No matter how committed a person is to their fitness and exercise routines, there are times when the enemy of fitness improvement is a plateau.
This can be the result of a workout routine becoming boring or overly repetitive. It can also be a result of a program that lacks training intensity.
Boredom by itself, best defined as diminished interest in training due to over familiarity with a routine (whatever that routine is), can wreak havoc on a successful fitness regimen by neglecting the body's need for a new stimulus. Frequently, a change in training "intensity" can make a significant difference in both the psychological and physical effects of a good fitness program.
In most fitness texts, the word "intensity" is frequently referred to an increase in "perceived exertion" or increased heart rate. This definition simply means that, when you feel like your body is working harder, in all probability you are correct. As a fitness trainer, I have learned that while "perceived exertion" might be the outcome of increased intensity, the means of getting to this point through exercise adjustments can be quite simple.
One example is the direction you move weights during resistance training. If you have been using machines that define motion patterns throughout the majority of your workouts, it might be time to "shake the tree," a term I use for throwing some "good chaos" into your routine. This would be done by using free weights that require more stabilization during their movement, and dumbbells instead of barbells to exploit the weaker side of your body. Although it seems simple, a small change like this can make a significant difference in how hard your body must work to re-adapt to something new.
The important point to understand is that, regardless of the workload, the body is extremely adaptable to physical stress. While it's undeniable that your body becomes stronger with any kind of fitness training, over time it will also become highly capable of "figuring out" more efficient ways to move against a given resistance, and develop movement specific strength.
When I work with a client, it always amazes me to watch how much harder their body works when we change even the smallest variable in a training routine. Whether you are walking, running or lifting, there are many different ways to change the variables that control intensity. Let's take a look at several of them:
• Speed: This doesn't necessarily mean faster. When lifting weights, there is a technique where the amount of time the muscle is under tension (TUT) by lifting as slowly as possible forces the muscle to work much harder and makes for a brutal work-out. On the flip side, any time we run faster, we are increasing the intensity by making our heart work harder.
• Work: In weight lifting, the "work" is best defined by the amount of weight we are lifting. As we increase the weight (work), the muscles must contract more forcefully to move the given weight or load. In running, the work might be the terrain or resistance. Try running up a hill to better understand the work.
• Duration: The longer we continue to work against any given resistance, the more taxing it is to the body. It doesn't matter whether this is in the weight room or on the track.
• Recovery: When you shorten the amount of time between bouts of exertion, you are increasing the intensity of each ensuing effort. Anyone who has performed interval training of any kind, or shortened the recovery time between sets in the weight room, will understand this.
The most important thing to remember about intensity is that it requires change from the way you have been working your body. While the majority of work-outs are never "easy," the body readily -- and noticeably over time -- adapts through improvement. It is during these periods of acclimating, that an increase in exercise intensity can make significant changes to strength, body composition and overall fitness.
Bill Victor is the owner of Victor Fitness System Professional Fitness Trainers, Flashpoint Athletic Speed & Agility Specialists, and Performance Nutrition Consultants. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.