do like 4 sets and apply your HIT technique on the last set and after that you cannot do anymore sets applying an effort technique for the same muscle group since it would be too much and you might not be able to recover properly from that.

Meanwhile Intensity oriented sessions tend to last much LONGER – since you will be training heavier weights you will need to repeat the moves for more sets. For example if you normally do 3 sets of 12 reps for a bodybuilding program; for this one you will be doing 12 sets of 3 reps!

And those statements above would hold true UNLESS for some reason the Sun happens to revolve around the Earth.

These are not 100% EXCLUSIVE and there are EXCEMPTIONS and CAVEATS

Keep in mind that although the best general way to train for aesthetic growth is to use a program that focusses mostly on Effort and for ones who train for power to use mostly Intensity overload progression – advanced lifters of each category would still be required to incorporate the other overload type progression into their regimen at one point or another.

Consider that the best power lifters dedicate a few months training like a bodybuilder to increase their mass therefore increase the surface area of their body in order to help them progress in eventually hoisting heavier poundage and that bodybuilders should also spend a few months in a year to train for power so that they can generally increase their poundage after that therefore they can utilize heavier sets to stimulate hypertrophy so to offer better stimulus for growth. For example it wouldn’t be bad to be able to hoist 300 pounds for good ten reps from 200 pounds previously – so as you can see it is indeed an effective strategy to utilize a wide variety of overload strategies no matter what your goal is so that your progress would not stagnate – Which is the reason why we are recently focusing on several methods to achieve gradual overload and first of which we discussed was density overload involving the factor, time and time in between sets (the less rest you take in between sets, the more density which has been found to elicit an adaptive response or muscle growth).

With all of that being said we will still stay by the way we refer to techniques that induce Intensity of Effort which is HIT for the lack of better and more familiar option. Just don’t be confused about the real concept of intensity lest you confuse a powerlifter for a HIT practitioner, with which the latter is surely working through a bodybuilder type training while the former is working on a 5X5 just because Mr.Power said that he is working on increasing his INTENSITY.

Next article we will be discussing different ways on how to progressively increase intensity of effort so watch out. Eat your eggs, A-Lifters!

A-Lifter- Don't forget to leave your comment/feedback below.  If this article was helpful, I am sure our book Real Talk Muscle will help you even more in your quest for muscle gain. Check it out you can read the first few chapters as well.
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