Exercise intensity is discussed a great deal in the fitness community at the moment with many articles informing us of the need to exercise with intensity to reap the best rewards from training but what is meant by exercise intensity and how and when should you apply it?
Why you need to exercise with intensity!
If you observe people new to training for any length of time you will notice that most of them seem to make great progress with their exercise program what ever routine they follow. It doesn’t seem to matter if they know what they are doing or not, the chances are if they stick to their program for 2 to 3 months they will make great strides on their journey whether their goal is to build muscle, lose fat, obtain strength or improve their general fitness.
However, if you take the time to observe people who have trained for a number of years you will notice that a large number of them have reached a never ending plateau of no noticeable progress despite the fact that he or she displays a lot of dedication by faithfully following their passion and consistently training week in and week out.
In most cases the reason for this sad state of affairs is because they have forgotten one simple fact that always was and always will be true and it is this. The body always adapts to what is asked of it, however, once it has adapted it will not change unless what is asked of it changes as well.
The body’s ability to adapt to change is without question. If you look at the people involved in any form of training you can see just how wonderfully adaptable the human body can be. For example, in athletics the bodies of men and woman involved in marathon running have adapted to such a degree that they carry very little fat or muscle as neither is needed to get the job of running long distances done.
At the other side of the spectrum those involved in sprinting also carry very little fat but they have built up extraordinary muscle packed bodies that are capable of powering them down the track at great speeds.
Another example of how the body adapts to diet and exercise is the comparison of two types of fighter, the boxer and the sumo wrestler.
By following a specific diet and training routine the boxer will build a body that is as low in body fat as any sportsperson’s because this is exactly what is needed to throw punches non stop for 12 rounds.
The sumo wrestler on the other hand will build a body that is both very powerful and yet possesses a high percentage of body fat to give him the large belly he needs for the low centre of gravity that is essential for his sport.
So as is shown by these examples, it is without question that the body adapts to what is asked of it and once it has done so it will not change unless what is asked of it also changes.
This simple fact is why most beginners make such dramatic progress. Their bodies are not used to the form of training they have just started and therefore quickly change to make their new job easier. However, the veteran trainer has the disadvantage of his body being totally familiar with the demands required of it and therefore it doesn’t need to adapt any further. This is how exercise intensity can come galloping in like the seventh cavalry to prevent the seasoned trainer from months or years of static progress.
When should you increase your exercise intensity?
Even people who have exercised for a number of years can still improve their performance if they follow an exercise intensity plan of action. Although not as dramatic as the beginner’s improvement, small progressive steps are easily achieved if you do the following.
Have a plan of action with clearly defined exercise goals that you want to achieve. Then divide your training in to six week cycles that begin with low intensity training, then moves on to six weeks of medium exercise intensity training and then six weeks of super high intensive training followed by six weeks of complete rest before the cycle is repeated.
The first six week cycle should include the exercises you want to improve your performance in but the goal is only to familiarize your body with the movements required and keep the muscles exercised without leaving you particularly fatigued.
The psychological benefit of this cycle are that you are sticking to your training program but do not have the mental stress of success or failure as you are not trying to break any records at this point. The result is a refreshing and energizing cycle that provides a boost to your confidence.
The second cycle of exercise intensity should also be made up of the exercises you want to improve in but only performed at 80 percent of the level you are capable of. The result of this training is a cycle that is demanding but well within your maximum capabilities which prepares you mentally and physically for the intensive stage to follow.
The third stage of exercise intensity is the pedal hits the metal cycle were over six weeks you reach your previous best performances and then surpass them by using every ounce of physical and metal strength you possess. This is the time when all the low and medium intensity exercise you have done before bares fruit as you have prepared yourself both mentally and physically for the challenge you now face.
Once you have finished this faze I have no doubt that you will have succeeded in your goal and surpassed your previous best exercise performance and now is the time for what many find the most difficult stage of the cycle and that is six weeks of complete rest.
The fact that what should be so easy i.e. doing nothing can prove to be so difficult is not so strange when you consider that many training veterans are pretty much addicted to exercise and the idea of doing none what so ever can seem alien but I guarantee that the six weeks of complete rest is probably the most important of all the cycles and will pay you back dividends in the long run.
Also consider this, if you accept that you have not made any progress in months or perhaps years. What have you got to lose by having the six week break? After all as Albert Einstein said, the definition of madness is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. Therefore, to reap all the benefits of your cycle training make sure you do take the break as the rest gives your body a chance to recover, improve and repair and your mind has the chance to regain the enthusiasm that is essential for training but can disappear fast if you over train.
How to increase your exercise intensity!
Now you know when to increase your exercise intensity the next consideration is what is the best way to do it? If your goal is to improve your exercise performance to stop the stagnation in results that you may be suffering from there are many ways to increase the intensity of whatever training you do.
If your routine consists of bodyweight exercises there are other ways besides increasing the number of reps performed to up the tempo. If you take press ups for example, you could include a static hold at the bottom of each rep or raise a leg of the ground so that only one is in contact with the floor or change the position of your hands to a triceps or hip press up as all these methods make the press up more difficult and therefore increase the intensity of the exercise.
Other methods of upping the tempo are decreasing the rest time between sets or increasing the number of sets performed. You can even change the amount of bodyweight that is lifted by doing the press ups with your feet on progressively higher inclines if you want to. The point being there are many different ways to increase the exercise intensity and so improve your performance over a one year period even if you don’t actually increase your maximum number of reps.
If you have been training for some time and find that your progress has stopped you can soon put yourself back on the road to improvement by evaluating your training and devising a routine that is broken down in to different cycles of exercise intensity.
The key is to remember that if you continually do the same thing you will almost certainly get the same results. Your body will only adapt and therefore improve if it has a reason to so a planned approach to demanding more from it is the only way to guarantee success.
Remember to be able to exercise at an intensive level at some point you have to include that intensity in your training, as no one can continually push themselves at their upper limit indefinitely it follows that cycle training is the best way for progressive results.
The best example I can give you of exercise intensity cycle training is that of champion boxers. A good champion boxer does not train with the same intensity continually because they know it is both physically and mentally impossible to push yourself so hard day in day out.
What they normally do is follow is a cycle of training were they simply tick over in the gym keeping themselves fresh for a couple of months, then when they sign for a fight they head of to a training camp for six weeks of intensive training designed to have them in the best condition of their lives for the up coming fight. After the fight they will a have a month or six weeks break from training before they repeat the cycle. If it is good enough for them it is good enough for me.
Give cycle training a go and good luck.
See the exercise journal guide to compliment your exercise intensity