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Intensity: 1: the quality or state of being intense; especially: extreme degree of strength, force, energy, or feeling. 2: the magnitude of a quantity (as force or energy) per unit (as of area, charge, mass, or time).
In·tense: 1. a: existing in an extreme degree (the excitement was intense) (intense pain) b: having or showing a characteristic in extreme degree (intense colors) 2. marked by or expressive of great zeal, energy, determination, or concentration (intense effort) 3. a: exhibiting strong feeling or earnestness of purpose (an intense student) b: deeply felt.
As bodybuilders we often ask ourselves, “Is my training intense enough? Am I pushing my body hard enough and getting the most out of my training?” We have all fallen victim to the “more is better” mentality... If it’s easy it can’t be effective. I have to give 110% all the time. Focus and drive have to be the backbone of my training. I don’t know if that’s all true, but before we can say how important intensity is to our training, let’s define training intensity.
When I think of intensity, I think of drop sets, supersets, forced reps, any training technique that enables you to push past the point where you would normally stop. The goal is fatigue and, consequently, failure. I would definitely say that in order to reach failure, you need intensity. But what is failure?
We tend to think of muscle failure as the point in which your muscles can no longer contract. Why? From my understanding, your muscles fail because they run out of neurotransmitters and they can no longer fire or carry the signal to fire. Tothe best of my knowledge, and I’m certainly not a medical professional, muscle failure is directly related to your nervous system, just like overtraining.
I’ve heard people say that the main objective of training should be to “train” your nervous system. These people say that doing heavy compound movements such as squats will have a profound effect on your nervous system, and in turn your body will crank out a synergy of hormones such as testosterone, growth hormone, and IGF-1.
I was always told that if I wanted to grow I neededto squat and deadlift because, aside from making my legs bigger, it would lead to a hormonal surge that would help induce growth all over. Is that true? I don’t have any scientific data, but I can confidently tell you that I have seen great gains in my entire body after making squats and deads a fundamental and consistent part of my training.
Okay, so back to intensity. What I want to know is this – can training intensity exist even if you don’t do drop sets, supersets, giant sets or any of the other principles used to promote muscle failure? For example, I want you to think of the most intense triceps training routine you can imagine. Maybe it’s giant sets over and over, using tremendous focus and taking little time in between sets.
Now compare that to heavy squatting. Maybe you only do ten sets of squats and you rest five minutes between sets, whereas with the triceps routine you do upwards of twenty sets all together and you’re doing supersets with very little rest between sets.
Which is more intense? Off the bat, the triceps routine looks rough... But ten sets of squats is no picnic either. The one thing I can say for sure is that I would feel far more spent after the squat workout. There is nothing really that intense about it; it’s just ten straight sets with ample rest in between. However, I know for sure that my nervous system would be shot after the squats.
So, what’s the point? My point is that there’s no such thing as giving 110% all the time. First, it’s impossible to reach 110%. Second, how would anyone even know if they were at 100%? You can always give more. We’re talking about physical potential here, and regardless of the type of potential we’re discussing, I believe it’s impossibleto ever reach your full potential. Even if you did, how could you becertain you had arrived at it? There’s no way of knowing. There are too many variables involved, and you will always be able to say that you could have done something differently that may have positively affected your results.
People tend to think that if you are to reach your fullpotential, you must subject yourself to the most painful and trying measures. I don’t believe that being the hardest working bodybuilder makes you the best or most successful. Bodybuilding is not simply about subjecting yourself to the greatest amount of pain and suffering possible. Training eight hours a day won’t make you bigger and eating one meal a day won’t make you more ripped. Effectiveness is not solely dependent upon the level of challenge. To me, being a good bodybuilder means knowing what to do, when to do it, and how much of it to do.
Intensity is a key element in successful training, no doubt, but don’t fall into the “more is better” school of thought. You could dream up the craziest, most difficult routine and follow through with it, but that doesn’t mean it’s what’s necessary or needed. I believe in controlled intensity. Your intensity has to be directed and used in a way that gives your body exactly what it needs. You have to be able to recognize intensity because it comesin all forms. Almost anything can be intense if it is done right; it’s not what you do, but how you do it.
Sometimes parts two and three of the definition of intense say it all. On one hand, you can train with focus, determination, and zeal. I relate this tothe crazy triceps workout with giant sets and drop sets and small rest intervals. On the other hand, there’s the part of the definition that refers to the strength of the feelings elicited. I relate this more to the squat workout and feeling nauseous and totally spent afterwards.
The bottom line is that training has to be a combination of different types of intensity. It has to be both squats and leg extensions. You have to pick your battles. Some days you’ll be stuck and some days you’ll break new ground. But if you are able to create the right type of balance by recognizing what is necessary, how much to do and when to do it, you’ll never have to question whether or not your training has enough intensity.