why intensity isn't always king

When it comes to exercise, I believe that intensity is extremely important. I love high-intensity workouts! I love the feeling of leaving a workout feeling like I gave it my all. The problem is you can’t do that every day without burning out. Intensity may be king, but the key to progress is consistency. I’ve seen too many people who only care about intensity. They get a great workout or two at the beginning of the week, then they struggle the rest. They keep injuring themselves and having to take time off. Those few high-intensity workouts may have been great, but then they lose all progress because they don’t recover properly. I want to help all of you avoid that burnout and find a balance in your training that keeps you getting results long term. Here are some other things to consider when programming your workouts.

Manipulating volume is a great way to manage intensity while still getting the gains you want. Training volume will depend on what your goals are. If you’re looking for hypertrophy then your volume is going to be on the high end, but intensity can be relatively low. If you’re looking for strength gains then your rep range will be much lower, but the intensity will be higher. Mixing in both types of training can help you manage your intensity levels so that you’re gaining both strength and muscle without overloading your body with too much intensity.

Working hard in the gym matters, but so does your programming. Having a good plan that incorporates everything you need and addresses your weak points matters just as much, if not more, than intensity. After all, there’s little point in working hard if you don’t know what you’re working toward. Having a smart program can help you know when to up the intensity and when to focus on other things, like technique and execution.

A good program will also incorporate some sort of periodization. Your body will adapt to whatever you put it through, so then you need to give it new stress. Doing the same thing over and over again will only work for so long. Periodization means changing your training program at regular intervals. If you’re following a program or have a coach/trainer they should already be incorporating different training blocks. When I’m prepping for a powerlifting meet I go through different training blocks. I might start with a hypertrophy block that’s high volume and low intensity, then move into blocks that increase the intensity and lower the volume to build my strength up periodically. This kind of periodization can help moderate intensity levels to be high when needed and lower when your body needs to recover.

Speaking of recovery, it’s as essential to progress as your workouts are. During an intense workout, we’re putting the body through stress and breaking down the muscle. Recovering properly is how we adapt and get better. Without it, your body will continue to break down faster than it can build itself back up. When I was young I definitely did not prioritize recovery and I paid for it with injuries and setbacks. Now that I’ve gotten a little older (I’m still fairly young), I NEED to make recovery a priority or else I just feel beat up. A good training program should incorporate recovery days and de-load weeks that allow your body to heal. 

The main thing I want you to take from this is to be smart and listen to your body. No coach, trainer, or online program knows your body better than you do. Still go into the gym (or wherever you get your exercise) and work hard! Still follow a program and give it your all when the workout requires it, but don’t be afraid to modify or take a day off if that’s what your body needs. That way you can continue to make progress and use your intensity when you need it!

Zach is an LA-based celebrity trainer and personal chef, mostly known for working with the guys from Queer Eye. Specializing in powerlifting and CrossFit, he loves to help people push their bodies to it's greatest potential. His background as both a trainer and former chef allows him to help my clients build a well rounded healthy lifestyle to feel better, move better, and look better. To see more training and workout inspiration from Zach, follow him on Instagram: @feldman.fit

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