All About Intensity

I have to admit something difficult to you: I’ve been slacking in my training.  Neglecting overall strength exercises, a decrease in volume, slacking on my conditioning; The things that everyone struggles with on occasion.  Fortunately, I’ve realized this, and am making some changes to get my ass back in gear.

These changes are pretty simple, and include more squats, faster deadlifts, more chin-ups, rows, and push-ups.  In terms of conditioning, I’m pushing the Prowler, running more sprints, and swinging my kettlebell.  I know what you’re thinking; damn, that is some cutting edge training right there.  Super-duper cutting edge.

In reality, there isn’t anything ‘cutting edge’ about moving yourself, or moving heavy objects.    To me, and loads of other trainers, strength coaches, and ‘functional training’ enthusiasts, it’s the training that offers the greatest results for each rep and set.  This morning, a young man at my gym had a light bulb moment, and was excited to say,“Dude! I figured it out.  You’re all about intensity!”

I’d like to believe that he’s starting to understand the difference between training and working out, and I chuckled and replied, “It’s something like that.  I’m a fan of getting strong with good exercises.”

In hindsight, that’s pretty vague, isn’t it?  In the situation, I think it made sense; I was proud of one of our 50- year old trainers because she was pairing trap bar deadlifts and band-assisted chin-ups.  I was preparing to do some reverse band benching and trap bar power shrugs, and was beginning to enter the Zone.  Unfortunately, most people don’t really know what the Zone is.

We’ve become so proud of ourselves just for rolling out of bed and going to the gym that we don’t think about what we’re doing while we’re there.  We’re so exhausted at our stress-inducing jobs that we spend 30 minutes at the gym before going home to a microwaved dinner and reruns of Friends.  I think it’s safe to say that intensity isn’t a frequently used adjective to describe most training.  Rather than provide a complex definition of what intensity is, I’ll let Arnold do the talking for me:

That face.  I’m not sure what exercise Arnold is doing, but I think it’s safe to say that based on that face he’s training pretty damn hard.  If that’s the face of intensity, when was the last time that you were training that hard?  With all due respect, you’re probably not training that hard, and I’m in that boat as well.  We need to step it up.

There is always a need for low-intensity training, and I highly suggest setting time aside several times a day to move around, be it a lap around your office and a quick stretch, or walking to lunch, or exercising during a break.  However, we need to be wary of the self-gratification we get the instant we break a sweat.

Almost everyone has a performance or aesthetic goal, and they have twice as many stories about not reaching their goals.  Frequently, they’re working, perhaps hard, but often on the wrong things.  If I could put a pound on my deadlift for every time someone asked me about doing more cardio or higher reps to ‘tone’ something, I’d probably set a world record.

We’re focusing on the wrong things.  Instead of running longer or further, think about sprinting as fast as you can.  Instead of turning 5 reps into 15 reps, focus on making those 5 reps progressively heavier.  Swap your downward dog for deadlifts, cutting calories for more chin-ups, and have some steak instead of that soy milk.  You’ll feel better, look better, and you’ll realize that training intensity may be something that you were slacking on as well.

I’m off to push the Prowler.  Who wants to join me?

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2 thoughts on “All About Intensity

  1. Ugh, rewriting this so It’s not gonna be as long as it was before.

    As much as I agree with your whole spiel about intensity, I don’t like one part you said at the very end.

    You say to skip the long runs and do faster sprints instead. What about marathoners and triathaloners? Aren’t those some faces of intensity? They’re breaking bodily limits every mile they go. I can’t get my body to do either of those things yet, but hope to be able to at least once in my life…

    1. Jon, that’s a great point, and one I’ll expand on in an upcoming post. You’re right, and marathoners and triathletes need to train specifically for their sports, and should include longer duration work that’s more representative of the demands of the activity. The competitive athletes include over-speed work much more frequently than weekend warriors do. They’re certainly intense activities, and I don’t question that those athletes are working as hard as they can. When it comes to conditioning though, I was considering intensity as work that’s at or over VO2 max. Most people with aesthetic and health goals don’t need to include the aerobic work that trained/competitive athletes rely on.

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