Where's the intensity?

We all want to get results when we put a conscious effort into our health and fitness routine. From the total beginner through to the person who has exercised their whole life we all share that desire to experience gains. There are many factors that go into achieving a desired result: diet, the type of exercise that you choose to do, and your recovery strategies are a few that come to mind. One of the areas that doesn’t seem to get brought up enough is the intensity of the exercise that you are doing.  

There’s a term in exercise called adaptation. Adaptation refers to how your body physiologically responds to the training you are doing. When you put healthy stress on your body through exercise, your body increases it’s ability to cope with the new load. It’s why our heart gets stronger when we introduce the habit of running into our lives, or why our muscles develop strength and size when we lift heavy weights. A big part of the results we achieve comes from our body adapting to the exercise loads we have put on it. 

With adaptation in mind we can start to understand that intensity really helps when we want to achieve physical change. If you have more intensity in your workout your body will have to adapt more which will lead to you becoming a stronger physical machine. 

So what is intensity? When I’m teaching people about intensity I like to talk about tension. Let’s imagine a rubber band. When it’s sitting on the table by itself there is no tension, say 0/10. When you start to pull the rubber band apart the tension is increasing. The longer you pull it the more the tension. There does come a point where the rubber band will break, this would be 10/10. Intensity is like this rubber band with one key difference: 

When you are exercising the higher the tension goes the less amount of time you can hold this tension. For example most people could comfortably sit on a 1/10 for a long period of time but it takes a well tuned athlete who has spent years developing their mental game to even get to 10/10. They can only hold it there for a short period of time. 

For a lot of people who exercise they can get caught in the trap of ‘just turning up’. These people are happy that they turned up to exercise but they train at intensity levels that won’t cause the body to adapt, so they don’t get great results. All of us should be developing our ability to hold higher levels of intensity for longer periods of time. Here are some tips that will help you do this:  

1. Establish the level that you are currently working and ask yourself if you could increase it by 5-10%? Plus how long could you hold that higher intensity for? 

2. Learn what it physically feels like when you increase your intensity. How much harder do you breathe, how do your muscles feel, and what happens to your execution of the movement?

3. When you go to the higher level of intensity what happens inside your head. What are some mind strategies that will make you successful? Setting realistic targets to aim for help here. You may have stepped it up by 10% and it’s feeling really tough, at this moment challenge yourself to hold it for another one minute and then focus on how you will achieve this. 

4. If you are able to, try to get someone to push you through to this next level. This could be a good fitness instructor or a training buddy. 

While I’ve mentioned a lot about how increasing the intensity of your workouts will help you get better results there’s another key factor that intensity brings: the satisfaction that comes from an intense workout is amazing. Our bodies reward us with the release of endorphins which make us feel great! When you’ve done an intense workout you may be absolutely buggered but you feel on top of the world.  

If you are someone who is newer to exercise, at first find your routine but as you progress start to work on your ability to increase your intensity. For those more experienced exercisers reading this, answer this question: Deep down within myself do I know I could discover higher levels of intensity? By exploring these types of questions you will go to physical places that your body will have to adapt to. This will lead to great results where you feel on top of the world.


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Bevan Eyles