Ok, maybe not actually an ode since I’m not a poet, but let’s discuss the importance of intensity in training. First, a couple of disclaimers: 1. Safety first. Don’t push harder than you should according to your body, your fitness level, your coach or your medical professional; 2. Follow your training program. You’ll have programmed rest days and lighter days. Going all out every day is a recipe for injury. But there are times, lots of them, where pushing ourselves is not only welcome, it’s necessary if we want to reach our goals.
Intensity is officially defined as “the quality or state of being intense; especially: extreme degree of strength, force, energy or feeling.” For our purposes however, let’s go back to an older quote from one of the OG Savage Masters, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Intensity means working as hard as you possibly can. It is giving your best effort so that you walk out of the gym feeling completely satisfied because you know that you didn’t leave 1 or 2 or 10 reps in the tank. When you finally finish, it will hurt…but you also know that the discomfort and pain means one thing: growth.
– Arnold Schwarzenegger
To grow and improve, we need to ensure that we are not only training, but that we are training intensely. Intensity has been determined to be the most important variable in maximizing the health benefits of training. To be clear, NOT duration, NOT training 3 times per day 7 days per week, but intensity. This is something I need to remind myself of each day. My background is softball – not particularly intense. Then I ran marathons. I ran miles and miles at paces ranging from 8 – 10 minutes/mile. I didn’t do any speedwork, I just ran and chatted with my friends. I had a blast, and was happy with my results but I didn’t really improve at all. Then I moved onto more bodybuilding type workouts, where I hung out in the gym, did my prescribed plan for the day, never really pushed myself and had a grand old time relaxing between sets. Even now, I catch myself chatting during what should be a really tough workout and then kicking myself later when I realize I could’ve gone harder. So I’m challenging myself and all of you to take it up a notch. Be aware of how hard you’re working and leave it all out there.
How? There are a number of very scientific ways to measure and track intensity of any given workout but for our purposes, let’s keep it simple. Some ideas:
- If you’re doing accessory strength work and it’s appropriate given your training plan for the day, lift to failure!
- If you’re doing a max effort lifting day, again, truly lift to failure!
- If you’re doing cardio intervals, leave it all out there. Push harder. You’ll know when to back off. Just start by going a little quicker than you may have initially gone.
- Jumping rope? Challenge yourself – switch up the footwork, go faster, go longer.
- On a treadmill? Increase the speed a bit, inch up the incline.
- Training for distance? Add in some short sprints along the way. Works for running, cycling, rowing…
- Kettlebells? Try a few swings with a slightly heavier one.
- Finished your workout and feel like you’ve got something left in the tank? If it won’t mess with your training plan get in some extra work! Work on something that you find difficult. Knock out some pull ups. Run a quick mile. Do a few rope climbs.
Bottom line is, we do get lots of credit for just getting off the couch and moving. But if we really want to reach our training goals, we need to constantly challenge and push ourselves to grow.