After some of my recent posts I heard some feedback about this notion of pushing harder and making exercise more difficult. There is fear there for some people. Who wants to get hurt? None of us do.
But what’s the point of having a body that you aren’t thrilled with? What is the point of having a body that’s like ‘eh, it’s okay.’ Why not have the body of your dreams? It’s certainly the goal that I’ve been in hot pursuit of. It is certainly the reason why I started strengthnation.com. And I believe it is the reason for all of us to come together at a place like this or strengthnation.com and support each other in this effort. I think that attaining the body of your dreams is an honorable and worthwhile goal.
I understand that value is different for each of us. It also means that we have to come to a clearer understanding of what it means to push and how to go about it in a way that produces a result and not an injury.
I got an email recently that was from a man overseas who was having a little bit of trouble, kind of justifying what it meant to be intense. So we need to define intensity and define what that means. So let’s take a look at it from a purely mechanical point of view.
Intensity is referred to as the amount of effort in a given situation. Let’s call it a given lift. So, if we take for example, a bench press. Now, I can’t say do an intense bench press at one hundred pounds, because for some people that might not be very intense and for others, that might be so intense it’s impossible to even press it once.
So what intensity is a measure of, is typically a measure of your one repetition maximum. Your one repetition maximum for any given lift, is the most amount of weight you can successfully, with good form, lift for one repetition, not two. And that’s a big distinction. People have written a lot about intensity over the years. Mike Mentzer was famous for his one set protocol. And if you listen to the interview I did with Fred Hahn the author of Slow Burn on strengthnation.com you will hear how he promotes super slow training, which is the most amount of weight you can lift for more than sixty seconds, but less than ninety seconds. Doing very slow, very controlled repetitions. Perhaps one or two repetitions per set.
The theory behind it is that intensity is the trigger. Intensity is the trigger that tells your body whether or not to build muscle. And what we’re all trying to do when we go to the gym to lift weights is build muscle. Some people are trying to build enormous amounts of muscle. Some people are just trying to do enough weight lifting to stimulate muscle tissue to stick around, so that when they do their cardio and their diet and they’re losing weight, they’re not losing muscle, they’re losing fat.
So I’ll review that thought in a second, but I want to make sure we’re clear about intensity. Intensity is a measure of your one repetition maximum. So, if you can complete one repetition of a given weight, but not two, that’s as intense as you can get for that lift.
Some people train for single reps, especially power lifters train, gradually stepping up to a one repetition maximum. So that when they get to a meet or a competition, they can perform their biggest lift ever, their most intense lift ever. That’s part of a very specific training protocol. Most of us don’t need to do one repetition maximums, except when we’re checking in to determine how strong we are. And the reason why we do that is because a quality weight lifting program is going to prescribe repetitions based on a percentage of your one repetition maximum and your desired personal goals.
Body building type endeavors, muscle building type endeavors are typically seventy or seventy-five percent of your one repetition maximum. And you can usually do about twelve repetitions based on that number. And when I say twelve repetitions, I mean twelve, but not thirteen. So that’s a measure of intensity. And the lower that percentage gets, the less intense you are exercising.
So when you are trying to determine intensity for yourself, the most important thing to remember, is to perform with good form…in control. It doesn’t count if it’s bad form. It doesn’t count if you have to kick and scream and blah, blah, blah to get a second repetition or to even get your one repetition.
Your intensity level is an expression of your ability in its strictest form. For you, that might mean one single pushup from your toes. Touch your chin to the floor, nothing else touches and you press back up. Smooth and steady. You can’t do it twice. That could be your most intense effort. We all have a most intense effort, a personal best and that is going to be true for each and every one of us. That’s the grand unifying theory of weight lifting. Everybody has their own benchmark that they’re trying to lift against. That they’re trying to do better than. That they’re trying to achieve. It’s true for you, it’s true for me.
Typically, it’s measured in terms of body weight. If you can bench press your body weight, if you can bench press one and a half times your body weight, you are an incredibly strong individual. If you can squat twice your body weight or more, you are an incredibly strong individual. That is a measure of your intensity. So when I talk about intensity and when I say you have to up the intensity if you want to produce a result, what I’m saying is, you have to find your strictest form. Your best form. You have to find the most effort, the most amount of weight you can lift for that form and your goal. And then base your workouts on that.
And you can test and retest and test and retest depending on where you are in your strength development. But it’s very important that we understand this concept. Intensity is not an objective number (100lbs). It’s a subjective number (10 lbs more than I lifted last week!). It’s an expression of your ability in your strictest form to achieve a single repetition lift. And then you can base your repetitions for other workouts on that.
For example, seventy five percent of your One rep Max is probably going to be a muscle building type workout. If you are new weight lifting what we would do is we would get you in the weight room and say, ‘okay, press this and see how much you can press.’ We would find that one repetition maximum. And then probably start you off at sixty or even fifty percent of that one repetition maximum to develop your body’s ability to adapt to the form and the movement of weight lifting. But if you’re an advanced weight lifter, if you’re used to weight lifting and you’ve been doing this, then you should have an idea of your one repetition maximum for a variety of lifts.
Typically, I say the big three. Dead lifting, squatting and bench pressing. You should know at a given moment how much you can lift for each of those lifts one time. Quick side note…The interesting thing about dead lifting is that your hands might be the weak link in that factor. And your hands might fatigue before your legs, your glutes, your hamstrings, your quads fatigue, and you might actually have more effort in your body, but not enough in your hands to hold the bar. So it’s important to remember that intensity is a reflection of your ability with strict form to successfully complete one lift.
Now, if you are an advanced weight lifter, you can also up the intensity by getting gradually closer to one repetition maximums. So you can spend a few weeks in the hypertrophy phases of lifting at seventy five percent. Then you can step it up to eighty percent. Then you can step it up to ninety percent.
This is all carefully outlined in terms of the workout program for my Rhythm System E-Book which is on strengthnation.com. And it’s spread out over a twelve week period. Gradually getting more and more intense until you’re lifting at roughly ninety five percent of your one repetition maximum. That’s very intense.
Eventually you are going to be attempting these type of intense efforts. Your repetition scheme is probably going to be about two, maybe as much as four. That’s heavy, heavy lifting. And it does produce a result. And it produces a result whether you’re male, whether you’re female, whether you’re young, whether you’re old.
So it’s important to remember that intensity is an expression of your ability with good form. You can’t hurt yourself if you’re using good form. You can hurt yourself if you’re using bad form.
So let’s say you’re, you know, seventy-five years old, you’ve got a bad shoulder, you’ve got a bad knee, you’ve got a bad hip, but there’s things that you can still do within your range of what you can accomplish successfully without pain, is going to measure your intensity level. Does that make sense? I hope it does. And I’m glad it does.
Whatever it is that is the personal best for you is the same energy, intensity and passion that is the same personal best for me even though we’re all different bodies. We all have different body types. We all have different amounts of time and energy we are able to sacrifice in order to achieve that which we want. But in our efforts we are united. In our goals we are united.
And that is truly valuable. I know that over the past few weeks I’ve been talking a lot about goals. I’ve been talking a lot about intensity. We’ve been trying to debrief ourselves and come back from the minor abyss that the holidays may have been and get on a track that is going to produce for us results. All I am trying to do is my best. I am seeking the edge of my ability and attempting to live there. That is all you can do too.
I just wanted to finish with that incomplete thought from above and that is on the subject of lifting in a way that retains muscle while burning fat. When you are dieting specifically to lose weight lifting becomes the pivotal factor upon which your success is determined. It tells the difference between someone who is simply smaller than they were before the diet and someone who looks ripped, defined, toned, healthy and in shape.
You see weight lifting when done properly with a diet and cardio program will help your body retain muscle tissue. In the event of caloric deprivation your body your body will attempt to make up the deficit by converting muscle into fuel for locomotion. this has the unfortunate effect of making you smaller but not less fat. If you want to get that lean, in shape look then the weights will tell your muscles to stick around and afford your body the chance to use its stored fat to make up the caloric deficit making you leaner and more toned.
So throw that idea in with the intensity concept and yuo are well on your way to becoming a leaner, healthier, better looking, better feeling version of your pre holiday self.