When we think “workout” and we think “intensity,” we always think go as hard as humanly possible. If you don’t puke or pass out, you could have pushed harder, right!? :-P
But INTENSITY isn't always about going harder. And not only should you potentially vary and cycle your intensity over your workouts throughout the week and throughout your progression, but you may even vary your intensity DURING a single workout.
It is first key to remember...
Going HARDER isn’t always BETTER.
So what is intensity?
Intensity is how hard we are pushing ourselves. How hard are you working out?
However, it can be hard to measure intensity.
There are different tests from the talk test (are you out of breath so that you can't talk?) to measuring heart rate to a perceived exertion test.
The problem is...part of how hard we can push ourselves is also experience and how comfortable we are being uncomfortable.
Some of us are mentally able to push ourselves closer to a true 100% than others of us.
(Especially if you are a trainer working with a client that may not be a "fan of working out," working at a higher intensity to get the result they want can be a challenge!)
So learning technique to increase your intensity and challenge your body even if you aren't yet able to mentally push as hard as you'd like is key!
Because we need to work at a sufficient intensity for the reps and sets or work and rest intervals we set to force our body to adapt and grow stronger WITHOUT becoming overtrained.
This is why considering the intensity not only DURING a single workout, but across our entire program is key.
Consider intensity throughout your workout schedule.
I often have people say..."I hate taking a day off." Maybe it isn't so much a "day off" as a day we LOWER our intensity for recovery.
Sometimes those less intense workouts are the ones we so often skip, but so desperately need.
When we consider INTENSITY, we need to think not only about each individual workout, but even the schedule of our workouts, or our client’s workouts for the week.
This is how we can not only prevent overtraining BUT also make sure we create workouts that will force adaptations.
Over the week our intensity should vary and how we create that intensity.
From super taxing workouts with no rest, to recovery sessions that leave us feeling restored so we can go hard during the next session.
The important thing to remember with intensity is that if we don’t challenge our bodies, we won’t change our bodies.
But just to repeat...all too often we take that this mean, no rest and brutal workouts.
Just like our bodies need high intensity sessions to create change, they need lower intensity sessions to recover.
Plus the appropriate intensity does relate back to our current fitness level and goals, which means our intensity needs to match the other training variables we've adjusted.
The key thing to remember is our intensity needs to match our goals and manipulating intensity means changing up tempos, rest, work intervals, weights and even exercise variations.
It is affected by how we manipulate all of those other variables and even how many moves we include for different body parts.
And intensity can be used to work different energy systems even.
A workout done at a lower intensity but for longer intervals of work may help us build aerobic endurance. While shorter intervals of work with longer rest may help us go at a max intensity to build power and improve our anaerobic conditioning!
Remember those intensity ranges I mentioned with each rep and set range?
You'll see from those that generally as you add more reps or a longer work interval, your intensity will go down.
Think about an all out sprint.
How long can you really go at 100% sprint effort? Only a short time, right? (Yes we can extend how long through training, but the point is that, over time, our intensity will go down).
Our sprint then starts to turn into a jog, which means we start to work at a different intensity and even start to utilize a different energy system.
That is something we need to consider when we create our workouts.
We don’t need to go at 100% every single minute of every single workout.
And even trying to do so may prevent us from working different energy systems, creating a well-rounded training program, building a strong foundation and even preventing overtraining.
Next let's chat about one of the most important variables to be aware of to prevent overtraining while creating dramatic results - VOLUME!