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The importance of training intensity for achieving results

Updated: May 15, 2020

In my opinion one of the most overlooked aspects of training is the level of intensity and effort put into each and every set.

I see so many people not achieving the results they’re looking for because I believe they’re putting more focus on what “special” program to use, what rep range they should be using, how much volume per muscle group per week, what exercises they should be doing, training periodisation etc. Yes, these aspects of training do matter, but if you’re not training with the right intensity then none of these things matter all that much. If your program states


that you must do ten reps at a certain weight, you hit that rep range with the chosen weight and stop, however you still had 3-4 reps left in the tank then you’re not challenging yourself or training with the required level of intensity. Without the right level of intensity then your body will have no need to adapt, grow and become stronger because the stress level just simply isn’t high enough. If your goal is muscle building then you must give your body a reason to grow, adapt and become stronger and the only way to do this is by achieving the correct level of intensity for each and every set.

I like to take my clients to within 1-2 reps of failure for most exercises maintaining good technique throughout. This sometimes means we will go past the set rep range on the program however will guarantee that the intensity is high enough to elicit change and adaptation. If you’re regularly going over your set rep range with the weight on the bar or dumbbells used then you simply add a little more weight brining you closer to the set rep range and repeat this process. This type of training is called auto regulated progression and for me is the best way for the majority of beginner and intermediate lifters to achieve the best results. Once you achieve the correct intensity for each set then you can concentrate more on training aspects such as volume, sets per muscle per week, exercise selection, training periodisation etc.

In my opinion I believe the best approach for the majority of people is to aim for 8-15 sets per week for compound movements, 6-8 for isolation exercises. Hit each muscle group twice per week with at least 24 hours between sessions, ideally 48 hours to allow for adequate recovery and adaptation. For exercise selection, put more emphasis on compound movements(multi joint movements) such as squats, deadlift, bench press, rows, pull ups etc, with some isolation or accessory exercises at the end of your session such as bicep curls, triceps extensions, calf raises, lateral raises etc. Although your core will be activated with the majority of your compound exercises, doing some core isolation work at the end of your session is also recommended for improved training performance and injury prevention.

The training process can seem very daunting for beginners these days with so much conflicting advice and people trying to sell the “perfect program”, the “must do exercises”, the “quickest way to build muscle” etc but this is all BS and is all for financial gain. Training does not need to be complicated and require hundreds of different exercises or hours and hours in the gym to achieve results, in fact these things will slow down progress and results in many cases. Keep things simple, concentrate on training intensity using good form, focus on slowly getting stronger with a decent exercise selection, recovery, good nutrition and stay consistent over time and you’re guaranteed to achieve the results you’re looking for.


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