You Don’t (Really) Know What Intensity Is….

If you’re like most people.

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How you should NOT look after a session.

You probably have this concept of “intense” training as a 45 minute to hour torturous burnout session with things like 1,000 burpees, 500 pull-ups, more burpees, holding planks for 3 minutes instead of resting, thousands of other random “things”… all the while, you’re getting further away from your goals.

The thing most people don’t realize about intensity is it’s something you can do in a very short amount of time while getting much better results(than the aforementioned “HIIT” style classes)

Enter Metabolic Training

Let’s set the scene…

I have a friend who wants to come and “just work out” with me one time(key is usually the “one time”, sometimes it’s twice…) and I tell them we’re going to do a little warm up and then train for 20 minutes… to which they respond “that’s it?” Yes, “that’s it”…

But what they don’t realize is it’s not the amount of time, it’s how you do it. So maybe they shouldn’t have ordered an “ass kicking workout” off the bat and stuck with the more reasonable things I normally have people do.

Anyway, I typically put them through a quick metabolic training session and… oh, what? Metabolic training? Well, I guess I should clarify!

Metabolic training is done using complexes which are a series of movements done in succession that make you feel like yesterday’s lunch is going to come back up on the floor in front of you, they also have this nasty little habit of leaving you feeling like someone sucked the air out the room… and that’s just the first set!

The strange thing is the complexes don’t “look that bad” at first glance(some of them can be literally only 2 movements back to back).

Basically, you put together a series of movements that, on their own, really wouldn’t be that bad to do, but once you put them together(in the correct order with the correct movements) they have this fantastic ability to make you feel like death within seconds of starting the second movement of the sequence.

Don’t worry, that feeling is not for nothing, it’s just your body creating growth hormone, the thing required to help tone/build muscle, in addition they melt body fat like butter in a hot frying pan… the other plus side is they’re typically quite short sessions, less than 20 minutes(20 is the max I would recommend for a majority of human beings).

Here’s an Example of What I’m Talking About:

Dan John(a fantastic strength & conditioning coach) came up with this little combo.

2 Double Kettlebell Cleans
1 Double Kettlebell Press
3 Double Kettlebell Front Squats

See, doesn’t look too bad, right?

Wrong.

This is probably one of the most grueling training sessions you’ll ever do… notice I didn’t say “workouts you’ll ever do”, and there’s good reason.

Part of understanding intensity is understanding how to use it effectively.

Here’s what I mean.

If, for example, the above “Armor Building” complex is just impossible the second time through, you went to heavy. Congratulations, you’re eyes were bigger than your strength, go lighter. If you breeze through it like 15 or 20 times in 20 minutes, you went WAY too light, go heavier. The ideal is 5-8 times in 15 minutes.

Want more of a metabolic hit(for more fat burning) add in some swings and hope for the best.

This training is not for the faint of heart.

We typically do this once a week with my group classes and private training clients, the only exception is my athletes I train – even then it’s a max of 3 days a week(for very short cycles).

Here’s the mistake most “Trainers” make with their clients – They Think More Is Better.

This could not be further from the truth… More is only MORE, and nothing else. It is also the leading cause of disfunction of movements, injuries, increase in body fat percentage, loss of strength, as well as the cause of certain metabolic and health disorders that were not commonplace in the general population(usually just professional athletes) until things like “Interval Training”, Crossfit(the bad coaches), and other similar training methods came about stating in the last few decades.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat…

You don’t always have to create intensity through things that will injure you or otherwise. Here’s a few examples of other ways of varying “intensity”:

On The Minute (or Every Minute on The Minute)

Pick a lift or movement to do, let’s say push-ups, and set a timer to go off once every minute. Perform a set of let’s say for this discussion 8 push-ups, rest for the remaining part of the minute and repeat for between 10-15 minutes. There’s your “upper body” training for the day(trust me, it’s harder than it sounds…)

As the weeks progress, again for this example, add repetitions on making sure there’s still time for rest after their complete.(this too can be done with too much intensity and often becomes a struggle, it shouldn’t be) As the movement gets easier pick a more advanced version to do instead, drop the reps down, and continue on.

Interval Rounds(done properly)

Set a timer for one of the following time schemes: Low Intensity(45 sec work:15 sec rest, 4-5 rounds should do it), Moderate Intensity (30 sec work:10-15 sec rest, depending on your level… about 5 or 6 rounds should do it), High Intensity(20 sec work:10 sec rest, do 5-7 rounds of the same movement)

The rest in between “sets” of rounds should be at least a minute, 2-3 minutes, at least 3 minutes, respectively.

Don’t rest using planks or other silly intense exercises between…. rest means rest. That doesn’t mean stop moving, however, keep moving my pumping your arms back and forth, walking around, easy bodyweight movements or stretching, just don’t stop moving – your heart will thank you later.

Speed of Repetitions

One totally overlooked way to increase intensity by the general population is to use an old bodybuilding trick that not only builds strength, if done with the correct reps/weight/sets it also builds muscle too. Tim Ferriss even dedicated a section of his book “The Four Hour Body” to this very method under “Occam’s Protocol”.

Basically, pick a lift (we’ll say barbell curl) and instead of trying to crank out as many as you can in a certain time – Slow. It. Down!

By controlling the “tempo” of the movement you increase the Time Under Tension effectively creating a bigger “load” on the muscles without increasing the weight. This also helps to clean up technique(I’ve found) because you’re more focused on moving smoothly through the motion. This can also, if done properly, prevent injuries in the future.

U.S. Army Staff Sergeants Brian Weaver, left, from Philadelphia, and Matt Leahart, from O'Fallon, Mo., use exercise equipment in a room that has been converted into the gym on Combat Outpost Munoz, Paktika province, Afghanistan, Nov. 13, 2009. The Soldiers are deployed with Baker company, 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry (Airborne).

Here’s what it would look like:

Grab the bar into the starting position. Start the lift and either have a clock in front of you or count your Mississippi’s for anywhere from 2-5 seconds(longer is crazy intense, but you’re welcome to try it…) until you reach the top of the movement. Once there, pause for one second, and lower slowly.

There’s honestly so many variations on this your best bet is to play with different timing on each lift between training sessions. Oh, one more thing, PICK THE APPROPRIATE LIFT & WEIGHT FOR THIS!! Do not do this with deadlifts(unless you hate your back), also, don’t use close to your max – start light an work your way heavier slowly, it’s harder than it seems.

The optimal range for strength using this is anywhere from 3-6 reps, muscle size is typically 8-12 reps, but these are generalizations and most people respond different to the variations. Side note, these “tempos” are often written out such as (2:1:2) or (5:0:5) or (2:1:4) and so on. The first number is the start, the second is the top/bottom of the move, and the third is returning to the start position.

The big thing you should take away.

Intensity is what you make it. It’s individualized. My level of intensity might be a higher or lower threshold than yours, but that’s honestly okay.

It’s all about pushing yourself to the next level without pushing yourself over the edge. There’s a fine line that needs to be walked, so be reasonable and don’t push yourself to the brink every time you train, reserve it for every so often and work to improve slowly, the results will come faster than you think.

Have A Strong Day!

~Justin

If you’re interested in more ways to bump up the “intensity” of your training, feel free to reach out [email protected] or keep an eye on our Facebook Page for workshops and events.

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