If you ask 20 trainers about what exactly “intensity” is, you are almost guaranteed to get 20 different answers. It is one of those contentious semantics discussions in the fitness field that people argue over all the time, and nobody ever seems to agree on.
Now if you ask me however, I will explain it to you in two different ways.
There is the Russian definition (which I tend to favor):
- The percentage of weight you are using in relation to your 1 rep max.
And then there is the American definition:
- The relationship between reps/sets and rest times. (Don’t confuse this with volume, which is essentially the total amount of work done in a given time and doesn’t factor in rest periods).
While I favor the Russian definition, both are acceptable and adjusting them is key to making some serious strength and muscle gains.
So my challenge to you is to crank up the intensity of your workouts immediately!
But it will take a conscientious effort on your part and some planning to make it happen.
Let’s start with #1.
Your goal for any workout should be to top your workout before it, either by reps or resistance. To do this properly you have to know the intensity you are working with.
The best way to do this is to work from a 1 rep max percentage chart, and plan your workouts weeks in advance using a systematic and methodical approach. Check out Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 method. It is a perfect example of varying intensity in a way that will allow you to make long term gains in strength.
For example, say you do 3 working sets of squats at 65%, 75%, and 85% of your one rep max respectively. The next time you squat, you should up those percentages to 70%, 80%, and 90%. The next time, higher, etc.
Now this is a vague explanation, but you get the point. Obviously reps will vary from week to week, but the point is you should constantly be pushing yourself to improve from the week before. In order to get stronger, you have to keep increasing the intensity and working at higher resistance levels.
Let me warn you of one thing. Training at 100% intensity (based on #1) is not sustainable and should not be done week in and week out. Sure you may make some gains for a while, but you will eventually plateau and quite possibly fry your central nervous system. That is the beauty of Wendler’s 5/3/1 is that you don’t ever “max” out.
Alright, now what about #2.
Decreasing rest times is not necessarily popular when training for maximum strength, but it is an integral part of mass building and bodybuilding.
Shorter rest times really challenge your muscles and allows you to cram a lot of volume into a single workout, leading ultimately to gains in muscle mass. Resting for too long can hinder your growth, as your muscles are fully recuperated and are not challenged enough.
Experiment with shorter and longer rest periods, and keep varying your approach to keep your body continually guessing. Not varying your rest times allows your muscles to adapt just like they would if you never varied the weight you were using, so you need to keep it interesting.
I’ve been tying a new approach for the last month. It is too early to tell if I’m reaping any benefits, but the approach is well documented and widely used, and has yielded some great results for people.
Some of you may have heard of the Doggcrap method, a forum born program that started almost as a fluke but caught like wildfire. The program itself is based around rest-pause, which is what I have been using for the past month and is a great way to expose you to higher intensities.
Basically, you take a weight you can handle for say 8-10 reps. Pump em out, rest for 15 seconds, pump out as many as you can again (likely 3-5), rest for another 15 seconds, and then pump em out again (prob for another 2-3).
This allows you to get a lot of work done in a hurry. It’s been kicking my ass the past 4 weeks and has been a great experience. If you try rest-pause, don’t do it with squats or deadlifts…
Decreasing your rest times also allows you to build up some serious work capacity. If you aren’t sure what exactly that is, read this. Work capacity is the most overlooked component of a strength training regimen but is of huge importance if you want to make continual long term gains.
Crank It Up
If you want to take your strength training to the next level, you have to crank up your intensity, ideally by the definitions I laid out above.
Vary your resistance and rest times, and keep challenging yourself. Beat your records from week to week, either by heavier resistance, shorter breaks, or even just a few total reps. The idea is to get better each and every time, plain and simple. And its all based on intensity!