Let’s get some things clear about training intensity. Intensity is not about how long your run is, how many calories you burn, how much you sweat, or how sore you are after a workout. Intensity is a mentality. It is all about your drive, purpose, passion and focus.
1. You’ll only know true intensity if you’re willing to get incredibly uncomfortable
A lot of people think they are “going hard” but they are only kidding themselves. Of course, intensity is different for everyone. But, if you never try to lift as much as you can, with people screaming at you and cheering you on, you won’t know that level of intensity. If you don’t time yourself, measure yourself, or even record your workouts, you won’t even know where there is room for improvement. Once people create, or are given specific goals, they tap into a higher level of intensity to reach them. Often it takes training with a coach or a group to bring about a higher level of intensity. You can’t progress consistently, without increasing your intensity. You can’t increase intensity without putting yourself in uncomfortable situations.
2. Intensity can be learned
Remember how you almost threw up after you ran an 8 minute mile last year? But now you cruise easily at 7 min/mile. It used to be hard as hell for you to do something that you now find easy. You have to try hard to get better, and you have to persevere with consistent, intense training to get stronger and faster. If I ask you how hard you are going in the middle of the workout, you might use a 1-10 scale. 1 is like you are laying on the couch, 10 is like you’re about to vomit or pass out. The more time you spend at 8 or 9, the more other stuff feels easy. You need varied training experience (events, races, games, competitions, and demanding workouts) in order to learn what different levels of intensity feel like. The more you get to know yourself as an athlete, the better you’ll be at being intense and focused.
3. Intensity changes
Your intensity will change depending on your mood, current training plan, rest, nutrition, injury etc. True, all-out-intensity (9 or 10) may only last a few seconds. If your workout or event is longer than that, you need to practice being in control of your intensity, staying focused and grinding through. Short bouts of all out effort are intense. Long bouts of continuous effort are also intense. Both require a different level of intensity, but the same level of drive and purpose. Give all that you can in each situation.
4. All out intensity, all of the time…isn’t the answer
I want to be clear here that not every workout calls for your max intensity. It is the quality of your intensity and focus that will drive the effectiveness of your training. Imagine that your intensity is a stoplight. Red is resting, yellow is moving comfortably, and green is going all out. Optimal training requires you to spend time at red, yellow and green. You can not be on green all the time. You will burn out, and be unable to finish longer bouts. It is physically impossible, and you will mentally wear yourself out (and those around you).
5. Intensity depends on your goals
Do you want to do give every rep your max effort because you are determined to be the best you that you can be? Are you fine cutting corners and stopping early because you just kinda want to be in a little better shape? Do you want to be the best athlete possible, so you push yourself to train even when you’re feeling lazy? Or, are you comfortable jogging instead of sprinting until you almost fall across the finish line? If you want to be your best, feel awesome, and reach specific goals, then you better be ready to get to that place where you are panting for breath with wobbly legs, barely able to go another second.
6. You can always give more
Our bodies are amazing and capable of unbelievable feats. When a workout or game gets tough, your mind may begin telling you to stop or that you can’t do anymore. You can listen to negative thoughts or you can repeat positive mantras and push through. The better you are at controlling your thoughts, the better you’ll be at pushing your intensity. You may even surprise yourself with what you are capable of when you use your thoughts to work for you instead if against you.
7. Your training intensity affects your life outside the gym
When you work your ass off, break your old records and give a drill everything you have…you will feel on fire. It may take you a few minutes to recover, but you will leave feeling like you are ready to take on anything. You will work harder at your job, you will want to take on other challenges, and your mood will be contagious. A lot of other stuff in your life will just start feeling easy and manageable. Knowing you worked your ass off is the reward itself. It’s the gift that keeps giving. Everything in your life will be better when you give workouts your full effort.
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