If there’s one thing we’ve learned about training, it’s that there are a lot of opinions out there on how to do it best. Some people swear by high-intensity workouts, while others believe in taking things slow and steady.
So which is better, in the context of training intensity– more or less? Let’s take a look at what we know thus far.
When working out, pushing ourselves close to our limits is important to see results. But what does that really mean? Training intensity refers to the degree of exertion involved in physical activity. So the higher it is, the more intense the workout becomes.
In simpler words, the heavier the weight, the higher the intensity. And why is that important, one may ask? Well, it is pretty simple – Intensity zones define the type of stimulus we will induce upon the muscles.
Generally speaking, we stimulate bulk muscle growth when we train at 65-85% of our maximum strength capabilities. Once we go to 85-100%, we stimulate maximum strength development.
However, intensity is just one part of the puzzle. Two more variables are important for each workout, so let’s briefly look at those, too!
Besides intensity, your workout can also be measured by volume and density. Simply put, volume is the total amount of weight lifted and is measured with this formula: weight * sets * reps = volume.
For instance, 2 sets of 10 reps with 100 kg would yield 2000 kg volume (100 kg * 2 sets * 10 reps = 2000 kg).On the other hand, density measures the volume relative to the total time needed for completion, including rests.
Density is measured with this formula: volume : completion time = density (kg/min).For example, if those two sets of 10 reps with 100 kg take you 4 minutes to complete, including rests, that would be a density of 500 kg/min (Because 2000 kg lifted in 4 minutes = 500 kg per minute)
Intensity, volume, and density are intertwined in every workout you do. As intensity (weight) increases, you do fewer reps; thus, the volume decreases.
Furthermore, as intensity increases, you also need more rest, so you’re doing less total volume for more time, meaning that density decreases too.
Okay, that may sound confusing, and you’re probably asking yourself: What is effective in this case? Should I focus on intensity, volume, and density? And well, the answer is… it depends.
Here’s a training cheat sheet to go by, though.
|Intensity (% of 1RM)||End Result||Rest Between Sets|
|85-100%||Maximum/relative strength||4-8 minutes|
|65-85%||Bulk growth, strength endurance||Up to 3 minutes|
|40-65%||Strength endurance||Up to 2-3 minutes|
|0-40%||Mainly cardio endurance||Can go a long time with no rest|
How Do You Increase Intensity?
The most straightforward way to increase intensity is by using heavier weights or less assistance (for example, by using only your body weight instead of a machine).
You can also change the number of repetitions you perform or the time each set is completed (i.e., increasing or decreasing rest periods).
There are many other ways in which your routine can become more intense; here are just a few ways:
- Increase the number of repetitions you perform
- Drop sets
- Add more exercises to your routine
- Add more sets to your routine
- Change your exercise order (i.e., instead of doing bench presses first, do them last)
How Can You Tell If Your Intensity Is Too High?
You can tell if your intensity is too high in a few ways. First, if you struggle to complete all your repetitions, it is a good sign that you should decrease your intensity.
Second, if you feel that every muscle in your body is burning and hurting during or after a workout, it would be best to lower your routine’s intensity level.
Third, if you find yourself unable to exercise because of an injury or illness, it would be best to lower the intensity level to recover.
The general rule is that if you want to train at high levels of intensity (65-100%), you should begin with five sets per muscle group, per week, as a beginner. Then, work your way up to 10-15 and more (heavy) sets as you progress.
Pick the range that most reflects your goals and focus on that!
And so, what’s the verdict? Is more intensity better?
Again – it depends! If your goal is to build maximum strength, sure. Then your best bet is to focus on the 90-100% intensity range and occasionally dip into the lower intensity ranges, to work on higher reps.
Oppositely, if your goal is bulk muscle growth, you should adopt the 65-85% range and do more repetitions while occasionally going to the 85-100% rep range to work on that maximum strength.
Finally, if you’re not into intense training and don’t care about strength and visual development, focus on the low-intensity ranges and work on your endurance!
What’s your favorite intensity range? Comment below!