Exercise Intensity: what is it?

March 19th, 2014 by Lou Leave a reply »

Exercise Intensity is defined as “how hard you are working during a given workout” or “how much energy is being expended during a given workout” In this post, I am going to concentrate resistance training. In a later post I will cover intensity as it relates to aerobic training.
As I was finishing my leg workout, literally 15 mins ago, I had all this these thoughts running thru my head; what is intensity? What is the best way to manipulate it?, etc. As you have already read, how hard you are training will dictate caloric expenditure.
Lets say you are thin (male/female, little difference) and your goal is to be more muscular, then your training regimen should reflect this. Your rep range will fall between 8-12 for your smaller body parts; chest, back, arms, shoulders, and between 12-15 for the larger ones; legs, butt. And you will do between 3-4 sets. There are authorities or exercise gurus who recommend either very high sets, up to 30 per exercise! or one set per exercise. Both are extreme. If you choose very high sets, be prepare to spend several hours in the gym. If you choose one set per exercise, you time in the gym will be very low, perhaps as little as 15 mins, however be prepared to work extremely hard on those few sets. Marathon vs very brief but intense workout. I have done both and if I had to choose would prefer the later, intense but brief. Both are taxing on the body. Is there a middle ground? Glad you ask.
Keep this in mind; as we train with heavier resistance, we grow stronger. however our ability to recuperate will lag behind somewhat. Remember the objective, to become muscular. Say you start with 10 lb dumbbell curls. You could easily do a second set 15-20 seconds later. Fast forward 3-4 months and you are up to 25 lb dumbbells. Chances are you will need a little longer rest between sets. Your muscles have the ability to grow some 300% stronger however your ability to recover is around 125%. When one first starts to exercise, we need a “break in” period, that time when our body is not used to exercise. Depending on age, more on this a bit later, break in period lasts between 1-2 weeks. Longer if you over the age of 45 and sedentary, sorry.
A good middle ground; no more than 24 total sets and no longer than 60-70 min workouts. This includes a brief cardio session. No knock on the high set proponents, but studies do bear out that doing more that 24 total sets and/or longer than 70 mins in the gym results in diminishing returns on your exercise investment. Think of it this way (and this is after the break in period); you walk into the gym, you warm up, you go thru your resistance training and you warm down. you SHOULD leave the gym feeling invigorated not exhausted. If you are barely walking out the door then you have just exercise too strenuously resulting in a longer and needless recuperation. Remember the 125%. The majority of gym members either train with little intensity, too much intensity, or are not consistent. My motto has always been: “get in, hit it hard and fast, get out” period. If you have to put on headsets to remove distractions then do it.
Final thought: as we age especially for those of us over the age of 40, our joints are not what they used to be even if we have been exercising all along. Our goals then need to reflect this. Men, we may feel as though we can lift the weights we once used to in our 20′s but is it prudent? Is it necessary? And women, as you age, osteoporosis is a major concern. Resistance training, specifically those done standing, work to reverse this condition. Keep in mind other health issues such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. Our exercise regimen and intensity to be in alignment.


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