What is Intensity? Part 2

In my previous post I explained the reasoning to organize workouts based on intensity.  While heart rate based training is the gold standard for measuring intensity, this type of training is more useful in repetitive endurance activities.

For weight training, a typical set lasts less than a minute, and heart rate isn’t consistent during that time. Intensity is best measured using percentages of your 1 rep max (1RM). If you can perform only 1 repetition that would be considered 100% intensity. This method allows us to realize the stress placed upon the nervous system. You may feel depleted at the end of a long run, but you’ll feel burnt after an intense strength training workout. It’s a subtle difference in the type of exhaustion, but an important distinction to make.

Weight lifting percentages

Most exercise programs call for 8-15 reps. This is equivalent to 80%-65% intensity if done correctly. High intensity usually refers to 85% or above. That’s 6 reps or less. My clients fear the low numbers because that means heavy weight. All rep ranges are important, but don’t be tricked into thinking you’re training is offering a benefit it really is not. How can Pilates build strength? How can Barre build strength? There simply is not enough nervous system stimulation to acquire strength beyond a very limited point. The burn and perceived exertion in these modalities is attributed to isolating small muscles, making it seem like high intensity due to muscle failure. However, small muscle groups and isolation exercises don’t provide the nervous system stimulation to elicit neural adaptations.

Intensity is not a feeling, it is a variable that can be measured and adjusted. What’s the best exercise you ask? Wrong question. What’s the proper rep range for my goals right now? Much better question.


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