DTS Basic Principle 3

The Dynamorphic Training System (DTS):  A return for first principles

dts Sword Caduceus Logo 2-2Basic Principle 3: Intensity and Meal Frequency

     The 3rd training principle is exercise intensity.  In classic strength and conditioning training, the intensity of a resistance training exercise set is described as the % of a 1 rep max.  Thus, if I Bench Press 300 pounds and I do a bench press for max reps at 150 pounds, then I am working at an intensity of 50% – despite going to failure.  Their is something wrong with this definition.

     A strong argument is being made in the literature that the truest definition of ‘intensity’ for resistance exercise sets relates to the level of effort applied, irrespective of the weight lifted (1). Therefore, an individual lifting a load to failure will have worked at maximal intensity (for that particular set at least), whe- there the load is equally 30%1RM or 80%1RM.Furthermore, the intensity of resistance training is strongly related to the repetition velocity, as well as the duration of inter-set recovery periods (2).

I’ve always thought that the “perfect” stimulus for muscle growth is found only in one repetition of a hypothetical 10 rep set to complete muscular failure.  That one all important rep is not the first, the second, or the third, but the very last rep in the set.  All the others are just a prelude to that one rep.  To reach it requires an extreme intensity of focus and desire, as well as a commitment to ignoring pain.  When you are a beginner, or if you are overtrained, you can actually get very good muscle growth from a one set chest workout…if you take that set to the point that you absolutely cannot do another.  But you would be surprised as to how much intensity must be used to get that rep.

There are times when you do not have to put forth that much intensity and that is when your gains are still coming at a steady pace.  Remember that each principle is built upon the other before it.  You must use good form in your exercises or you will not get the proper stimulus you need and you are likely to get injured; and thus will not be able to train at all.  Next is progressive resistance.  If you are still making 5 pound jumps per week then there is no need to make a 20 pound jump by really cranking up the intensity one week.  You are currently building momentum in your strength gains and you don’t want to upset the rate of strength gains; you may not be able to recapture it. Patience, young Paduwan.  Another point is to enjoy the progression, the fact that you are making steady progress.  This is very motivating – to be smashing your strength records week after week.  Enjoy the ride.

dts camp bagram workout 2

There are many ways to increase exercise intensity. As an introduction to some techniques you will use in the intermediate and advanced sections of this site:  you can have your partner help you with another rep (a Forced Rep).   You can slowly lower the weight (you are always stronger in the lowering, eccentric phase secondary to the contractile mechanism’s structure) and have our partner lift it up: the so called “Negative.”  You can also do “Descending Sets”  where you progressively pump out reps back to back with ever decreasing poundages.  There are several other named techniques to learn about: Pre-exhaustion, super sets, partials, etc.  Again, I’ll cover these and their proper use in the intermediate and advanced sections.  I just want you to realize that training has a lot of different aspects…and that’s what makes it so fun.


The 3rd Nutrition principle here is meal frequency.  It is important both to supply continuous nutrients to recovering muscles, and in keeping body fat levels lower for any given caloric intake.  The ideal meal frequency and number – proven by over 25 years of real world experimenting with my own diet and metabolism – is 5-6 meals a day, eaten every 3 hrs.  For a beginner this should be divided  equally so that each meal contains the same number of calories.  Eating 3 times a day simply will not cut it.  Eating 4 times a day will get you mediocre results.  5 times a day works well.  But 6 times a day (once every 3 hrs.) is so powerful on your metabolism you will never want to go back to three.  And you’ll get really pissed off if for some reason you can’t get all your meals in.

This is what a 2400 kcal/d meal schedule would look like:

2400/6=400 kcal per meal; one meal eaten every 3 hours (6 AM, 9 AM, Noon, etc.)

160 g protein needed per day/6= 27 grams of protein per meal. The remaining calories come from carbohydrate and fat – information that is covered in the very next principle.

The main reason 6 meals is important:

     Insulin is the most anabolic hormone in the body.  It is more powerful from an anabolic (tissue growth) standpoint than testosterone or growth hormone.  In fact the GH receptor and the insulin receptor are very similar when studied at the molecular level.

Unfortunately insulin is particularly anabolic towards adipose tissue (body fat), serving to store unneeded calories as energy in the form of triglycerides (fat).  This is not a property of testosterone at all and a minimal property of GH, making them good anabolic agents for abuse by bodybuilders seeking to gain muscle and lose fat.  The action of insulin on fat cells is proposed to be modulated by a beta-3 receptor, something that was not well-known when I studied physiology in med school.  And this action is concentration dependent.  It takes a certain amount of insulin to be present for the beta-3 receptor to be turned on and facilitate the storage of fat.  At high levels of insulin secretion this occurs.  Concrete examples of this are the fact that Type II diabetics (insulin resistant diabetics with high levels of secreted insulin) are invariably fat and Type I diabetics (those with depleted islet cells and thus no insulin, or very little) are invariably skinny.  So if we can keep our insulin levels low we can retard the storage of calories as body fat.  This is what small frequent meals accomplish.

Insulin secretion is tied predominantly to carbohydrate load and the simpler the carbohydrate (like sugar, juice, candy, etc.) the greater the insulin response, and thus the greater the propensity for fat storage.  By keeping carbohydrates moderate in intake, and complex in nature (oatmeal, yams, rice, grains), you can slow the rate of insulin secretion.  By keeping our meals small we decrease the amount of insulin secreted.  This keeps the levels low enough to prevent any significant stimulus to the beta-3 receptor from occurring.  You can’t do this if you eat 3 times a day.

The other big advantage to eating frequently is that you will always keep a supply of amino acids circulating in the blood.  Your muscles will constantly be repairing themselves and will need these key building blocks.  Not providing these will lead to quick stagnation, overtraining, and possible injury.  Other advantages are a steady supply of energy throughout the day and an actual increase in metabolism for any given caloric intake.

I know this is a lot of info but it is important to understand that there are reasons why smaller more frequent meals are better.  7 appears to be too frequent (although I’ve trained some hard gainers who got up in the middle of the night to eat #7).  It is obviously more inconvenient than 6 and there is not enough delay between meals for proper digestion.


  1. Fisher J, Steele J, Smith D. Evidence-based resistance training recommendations for muscular hypertrophy. Med Sport.2013;17(4):217–35.
  2. Bird SP, Tarpenning KM, Marino FE. Designing resistance training programmes to enhance muscular fitness: a review of the acute programme variables. Sports Med. 2005;35(10):841–51.

-Lanny Littlejohn, MD

DTS: Return to first principles Exercise Form and Energy Equilibrium Progressive Resistance and Protein Requirements Intensity and Meal Frequency Training Frequency and Macronutrient Ratio
DTS: A return to first principles
1 Exercise Form and Energy Equilibrium
2 Progressive Resistance and Protein Requirements
3 Intensity and Meal Frequency
4 Training Frequency and Macronutrient Ratio

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