Let’s Talk About INTENSITY
Intensity refers to the amount of work required to perform an activity, more specifically, the amount of weight that we have on the bar.
3 sets of 3 reps with 225lbs is lower intensity than 3 sets of 3 reps with 275lbs.
When you’re on a program that focused on strength, you’ll Usually you start with lower intensity and higher volume and over time, volume decreases as intensity increases.
As you can see, it’s pretty straight forward, but lot of people confuse Intensity with the concept of being intense during your session (e.g. yelling, screaming, sweating and so on like a mad man). Now, I’m not opposed to this behavior as it can fun, that’s not we mean here.
Now that you know what Intensity is, it’s important to know how to use it.
You can measure your Intensity most effectively by using:
The RPE scale
Rated Perceived Exertion
It isn’t ideal to train until failure every time you walk into the gym, as you’ll likely burn yourself out and you will have to lower your frequency and overall volume. Plus, training to failure puts you at a much higher risk of injury, and dealing with the annoying pains in your joints.
Always think long term. Remember to Listen to your body, if you know you aren’t fully recovered, or you’re dealing with an injury, don’t increase the weight.
For this program, we’ll be utilizing the RPE scale.
RPE scale: The RPE scale is used to measure the intensity of your exercise. It gives you an idea of how hard you are training during each set.
RPE 10: You wouldn’t have achieved 1 more rep with proper form (training until failure)
RPE 9: You would have achieved 1 more rep with proper form
RPE 8: You would have performed 2 more reps in the tank with proper form
RPE 7: You would have performed 3 more reps with proper form
RPE 6: You would have performed 4 more reps with proper form
RPE 1-5: You’re Not using enough weight
Anything between RPE 1-5 or under 50% of your one rep max usually isn’t enough weight to cause adaptation from your muscles.
Let’s say your bench press 1RM (one rep max) is 245lbs. Benchpressing under 120lbs (under 50% of 1RM) is not enough intensity (weight) to cause any new muscle growth. We need to stimulate our muscles with enough weight (over 50% of our 1RM).
At the same time, we don’t want to train with too much weight as it will be too hard to accumulate enough volume to cause any new muscle growth.
If we train with our 1 rep max or 100% intensity, it is not enough volume to cause growth on it’s own. Plus due to it being such a demand on the body, it can increase risk of injury and we won’t have the energy to perform multiple sets to increase volume.
Let’s say your 1 rep max deadlift is 345lbs.
What is more volume, doing one 1 with 100% intensity? (RPE 10)
Or being able to perform 3 sets, using 70% intensity? (RPE 7)
SPEAKING OF PROPER FORM…
We need to perform enough volume to set a growth muscle stimulus for new muscle gains. It’s more effective to accomplish this by training staying between RPE 6-9 aka 60-90% of your one rep max. This is optimal for receiving the benefits of intensity + volume. With the RPE 6-9 range, you’ll always have between 1 to 4 more reps in the tank with proper form.
So all workouts in this program will be in the 5-15 rep range.
Over 15 reps may be too light to cause adaption and is more endurance focused.
Always keep all of The 4 Training Principles in Mind: Frequency, Volume, Intensity and Progressive Overload. For this program, we will work with RPE scale which I’ve already laid out for you. Here’s a practical example of how we will use it.
Let’s say I start my workout with squats with a weight light enough that I could have done 2 more reps with proper form. The goal is 225lbs for 8 reps.
Let’s also say, that I’m not fully recovered on this day, so during the first set I only hit 5 reps, but with RPE scale of 7 (meaning I could have done 3 more) then this is fine. If I had pushed through it, I would have been even weaker during the following sets due to pre-exhausting my muscle on the first set. When you do this, your performance (strength) decreases drastically.
If I had trained until muscle failure and achieved the 8 reps with RPE 10 (training until muscle failure), then I would have probably only hit 8/5/4/4 in the sets of squats, but if I had stuck to the RPE scale, my sets would have looked more like 5/7/7/6, so in total 25 reps with RPE 8 compared to 21 reps from going all out, pre-exhausting my muscles on the first set with RPE 10, risking injury.
It’s always better to not train until failure than not being able to train at all due to injury. I used to “push through” reps even when I know I wasn’t fully recovered or rested, which lead to decreased performance. So by taking advantage of the RPE scale, if you aren’t able to hit a set amount of reps due to a setback, after a while, you start to learn your body and know in your mind how many reps you could have done, which helps you improve long term.
The Recommended RPE range is included for each workout. The RPE scale is lower for lower body movements like deadlifts, due to them having a longer recovery than upper body movements like overhead press.
Lower Body RPE Scale 7-8 | Upper Body RPE Scale 8-9
So for we’ve touched on the main Principles of building muscle: Frequency, Volume & Intensity and Progressive Overload. Remember to use this as a study/reference guide, go back and re-read the components that you might not be clear on.