There are many variables that we can manipulate when it comes to resistance exercise including reps, sets, weight, speed of movement, frequency of training, and workout duration to name a few. However, when it comes to stimulating muscle growth and reaping the benefits of resistance exercise, the scientific evidence tends to point to one single variable as being the most important: the intensity of exercise.
Unfortunately, in the exercise community, the very word “intensity” is widely misunderstood and often misapplied. One of the most common misapplications is using percentage of one repetition maximum (%1RM). The problem here is that %1RM is a measure of load and not effort. Using this metric falsely implies that two individuals using the same load (%1RM) are working equally as hard when this is not always the case.
Understanding the need for uniformity in this area, a group of academics proposed the following definition of intensity in 2016. ‘Intensity’, in the truest sense, is the level of effort applied to a given load, defined as the number of repetitions performed in relation to the number possible. To put it even simpler, intensity is how hard you work during your workout and how much effort you are exerting during each exercise. To achieve a higher level of intensity in your workouts (and thus better results), you need not increase your weight, reps, sets, or speed of movement but rather simply need to train to the point of volitional fatigue or momentary muscular failure–literally the point where we cannot perform another repetition with perfect form.
Many novice exercisers or sometimes even experienced exercisers, attempt to replace this higher level of effort by manipulating other variables such as at the aforementioned weight, sets, reps, etc simply because they cannot endure the inherent discomfort associated with working hard to and at the point of muscle fatigue. Consequently, this is the very reason why so many people fail to see the results they so desperately seek from their exercise regimen.
Practical application: If you seek better results from you workouts, do not fall victim to what most people do (manipulate meaningless variable like reps, sets, weight, and time), but rather increase the intensity of your workout by embracing the discomfort and working as hard as you possibly can during your workouts.
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