by Rob Smith
Exercise intensity is key to understand for anyone who wants to get stronger, fitter or faster.
Without a gradual increase in activity intensity (alongside planned decreases in intensity i.e. deload weeks) it is impossible to improve! So many people lose weeks and weeks of possible progress, just because they have not taken these variables into account.
1.Resistance - For most people, this is what first springs to mind. An increase in resistance could be additional KGs on the barbell, harder gears whilst cycling, or hill training whilst running. Any method of providing a force to resist your movement through space. A gradual increase in resistance is the primary factor to increasing your strength
2. Volume - How much total work are you doing either in a single workout, or throughout the week? This is the volume.
Typically, this could refer to the number of repetitions in a set of squats. (I may keep the weight the same, but I complete one more rep than last time, therefore increasing the volume, and therefore the intensity.) In weight training, you could also increase the total number of sets you do within a workout to increase the volume. Running is an easy one, can I run an extra 1km than last time? Or perhaps, last week I did 3 runs, and ran 12 miles in total, so could I cover 15 miles this week?
3. Speed - Speed has two dimensions. Both a faster and a slower speed could increase the intensity of a workout. When considering a cardio-based activity, increasing the speed that you complete a certain distance will make the workout more intense. This could be over the 100m sprint, or a marathon distance.
Within weight lifting, managing to lift a heavy object off the ground faster, could mean you are increasing intensity in terms of power, however, often slowing down a weight lifting move can make it far more intense. If I asked you to lower that weight for 4seconds every rep, instead of your usual 1s, but to still complete 10 reps, that set is going to be much more intense!
4. Frequency - How often during the week am I training a muscle group, or running, or whatever!
Frequency in my opinion is one of the most under-utilised methods of increasing intensity, especially for individuals who are newer to exercise. If you want to get better at pull-ups, don’t just do them once per week. Do them every other day, or possibly every day!
However, I have a massive caveat here, if you train more frequently, then you cannot train with as much resistance or volume within every session!
For newbies, I find frequently completing the exercises they need to improve upon at low resistance, is the fastest way to get them much better at completing that exercise with good form, and once you have good form, you can start adding resistance, and only then!
Lockdown Training - For those used to training in the gym, you may have had your ability to add resistance to most of your favourite exercises taken away.
This can be frustrating, but it is when you should turn to the other 3 intensity variables. Can you do a higher number of bodyweight versions of that exercise? Can you do it every other day instead of twice a week? Can you perform those push-ups reaaalllyy slow, now how do those 10 push-ups feel? Hard right!
The same goes for people who prefer to train at home and have a limited selection of kit.
If you only have one dumbbell, and the weight cannot be adjusted, then you need to be considering Volume, Speed and Frequency into your training if you want to progress rather than coast. It can be as simple as doing that same workout you always do, one more time during the week. Or it could be reducing the rest periods in that workout, or adding in one more round. You get the idea now right?!
Next time you train, increase the intensity using one of these four variables and see your progress shoot up!