There are many reasons, that I’ve seen, why people do not reach their health and fitness goals. A lack of motivation and/or not having a well-structured goal usually leads to the main culprit: no regular, meaningful exercise.
But even among those people who make the effort to train regularly, there is one big factor that is preventing them from achieving the results that they seek: the intensity of the workout. Or, more accurately, the lack of it.
To avoid any confusion we’ll define intensity in the following ways. In a cardio workout, (running, cycling, rowing etc.) it is the percentage of your Maximum Heart Rate (%MHR).
During a weight training session, the most weight you can lift in a single repetition is known as your 1RM (Repetition Maximum). Therefore, to categorize the intensity of this type of training, we can talk in terms of % of 1RM. Another prescription for weight-training intensity is to say 10RM, which is the maximum weight you can lift for 10 reps.
So now, we have measureable, objective ways of recording how hard you’re actually working as opposed to how hard you think or feel you’re working!
The problem I’ve seen with trainees, who don’t have a structured training programme, is that they simply do not work hard or smart enough. I’m not sure if it’s lack of confidence, fear of failure or simply not understanding what is required to get results, but I have no doubt that too many people are selling themselves short during their training sessions.
Sorry ladies, but lifting weights that are too light during training sessions mostly applies to you. Sets of 55 reps of tricep kickbacks are just not going to get you the shape you’re looking for!
Lads, on the other hand, tend to go for the heaviest dumb-bells in the gym and almost give themselves a hernia trying to bicep curl them.
Unfortunately neither of these approaches are very helpful if you’re looking to get the most from your training.
So now that I’ve offended both genders equally, I’d like to differentiate between those people who exercise for general health/leisure/relaxation purposes, and those who are seeking to lose weight and/or improve fitness and sports performance.
People who exercise for the sheer enjoyment of it should continue to do so as often as possible and enjoy every minute of it. Unfortunately, if body composition or improved athletic performance are the goals, it’s going to be a different type of “enjoyment”. I’ve often said that I hate training but I love having trained. The process isn’t always pleasant but the physical, mental (and sometimes even spiritual!) rewards are always worth it.
There’s absolutely no doubt that in order to reach those particular targets, you are going to have to work at it, and work hard. Anybody that tells you otherwise is being less than honest with you.
So, what intensity is required? Today I will give general guidelines and in the next post we can make it more specific. The usual caution always applies: when you begin a new programme, you need to start at an intensity that you can manage comfortably. You may also need GP clearance if you’ve any illnesses or injuries.
So here goes:
- Make sure you’re working up a sweat: It’s not a very accurate indicator of intensity because on a hot day you can sweat by just standing still. However if you’re not sweating while training, it’s almost guaranteed that you’re not working hard enough.
- Use the talk test: If you can hold a full-blown conversation while training, it means that your intensity and your concentration are not where they need to be.
- Don’t do the same workout twice: By all means you can do the same type of workout using the same exercises, but you should be aiming for an improvement on your previous session. If you managed to squat 3 sets of 10 at a certain weight, then you should aim for at least 1 set of 11 and 2 sets of 10 on your next visit. On the session after that you’ll do at least 2 sets of 11 etc.
- Keep your workout under 60 minutes: Unless you’re training for an endurance event like a triathlon or a marathon you should be gone in 60 minutes. And if you’ve trained hard enough you won’t want to do a minute more!
These tips should help you modify your existing workout. However, my next post will go into more detail on what types of training and specific exercises will help you get lean, fit and strong.