One of my favorite series of movies growing up in the 1980s was the Rocky franchise. Rocky 3 was particularly good and entertaining for me as a young boy. It wasn’t Shakespeare but the plot was engaging and simple. That’s what made the films popular. Rocky had won the boxing title in Rocky 2 from Apollo Creed but had gotten soft. He went easy in his training, lost his intensity and edge, and when he fought the mean and hungry Clubber Lang, played by Mr T, he got his butt kicked. What was the problem? Simply put, Rocky didn’t have the intensity in his training that he needed to hang in there with Mr. T. He didn’t train hard enough relative to what he was capable of. He needed to train harder if he wanted to win.
We don’t need to be a world class athlete to garner an important lesson: Intensity of training is an essential principle. We want to be safe and not over train, but to get the results we want we need to always come back to intensity. We need to make sure we’re pushing ourselves.
Intensity is simply the percentage of maximum at which you’re training. Faster running, more explosive movement, more weights, more effort, closer to temporary muscle “failure”, this is the essence of the intensity of training. Again we need to always consider safety but push the intensity, within reason and according to our goals.
How fit are you? What are you capable of? The fitter you are, the more intensity you can safely handle. If you can run 6 minute miles at a maximum speed and you train at 7 minute miles, this is a high intensity workout, whereas training at 9 minute miles would be low intensity. If you can lift 200 pounds 10 times maximum, and you lift 185 pounds ten times for 3 sets, this is high intensity training. If you can walk a mile in 20 minutes and you walk 3 miles in an hour (3 20-minute miles) then this is high intensity for you. What constitutes high intensity is different for everyone.
Intensity is relative to the trainee! For example, you may not be able to do what I do, and vice versa. If you’re a really good swimmer, then you can swim at a low intensity and if I did the same thing, it would be high intensity for me, because I’m not a swimmer. What is high intensity or low intensity for one person may not be for someone else.
I went to watch the Auburn University football team practice a few years ago, and was shocked by the intensity the coaches were pushing. I played football and had seen some hard practices but the level of effort and speed was a shock to my system, as I had not seen that level of intensity for a while. Auburn runs a no-huddle offense, so the tempo and intensity of their practices are pretty insane, not to mention expletive filled!
Intensity is a cornerstone of fitness. Find out or make an educated guess about what your maximum is, then strategically train at least periodically, close to your maximum. It’s a simple concept but one to remember, if you want to be fit, you need to work hard relative to what you’re capable of. This is what creates a training effect and makes you more fit. Again, be safe, be realistic, and focus only on improving you, relative to you not someone else, but push the gas pedal enough to make progress in a safe way.
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