I have bemoaned and lamented the lacking intensity of many trainees approaches, along with spoken at length at the dire need for intensity in training so frequently that I feel it becomes necessary to directly address the subject.
(Before I continue, in point of clarity I want to explain that I am referring more to the notion of intensity of EFFORT rather than the understood concept of intensity referencing percentage of maximal load. I realize it upsets the nerds to misuse the term, but throughout this writing please understand my meaning.)
The variable the one MUST bring to training is intensity. All other variables are controlled outside of training. Frequency is a matter of scheduling, programming is a matter of research (for good or for ill), consistency is a matter of habit, etc etc, it all occurs outside of training, but once one enters the gym, they MUST act with intensity. If not, then all that work performed outside of the gym was for naught. However, in most cases, a trainee fixates so much on what is performed outside of the gym that they forget just how necessary it is to actually perform once they arrive. They are of the belief that, as long as all the external factors are in place, the results will arrive.
This stems fundamentally from a misunderstanding of the words of authors and lifters. Intensity is rarely spoken of as a necessity because it is PRESUMED by the author that one will employ it. When one writes of programming, it is with the understanding that the programming will be executed with violence and intent. When writes about the necessity of deloading, it is with the understanding that one will necessitate a deload DUE to the amount of intensity they brought to training. This is presumed because it was inherent in the acts of those who wrote and spoke of lifting (that were successful in their pursuits), and in having always been present, the notion that one could train WITHOUT intensity was inconceivable. However, new lifters took this lack of emphasis to infer that intensity was of minimal value, and that, as long as one fulfilled the mathematical requirements of the sets and reps, they would get the results. It became a program, rather than a guide.
This isn't in the 10 Commandments..but God probably still doesn't want you to do it
In addition, intensity became a quality that was more and more difficult to find, encourage, and cultivate. With the downplay of childhood athletics, rough housing, and basic play, children grew into adults who at no point ever learned how to actually push themselves physically in any capacity. They simply were unaware of the sensation one feels when actually TRYING. They had coasted through a digital and neutered existence free of discomfort, and they attempted to apply this same lackadaisical approach to the transformation of their bodies. The body, stubborn in its willingness to alter itself, was unpersuaded in these attempts, as it rightfully should be. Without proper stimulus, what motivation does it have to change?
And still the problem continued! A lifetime of lethargy left many the new trainee physically unable TO exert themselves, even if they mustered the courage to try. We observe this all the time; when a trainee is accused of not bringing enough intensity to the gym, they’ll always explain how the throw up at the end of EVERY session and are always breathing like a freight train and sweating buckets, so surely they MUST be lifting with intensity. However, what they describe is the same histrionics of an obese man trying to walk up a flight of stairs. All this trainee is demonstrating is that they are so physically unable to perform that they’re not in enough shape TO exert themselves to the degree necessary to elicit change. Put simply, they actually need to get in shape to workout.
I bet this feels like one helluva workout
One cannot measure their intensity by how much puke or sweat or blood they leave behind in the gym. All that does is demonstrate a lack of hygiene. Intensity is about existing outside of one’s comfort zone, with the longer amount of time being better. It is about riding the razor’s edge between hard training and injury, and always pushing the limits further and further toward the latter direction. One must condition their mind to not quit such to the point that the body FAILS under the stress being performed. One must be intimately familiar with “dangerous” sensations, like light headedness, seeing stars, exertion headaches, blurred vision, blown out capillaries, etc etc. THIS is intensity.
Do not confuse an inability to perform with performing to the max of one’s capability. One must have enough capability TO exceed themselves. This means one has to constantly be discovering their limits in their attempts to surpass them. If you’ve never failed a squat, deadlift, bench, etc, you’ve most likely never lifted with intensity. I do not mean failed as in saying to yourself “Oh man, I didn’t have a single rep left” as you rack the bar with comfort. I mean fail as in, the bar is on your shoulders, you squat down into the hole, try to get out, throw the bar over your head into the pins, fall backwards, slam the back of your head onto the pegs of the squat rack and get pissed at yourself for missing the rep. I’m talking about a bench rep that descends onto your throat 1mm at a time as you try with everything in your power to fight it. I’m talking a deadlift that has your whole body in convulsions for over 15 seconds as you hitch with everything in your power before finally having the bar rip out of your hands (or, if you’re wearing straps, pull you to the floor face first). Those who are lacking intensity are terrified of ever failing, while those who have intensity are terrified of NOT succeeding. One avoids failure, the other does everything they can to win.
In the first one, he went the distance. In the 4th one, he ended the Cold War. Winning is better than not losing.
Which do you want to be?