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Intensity vs. Insanity in the Weight Room

Learning how to walk the line between hardcore training and overboard tactics is the key to long-term progress in the gym.


[Q] Hey Mark, I’ve heard that a lot of guys go balls to the wall with the weights when they’re my age (26) but then slow down as they get older, opting for lighter weights and more “feel.” Shouldn’t I always be training as hard as I can?

[A] Using lighter weights doesn’t always mean not training hard. Whoever said that cared more about his ego than his hypertrophy. The point is to exhaust, shock and force your muscles to adapt so that they grow, and training hard is the necessary stimulus, not just the amount of weight lifted. You can go balls to the wall using a variety of training methods. Wait until you’re in your mid-30s and your body will tell you heavy weights 100% of the time ain’t happenin’!

[Q] Recently my training partner, uhh, “broke up” with me, saying I push him too hard in the gym. I like to ask for another rep at the end of a set because I don’t think he’s giving it his all! Is that a crime? Am I being overbearing, or is he being a wimp?

[A] Frankly I think you’re both acting a bit immature. I don’t have much respect for people who can’t hit the intensity button without a training partner cheerleading. When I do a set I prefer my training partner to keep quiet so that I can focus. If I’d wanted a cheerleader I’d have stayed with football, not bodybuilding. Still, a good training partner knows when to ask for that extra rep and when enough is enough. Doing too much of one or the other is counterproductive.

[Q] Do I get any energy benefits from yesterday’s cheat day? Does all that pizza I ate give me a strength advantage in a gym? Is there a certain bodypart that’s better to train after a cheat day?

[A] There’s nothing better than a pizza pump – yeah, right! Unless you’re eating a somewhat restrictive diet, a big cheat day won’t benefit you much. However, while dieting for the 202 Olympia I went on a very low-carb diet (maybe 30 grams a day) and once a week I’d carb up. That made a big difference the next day in the gym when I chose to train a bodypart I wanted to improve. Cheating should be the exception, not the rule. Most of the time you should get your muscle fuel from quality lean meats and complex carbohydrates.

[Q] I know you’re a fan of HIT (high-intensity training) but everyone seems to have a different view of what that really means. What, in your opinion, is HIT all about and how does it help?

[A] In a nutshell HIT involves getting in a few warm-up sets before hitting a bodypart with one heavy, all-out set, usually including a few forced reps for good measure. I actually don’t train in the traditional HIT fashion any more. That doesn’t mean my workouts aren’t intense, just that I use volume, tempo and other training variables to stimulate growth. HIT is all about heavy weights, low volume, and a workout performed in the shortest time possible. I still don’t believe in marathon workout sessions. I strive to keep mine under 60 minutes, but often increase the tempo of the workout so I end up doing more volume in the same amount of time.


Mark’s previous experiences with HIT laid a strong foundation for his balance and aesthetics. Try this now-retired leg blast from his HIT routine – if you dare.

^After six reps at 585 Mark would drop to 225 pounds and do six more reps.
# Leg extension weight stack varies per gym, usually 250-300 pounds.
+After failure with the full stack he’d reduce the weight by about 30% and rep to failure again.