Exercise Intensity: can it be manipulated?

March 22nd, 2014 by Lou Leave a reply »

The answer as whether exercise intensity could be manipulated is a resounding YES!!! There are several ways to do this and each has its own benefits. The overload principle is to exercise with ever increasing resistance, be it free weights, plate loading or selectorize machines, or even calisthenics using only your bodyweight. Also varying the sets and reps. But first; why do we need to intensify our intensity? Why not keep it the same? Our bodies are very efficient. It adapts to an exercise regimen very quickly. If we do not give it a reason to change and improve, it will not. It is also the same reason we should eat a variety of food from the different food groups; to get the most out of each and stay balanced.
Lets define resistance, sets and repetitions. Resistance is that which operates opposite the direction of motion of a body and tends to prevent or slow down the body’s motion; in this case an exercise piece of equipment or our own body. A set encompasses a series of repetitions (reps) Generally 1-6 are done by powerlifters, 8-20, done by fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders, or 20 plus done by extreme sports athletes for endurance. Most fall under the second category.
Having written the above, let me now state that exercise intensity is more important than the amount of sets and reps. If you do all the sets and reps with insufficient resistance, then your progress will come to a complete standstill. (interesting note: research shows there is no difference in doing 1, 2 or 4 sets per exercise when it comes to “strength gains” as long as the last rep or two are challenging) As a general rule, heavier resistance, lower reps; lighter resistance, higher reps. A track & field example would be the 100 or 200 meter sprinter vs a marathon runner. In the former, the athlete runs extremely fast, covering the distance in the shortest time possible. In the latter, the opposite occurs. The athlete needs to pace him/herself in order to conserve energy for the finish. Now observe the muscle mass of each. The sprinter is quite muscular because of the high degree of forceful muscular contraction. The distance runner is sinewy, muscles contracting rhythmically, but with much less force.
So again, you need to ask yourself, “what is it I want to achieve?” In my previous article, I stated a good rule to remember is do no more than 24 total sets and/or no more than 60-70 mins of total training. Remember this training rule: workout intensely, briefly, then leave the gym. Don’t let your training rule your life. I had a female client who exercised ONCE A WEEK with me for 8 months with incredible results. I encouraged her to exercise twice a week, and her gains were even more spectacular. Am I advocating brief workouts? No but what I am saying is we need to find what works best for us.
What about the speed of each rep? Arthur Jones, inventor of the Nautilus exercise equipment, believed in 1 set of 12 reps done in a cadence of 4 secs down, eccentric or negative, contraction, 2 secs up, concentric or positive, contraction. This he said would reduce the “momentum” factor. Dr. Ralph Carpinelli, prof at Adelphi University human performance lab in Garden City, NY, in the mid 90′s was advocating a 1 set, 8 secs up, 8 secs down, for 12 reps! I ran into him years later and ask him if he was still teaching this, he said no…now he teaches 1 set 10 secs up, 10 secs down! OUCH!! Told him he was SICK!! Both of us and our wives had a good laugh.
Bottom line; we need to:
1) work out with ever increasing intensity
2) vary the intensity from low, to med, to high
3) vary the sets and reps
4) vary the speed of the reps
5) vary the speed of the workout itself
6) vary the exercises
All of this varying will result in challenging workouts and steady progress.


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