I is for… Intensity

The wrestling fans and Olympic aficionados amongst you will know that Kurt Angle outlined three ‘I’s but I’ll just be focusing on the one – intensity. I’m not talking intensity in a programme sense here, this is purely about mind-set. If you want results is intensity integral? Or is it enough to just train smart?

Training hard vs training smart

As much as I would like to say you can’t, you can get fantastic results from horrendous programmes – it’s a good job too otherwise 95% of population would be screwed! The law of progressive overload is as obvious as it is simple, obey this and you’ll make progress.

The I-factor

The fact is that the mind will give out far sooner the body. From an evolutionary standpoint that’s not a bad thing as it’s a protective mechanism to keep us from harm. When we want to push the limits of what our bodies are capable of though, it’s far from ideal. If we won’t allow our bodies to be stressed and damaged enough then we won’t achieve the adaptations we’re looking for. Intensity is key to pushing these boundaries and maximising the potential for adaption.

How to bring it

You can’t just tell someone who has never trained a day in their life to ‘train with intensity’. Intensity is largely learned; something cultivated and developed over time. It stems from the motivation and passion to achieve your training goals – these must come first. I’ll assume we’re on track here and move on to my next point.

Plan, prepare, prevail

What can you do to maximise your training intensity? Let’s start with the plan.

  • Know when you’re training

If you set aside a time to train in advance then it gives you time to prepare for it, not just mentally but physically too. Keep it as regular and regimented as you can, the body will get used to when you train and tinker with its internal body-clock to incorporate.

  • Know what you’re doing

Have a plan – for the main body of the session at the very least. Again, this allows the mind and body to prepare for the task well in advance.

  • Know your goal

Go into the session knowing what you want to do and what you want to achieve. It’s no secret that you’ll train harder when you have something to reach for, make sure that your goal is tough enough to test you but realistic enough to achieve.

Get your body set-up to train

So, you’ve planned well, now let’s consider what you’ll need to be doing before, during and after your sessions.

  • Set up your brain to train

The brain is a big box of chemical reactions. From a neurophysiology standpoint, our moods and emotions are a function of neurotransmitters and hormones. To train with intensity we want to do what we can to maximise focus, drive and alertness. Seek to maximise the likes of testosterone, adrenalin, acetylcholine and dopamine in preparation for a session. This is best achieved through a mix of good pre-workout nutrition, psychological strategies and, of course, a proper warm-up.

  • When it’s work time, switch on

Make a conscious effort to get ‘in the zone’ when you’re working. I don’t care too much what you do in-between sets so long as you’re ready to go when it’s work time. If you struggle being able to switch into work-mode then get strict with your rest periods. Having a countdown leading into your set has a good habit of funnelling your focus towards your performance.

  • Take care of your recovery

Now you’ve done the train bit your next jobs are to eat, sleep and be happy. You won’t have the capacity to bring it to your sessions if you disregard the other 23 hours of the day. Poor quality food and poor quality will take its toll on the both the brain and the body.


Intensity is the X-factor in training, a multiplier for the end result. Training with intensity is critical if you’re looking to maximise adaptation. Being aware of the importance of training intensity is one half of the battle, the other half is bringing it…

Exercises, Nutrition, Performance, Psychology, Recovery , , , ,

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