What is intensity? How do we measure it? Why in the world is it even important?
Too often we find ourselves measuring intensity by simply looking at our heart rate or what are breathing sounds like. For some goals and workouts those are valid tools to measure intensity, but it’s not the only way that we should and could measure intensity. For some goals and workouts these 2 methods of measuring intensity don’t even matter. It’s important to realize what and how you need to measure your intensity in order to get the results you’re looking for.
Your hard will be different than my hard. Our strengths and weaknesses may not align, but the fight is very much the same for all of us. It will require heart, and dedication. It won’t happen over night, but your time will come with the constant pursuit of excellence.
This means that your intensity is relative to your abilities and goals. Don’t get caught up in measuring yourself by someone else’s standards.
Think about this quote before we get into this blog.
Different ways of measuring intensity
Intensity is not always defined by heavy breathing or a high heart rate. When you’re lifting heavy weights your heart rate is probably not going to spike up that high, should we measure intensity of strength workouts by our heart rate? Probably not. We should measure intensity by the percentages of our max lifts (1 rep max/ 1RM) and how many reps we do with that weight. This intensity is not measured by how heavy the weight feels, because your body is more recovered/stronger one day over another. The numbers we use (percentages of our 1 rep max) provide us with undeniable and accurate levels of intensity.
Even if our heart rate is the right way of measuring intensity, remember that a high heart rate is not always the way we should measure that either. If your goals is to increase lung capacity, low heart rate training (zone 2) is the RIGHT intensity. You might not feel like you’re working that hard but you will improve that way. Keep in mind, just because a workout leaves you feeling like you worked hard, that is not always the right indicator of intensity.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have to make sure to keep our heart rate high when needed during interval and sprint like sessions. During those type of sessions, we measure intensity and fitness by heart rate, but we also want to look at how quickly our heart rate drops back down between intervals. You can measure your progress here by your ability to recover between intervals, the faster your heart rate drops back down the better.
Some workouts fit in neither of the categories mentioned above. There are some workouts that require you to be right between a low heart rate zone and a high heart rate zone. 15-20-minute workouts are in that sweet spot, the workout is too long for it to be a sprint, but short enough to keep our heart rate higher than we would during longer distances/ time domains. This is where you want to measure a steady heart rate in zone 3-4.
Why is intensity so important?
A very basic way of describing intensity is this: Doing what you’re capable of while pushing the intensity that’s needed to develop your capacity. So, intensity is simply doing what your body can do to get better.
If we define intensity in such a basic format it’s easy to see and understand that intensity is needed for the progressions we’re hoping to see and create. Our body doesn’t adapt when the intensity is not high enough and we need that adaptation of our muscles to (literally) grow. Intensity is directly linked to and responsible for progress, without it we’re just moving without the chance of getting better.
To keep in mind
Take into consideration that intensity comes with recovery, better nutrition and sleep. Your muscles need time to recover from intense training sessions, so be sure to give yourself that time by taking rest days, mixing up intensities and adding sleep. Fueling your body with the appropriate nutrition will always be one of our main priorities to keep up intensity and grow after those efforts as well.
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