Friday, January 24, 2020

Another Look (or Two) at Intensity - By Burt Gam

We all understand that the necessary ingredients to programming resistance training involve intensity, volume, training frequency and rest intervals between sets. Much like the ingredients in a cake recipe, the interplay of these four factors largely determine the final product. Too much or too little of any of these four factors can throw the whole end result out of whack. Under or overtraining are likely outcomes. They four variables all play a necessary role in the implementation of any worthwhile program. But how so?

Over the years, there have been proponents of both high volume and high intensity workouts. But unfortunately, any overemphasis on one variable can be at the detriment of the other. It would seem there is an inverse relationship between volume and intensity. Due to the bodies limited ability to recuperate or perform optimally. If one goes up the other must go down. But exactly what does intensity mean? It depends who you ask.

In bodybuilding, intensity is more of a perception and is somewhat subjective. If you go by what is known as perceived exertion which uses a scaled numerical progression to any given effort, intensity seems more subjective to how the exerciser feels. As a set progresses for example, each succeeding repetition becomes increasingly more difficult. This is because the momentary ability after each rep for a given muscle is reduced. If taken to an extreme, the end result is muscular failure. This methodology is fundamental to most HIT based programs. These types of workouts tend to be brief(low volume) and quite taxing. There are problems here though. For one, most people cannot tolerate this type of punishment for long periods of time. Moreover, the only way to measure the intensity is to go to failure since the intensity on the last repetition of that set would be 100%. If a person were to terminate the set sooner the intensity would be less. For example, if a person can bench press 300 pounds they might be good for 225 pounds for ten reps. The first rep in the set would seem easy because the lifter is capable of lifting 300 pounds. Therefore the intensity of effort would be 225 divided by 300 or 75%. But each successive rep will feel more intense because the momentary ability to lift the weight is reduced by a certain percentage. By the 7th or 8th repetition the weight may feel quite heavy because the lifter might only be capable of bench pressing 235 pounds or so at that point. By the 10th repetition the lifter is pushing with all they have with 225 pounds of force or 100% effort or intensity. At that point, muscular failure has occurred and the muscle is no longer capable of further work unless an adequate rest period is taken.

For a weightlifter or powerlifter the concept of intensity is more about maximum poundage lifted. Lower reps with higher weight is the norm. If a lifter is moving up in poundages on their lifts then intensity can be quantified by poundage. It is not a perception and is easily measured. But is intensity alone the magic bullet as some advocates believe?

Suppose a person were to go to one extreme and perform only the best select exercises with the absolute maximum weight and effort they could muster for one all out effort. If they were to train exclusively that way would it be optimal for the development of hypertrophy and/or strength? Probably not. Or let's say a lifter performs an exercise with a light weight for 100 repetitions before reaching failure. Would they expect to make much in the way of any gains? Likely not. So what is the point in all of this?

For the best overall gains in strength and size, steady progressive overload is the key to success. Intensity alone will not be enough for most people. There must be a balance between intensity, volume, frequency of training and rest intervals between sets for optimal training stimulus and recovery.Each variable plays an important role in programming training.How each variable is manipulated is what really matters. And progressive overload is the vehicle that will get you where you want to go, regardless of whether you are a bodybuilder, powerlifter, olympic lifter, strongman, or strength athlete. These principles apply equally in all cases.
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