During the past several years we have learned a lot about the effects
of strength training and body composition. For example, a carefully controlled
study at Tufts University showed significant changes in body composition
from a basic program of strength exercise (Campbell et al. 1994).

The subjects added three pounds of lean weight, lost four pounds
of fat weight, increased their resting metabolic rate by seven percent and
increased their daily energy requirements by 15 percent after 12 weeks of
strength training.

Research with over 1100 previously sedentary adults revealed similar
body composition improvements from eight weeks of standard strength training
(Westcott and Guy 1996). The program participants increased their lean weight
by 2.4 pounds and decreased their fat weight by 4.6 pounds.

Of course, unfit individuals tend to improve their body composition
at faster rates than people who are presently doing strength exercise. Many
people want to know if strength training can further enhance body composition
in well-conditioned exercisers.

Previous studies have demonstrated that various high-intensity training
techniques are more effective than standard training protocols for increasing
muscle strength in both beginning and advanced participants (Westcott 1996,
1997a, 1997b; Westcott and La Rosa Loud 1997). As shown in Figures 1 and
2, slow training produced greater strength gains than standard training for
both beginning and advanced trainees. As illustrated in Figures 3 and 4,
breakdown training resulted in greater strength gains than standard training
for both beginning and advanced exercisers. Likewise, assisted training generated
greater strength gains than standard training for both beginning and advanced
subjects (see Figures 5 and 6).

We have recently examined the effects of combined high-intensity
training techniques on body composition changes in well-conditioned participants.
The six-week advanced exercise program included slow training, breakdown
training, assisted training, and pre-exhaustion training. The 48 subjects
added 2.5 pounds of lean weight and lost 3.3 pounds of fat weight as a result
of their training efforts, which represented more improvement than we expected
from regular strength exercisers.

We have been pleased with our participants’ positive response to
the combined approach of high-intensity strength training techniques. Our
standard exercise protocol is outlined in Table I.

We observed that many program participants selected the pre-exhaustion
technique for their sixth week of high intensity training. Although we do
not have data that show this training method to be better than the others,
there may be some benefit in performing more pre-exhaustion sessions.
Psychologically, changing exercises at the point of muscle fatigue may be
more appealing than performing more repetitions of the same movement pattern
with less weight or with manual resistance. Physiologically, performing two
different exercises for the target muscle group recruits more muscle fibers
which may enhance the training stimulus. In addition to more exercises,
pre-exhaustion programs require more training time and may therefore be the
best high-intensity technique for burning calories.

Table I: Standard Exercise Protocol

Week Days

Training Technique

Total Exercises

Total Time

1. M & F Breakdown
(10 reps to fatigue
plus 3 reps with
10-20% less weight)


20 Minutes

2. M & F Assisted
(10 reps to fatigue
plus 3 reps with
manual assistance)


20 Minutes

3. M & F Slow Positive
(5 reps to fatigue
with 10 seconds lifting
and 4 seconds lowering)


20 Minutes

4. M & F Slow Negative
(5 reps to fatigue
with 4 seconds lifting
and 10 seconds lowering)


20 Minutes

5. M & F Pre-Exhaustion
(10 reps to fatigue with
first exercise plus 5 reps
with second exercise)


25 Minutes

6. M & F Personal Preference
(Trainee chooses the
technique that seemed
most productive)


20-25 Minutes

As many of our intermediate level strength trainees want to improve
their body composition, we presently provide high-intensity training programs
with more emphasis on pre-exhaustion techniques (Table II). The results are
encouraging, but we try to be cautious about overtraining. Our members seem
to respond well to six weeks of high-intensity training followed by six weeks
of standard training to maintain their new level of strength and

Although we have not previously provided nutritional counseling to
our high-intensity training participants, this would undoubtedly be beneficial
for clients who want to lose fat as well as build muscle. A combination of
individualized high-intensity strength exercise and sound dietary guidelines
should produce significant improvements in body composition.

Table II: High Intensity Training Techniques






Breakdown Training Perform about 10 reps
to fatigue with standard
weightload. Immediately
reduce resistance 10-20%
and perform about 3
more reps to second
level of fatigue.
Complete 10 leg
extensions with 150
lbs., then 3 more reps
with 120 lbs.
Change resistance
as quickly as possible
to maximize the
training effect.
Assisted Training Perform about 10 reps
to fatigue with standard
weightload. Trainer
assists with 3 post
fatigue reps on lifting
phase only.
Complete 10 leg
extensions with 150
lbs., then 3 more reps
– with manual assistance
from trainer.
Assistance is given
only on the positive
muscle action where
it is necessary, but not
on the stronger nega-
tive muscle action
when it’s unnecessary.
Slow Positive Training Perform about 5 reps
to fatigue with 10% less
than standard weight-load,
taking 10 seconds for each
positive muscle action and
4 seconds for each negative
muscle action.
Complete 5 leg
extensions with
135 lbs., counting
10 secs up and 4 secs
down for each rep.
Be sure to breathe
every repetition.
Slow Negative Training Perform about 5 reps
to fatigue with 5% less
than standard weightload,
taking 4 seconds for each
positive muscle action
10 seconds for each
negative muscle action.
Complete 5 leg
extensions with
142.5 lbs., counting
4 secs up and 10 secs
and down for each rep.
Use smooth and
continuous move-
ments, rather than
choppy stop and
go movements.
Pre-Exhaustion Training Perform two successive
exercises for target muscle
groups, typically a rotary
exercise followed immed-
iately by a linear exercise.
Use 10 reps to fatigue in
the first exercise and 5 reps
to fatigue in the second.
Complete 10 leg
extensions with
150 lbs., then 5 leg
presses with 300 lbs.
Take as little time
as possible between
the two successive
exercises to maximize

Table III: Examples of Pre-Exhaustion Exercise Combinations

1. Leg extension followed by leg press.
2. Leg curl followed by leg press.
3. Dumbbell lunge followed by barbell squat.
4. Dumbbell fly followed by barbell bench press.
5. Dumbbell pullover followed by lat pulldown.
6. Dumbbell lateral raise followed by dumbbell press.
7. Dumbbell curl followed by chin up.
8. Dumbbell overhead extension followed by bar dip.

Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South
Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. Dr. Westcott has written the Muscular Strength
And Endurance chapter for the ACE Personal Trainer Manual and has authored
several textbooks on strength training.


Campbell, W., M. Crim, V. Young & W. Evans. (1994). Increased
energy requirements and changes in body composition with resistance training
in older adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 60:

Westcott, W. (1996). Strength training for life: Make your method
count. Nautilus Magazine, Spring 5: 2, 3-5.

Westcott, W. and Guy, J. (1996) A physical evolution: Sedentary adults
see marked improvements in as little as two days a week. IDEA Today 14:
9, 58-65.

Westcott, W. (1997a). Research: Research on advanced strength training.
American Fitness Quarterly, 15: 4, 15-18.

Westcott, W. (1997b). Strength training 201. Fitness Management,
13:7, 33-35.

Westcott, W. and La Rosa Loud, R. (1997). A better way to beef up
strength workouts. Perspective, 23: 5, 32-34.

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