What does intensity mean in weight training?
Intensity is the key to making progressive-resistance training work for you. But what exactly does that term mean? When reading bodybuilding & fitness literature you’ll often find that the term intensity is used in various contexts. Intensity refers to how hard you work to do the prescribed exercises.
However, many people use this term simply to express how much weight they lift – the heavier the weight, the more intense the set. But that’s only half the equation. It does not quite describe the entire picture. You must also consider the number of repetitions performed and some other training variables.
Therefore, the term intensity describes the amount of weight lifted or the complexity of the exercise and is highly interdependent on all other program variables, including volume (number of sets and repetitions), rest intervals, frequency, repetition velocity, etc.
In the early weeks of your program, you’ll want to start with a relatively low intensity, and progressively increase the average intensity each week. Below are a few easy ways to make your workouts more challenging. Try them out and find what works best for you. The key to continuing progress is to keep challenging yourself; don’t be afraid to mix it up!
7 ways to increase the intensity of your workouts
Using the following intensity increasers will help you keep your muscle mass high and your body fat low, all year round.
1. Increase the resistance (weight)
The most obvious way to increase workload is simply to train with more weight. You can accomplish this either by using a higher relative percentage of the person’s 1RM (repetition maximum) or adding an absolute amount of weight to an exercise (the most practical way to increase loading). When the loading becomes easier to lift, an absolute amount is added for progression.
Increasing intensity in the beginning is not that difficult. You learn to do more exercises and how to do them correctly; you get stronger and in better condition so you can work harder and longer and put more stress on your muscles. Once your body gets used to this effort, however, it becomes more difficult to continue to escalate intensity at the same rate.
2. Use more difficult exercises or do a more difficult variation of the same exercise (movement)
There are many variations of each movement available for when changing weight isn’t enough. For example, there are hundreds of variations of push-ups; choose one that is more difficult and substitute it for the standard push-up. Replace single joint (isolation) exercises with compound movements – involve more than one muscle group and more than one joint. Not only that, compound movements are often more functional, working your body the way it actually moves on a daily basis.
3. Increase the tempo or speed of repetitions
In other words, do more work at a faster pace during the work period. Obviously, if you take long rest periods and train very slowly, so it takes you half the day to get through your workout, the actual intensity of your efforts will be minimal. Time, therefore, is an important factor in increasing training intensity. By manipulating time, you can increase intensity in two basic ways: (1) by doing the same amount of work in less time; and (2) by doing an increased amount of work in the same time.
4. Decrease the length or frequency of rest periods
Another valuable method is to cut down on rest periods between sets and try doing two or three exercises in a row without stopping. This puts greater demand on your powers of endurance. Endurance, like strength, is something that can be developed in a progressive manner, a little at a time.
5. Increase core tension
In addition to making you keep better form and protecting your body more, using maximum core tension for every movement will drastically increase the intensity of your workout.
6. Stay active during recovery time
This could be anything from fast walking, to slow jumping jacks, to holding the plank position. If you are at the point where a movement is too easy, but you are not ready to increase the weight or try a more difficult variation, this is a great way to add intensity to workout.
7. Incorporate different high-intensity exercise techniques into your workout
Lifting to muscle failure is one of them. This means doing a set with a given weight to the point at which one more rep with that weight on your own is physically impossible. Therefore, at the point of momentary muscular failure, an effort of 100 percent intensity is required to complete the last rep.
You push your muscle to its functional limit so that it must contract to its maximum capability to complete the task. Performing a set to failure generates 100 percent intensity, and the magnitude of this huge stimulus results in hypertrophic adaptation. Also, use supersets, circuits, and dropsets. There are a lot of other advanced training techniques that will increase the intense of your workout dramatically.
Closing thoughts: Ways to increase the intensity of a resistance training workout
Training intensity serves as the major stimulus for muscle growth. By increasing your training intensity over time, you provide a bigger stimulus for muscle growth. You can increase the intensity by increasing the amount of weight, number of sets or repetitions (training volume), and the number of exercises, or reducing rest intervals between sets. The exact combination you choose depends on your goals, strength, power, size or muscular endurance.
All methods of increasing intensity are effective for improving fitness and can be used in multiple ways (depending on the exercise) for tactical resistance training. However, caution should be used during simultaneous progression of multiple variables. Also, always increase the intensity or difficulty of the workouts gradually and allow for sufficient recovery to produce maximal results.