Understanding Intensity in Your Training

This weeks article is focused on understanding intensity in your workouts.  Whether you are a distance runner, go to kickboxing classes or attend a functional training gym, the results you are looking for are found when you understand your intensity levels.

Any good program, regardless of the type of training you are doing, should have the proper stimulus programmed in it.  This understanding of program designed is the foundation of any good expert in their field.  Too often, newer practitioners copy what others do and make things up on the fly.  Proper programming takes years to master and is adjusted on a daily basis depending on how your students or athletes are reacting to the stimulus.  My advice to anyone looking to get results is follow someones program that has experience and interact with them so the proper adjustments can be made for your personal needs.

Now to the most important part.  You are responsible for understanding how to interact with your program.  Don’t just blindly follow the reps, sets, distance and whatever else is written on the paper in front of you.  If you don’t interact with the person who programmed it for you then you have no idea what kind of effort you need to put into each part.  Knowing the how’s and why’s behind something will give you the understanding needed to actually implement the plan.  It is not the programmer’s responsibility to chase you down and make you understand.  You need to constantly communicate with them.  Ask questions.  Give feedback.

Now that you understand the importance of paying attention to your specific programming, let’s discuss the different levels of intensity.   We can categorize intensity in training to three levels.  Understanding that each level has its own intensity is important.  I have purposely reversed the normal order these are taught in.  Most don’t understand how to train the most important level of intensity which I have referred to as Level 3.

Level 1

The most utilized energy zone in training is the aerobic zone.  All endurance training falls under this by definition.  Any training over a 2-3 minute mark that relies on your oxygen intake for fuel falls under this energy zone.  It is the most trained energy zone because it is the least uncomfortable.  That is why so many flock to it.  Yes, it is mentally challenging, but it is also low power output.  To make improvements past your base conditioning, training in the other two energy zones is required.  Just randomly logging time and distance will not get the results you are looking for.  In fact, by only training this energy zone the body will adapt to using stored fat as fuel.  When the long slow burn workouts stop the body works hard to store more fat.  That’s right, if you don’t keep it up forever you are training yourself to gain weight!

Level 2

The next energy zone that is frequented by the masses is the anaerobic zone.  This zone focuses on using the bodies stored sugar (glucose) to fuel energy.  The body is capable of staying in this zone for 1-3 minutes.  Here is the catch.  If you are training this zone correctly you will be out of energy and not able to continue when you reach your limit.  You see this in middle distance runners.  At the end of a competitive 800m race.  The runners seem to fall apart the last 100m and sometimes fall at the finish line.  They put in a max effort in this energy zone and were out of juice!

Level 3

The last energy zone I want to talk about is the hardest to train.  This is the phosphagen zone.  This is the quickest energy supply.  It uses stored Creatine Phosphate for immediate fuel.  This zone can last anywhere from 10-20 seconds.  This is the hardest zone to train because it requires 100% max effort to improve it.  The body uses so much energy in such a short amount of time that it is just plain uncomfortable.  Not many like that feeling but it generates body transforming results.  Over the years, I have seen many putting Level 2 effort in when training Level 3.  They do this because they want to save themselves for the rest of the programming.  There is nothing to save.  Put in the appropriate effort and reap the rewards!

The key to your success is you need to train all three zones.  Identify them and put the correct effort in when it is called for.  You are at your own level of training.  If you are not able to complete the training volume as written with the energy required you need to modify to where you are at on that given day.  If you are not able to put in 20 seconds of max effort for 8 full rounds then lower the time to 10 seconds with a longer rest and complete your training for the day.  If you cannot maintain the pace you are running for a complete 5k then you need to reduce your energy output until you can complete the programmed distance or you might even need to adjust the distance.  Over time you can increase how long you “go” for.  What is important, is the 100% max effort in the correct energy zone durning the training.

Let’s recap.  It is your responsibility to understand your training.  Interact with the person who programs you, so you understand what kind of effort you are required to put in for the results you are expecting.

Now get back to training!

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