Training With Intensity

Let’s begin by defining training volume and training intensity. These are the standard, universally accepted, definitions:

 

Training Volume: The total amount of work performed during a workout, a training week or a training program

 

Training Intensity: How heavy the weight is

 

There are a few problems with training intensity and training volume interplay.

 

First—lifters mistakenly de-prioritize intensity in place of training volume. Don’t take that the wrong way, training volume is important—in fact, volume and intensity are equals. They combine into the magic stuff that builds muscle, changes bodies and morphs men into beasts.

 

But, problem is, lifters often select extraneous training volume rather than volume with appropriate training intensity. What the hell does that mean?

 

We’re talking about the excess sets, reps and exercises tacked on to a program simply because they seem like a good idea, or because we believe they’re necessary to grow. Reality is these exercises are often devoid intensity or require little intensity for performance. But, since volume is the priority, these bad boys stay in the program, sabotaging intensity.

 

Second—trainees have a unilateral view of training intensity. Most see training intensity only through the simplified lens provided by the standard definition. Intensity, in reality, is much more than that.

 

It’s the amount of total effort expended to complete a training task.

 

Let’s examine the components that comprise total intensity:

  • Mental focus
  • Intentional tension creation
  • Energy expended into the implement lifted

 

Mental focus requires energy. Greater focus requires more energy, but it also increases energy expenditure. Think of the times you’ve haphazardly lifted a weight and compare them to the times that you’ve dialed in and attacked. You indubitably directed more force into the bar during your focused efforts than during your half-hearted ones.

 

Think also about tension created during your lift set-up. “Getting tight” to set up for a barbell lift is important—but how tight are you getting? This contribution to training intensity enhances lifting success but also takes energy. If your focus is on, you’ve gotten and you’ve created intentional tension, you’re going to lift with more intensity and expend more energy into the barbell, kettlebell, etc.

 

Third—folks aren’t matching intensity with the volume and tempo of the lift. This is where the magic—or lack-there-of—occurs. We have to choose the right load (weight) that corresponds with the amount of volume we’re completing that day and the tempo we’re being asked to move at.

 

Select too light of a weight and you’ve short-changed intensity. This will likely lead you to believe you need to add more volume to your training. You’re right—to make a bodily change you will need more volume. Unfortunately, this is inefficient and likely limits strength building. If, however, you chose a weight that fit tempo and volume you’d change your body aesthetically while gaining strength.

 

Choose a weight beyond tempo and volume’s confines, and you’ll have a hard time adhering to each. You’ll likely get stronger, but you’ll also likely have shitty form while missing out on the glorious bodily improvements that come from appropriate training tempo and volume.

 

Here’s the takeaway from the last two paragraphs:

use the loading guide to choose your weights.

 

Once you’ve chosen a weight that fits the criteria based on the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), it’s time to focus on intensity’s other factors:

  • Mental focus
  • Intentional tension creation
  • Energy expended into the implement lifted

 

Focus intently on each rep. Intentionally create as much tension as possible while setting up for the lift and maintain that tension during your reps. Expend as much energy as you can into the bar—whether you’re moving it explosively or following a slower tempo.

 

To be sure you’ve made the best use of intensity, ask yourself this question at the end of each set:

 

Did I get the absolute most you could out of that weight?

 

In other words—were you focused enough, tight enough and expending all the energy you could into the bar?

 

If you answered no to any component, stick with that weight.

 

If you answered yes to all three, and felt like you could increase weight while staying in the appropriate RPE, then increase the weight.

 

Keep these factors in mind as you train and you’ll find that you’ll get the most out of the planned volume and you’ll let go of the need to add extraneous volume. You’ll finish each session feeling that you did the appropriate amount of work, not feeling crushed and completely depleted. Which brings us to our closing statement.

 

You don’t need to feel crushed after each session to grow, to get stronger, to improve your body.