Before any of you get the wrong idea, I am not asking if you have the mental intensity that makes you capable of staring a bullfrog into an epileptic fit. In this industry one of the biggest terms being thrown around right now is the labelling of “High Intensity” Interval Training or “High Intensity” workouts, as if to create a definitive line between an “Intense” workouts verse “Regular” training sessions. So what is our obsession with the term intensity, and what does it even mean in the domain of health and fitness?

Let me begin by asking you to compare a few examples to determine which exercises or movements you would deem more intense;

  1. A person who is squatting the maximal amount of weight or a person who is pitching a baseball as fast as they can

  2. Usain Bolt sprinting 100m or Grant Hackett racing in a 1500m Freestyle race

  3. John Smith doing 10 minutes of High Intensity Interval Training or Jane Doe going for a 10km Max Pace Run

I would personally argue that all these movements require a maximal level of effort over a set period of time required to complete the task, and any budding physicists/mathematicians out there would recognise this relationship as the equation for Power (P=F x D/T or Strength vs Speed). That being said an inverse relationship can be seen then as we can rarely reach spectrums of either end without detriment to the other, I can either lift heavy loads slowly or move light loads fast and yet still produce the same amount of power. So if that is the case a fair statement to make is that the more work you are willing to do over a set period of time (power) the higher intensity the workout.

But is training intensely/powerfully enough? Is pitching a baseball over and over for 20 minutes going to give you the same results as lifting weighted loads over the same period of time? Both will result in vastly different outcomes and probably a multitude of repetitive stress injuries. Training for intervals at the same power output as a 10km run won’t give you the same results even though they are equally “intense”. We have to start removing labels on our training and start re-assessing our goals, goals that can spread across a broad spectrum of measurable outcomes such as skills, aerobic capacity, muscular strength or endurance, power lifting, accuracy, coordination etc… After all, to loosely paraphrase Darwin’s theory of evolution and relate it to humans ‘we adapt to the stresses we place on our bodies’ and as long as you are stressing your body through varied and goal specific training, I’d happily say you’re training intensely!

If you are interested in learning more about training programming and how you should be training for you goals then you know where to find us.

Jason Lim - Exercise Physiologist

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