How intense should a typical workout be?
This is a question I get asked a lot, both by clients as well as associates, and the answer comes down to several factors, the first being how challenging the person exercising wants the workout to be.
Not all workouts have to be super challenging every time. Sometimes, we exercise to maintain our fitness and to continue moving in a certain fitness direction. We also train for specific deliverables (when we play sports or take part in scheduled competitive events, for example, and sometimes purely because it is part of our general lifestyle.
But, if we want to improve our fitness, to become stronger, more efficient, have more energy and live for the long-term, then our workouts should be challenging and, as part of that objective, should also include bouts of physical intensity when training.
Intensity in this context can be understood as being “the quality or state of being intense especially: extreme degree of strength, force, energy, or feeling. 2: the magnitude of a quantity (such as force or energy) per unit (as of area, charge, mass, or time)”
In physical training terms, this translates into exercising to the point of maximum exertion, endurance or ability. It is a physical, mental and emotional state that is felt deeply by the person exercising and which is distinct from the average, resting level that most people experience during their typical day. It is also a heightened sense of what most people experience when they exercise; it is at the upper end of that experience and the point at which the body and mind know it is their maximum effort at that point of training time.
In physiological form, such (typically cardiovascular) exercise boosts the journey of oxygen in the body as it moves to the muscles. We talk in fitness training a lot about the ‘cardio’ capacity’ (which is central to this process) that is needed to exercise in a demanding way and this can best be understood in terms of the more a person runs, for example, the more he or she facilitates this journey of the oxygen in the body and the intake of it to get it to the muscles as it is needed.
Or, to put it another way, the fit body becomes so tuned to the demands that are placed upon it through demanding exercise, that it performs this function - feeding the physiological machine as required - as efficiently as it possibly can. Through exercise, it is tuned to perform at this optimal level and the incrementally built-up intensity of training tunes the physical machine to perform to the best of its ability, without over-demanding the body.
So, if you want to exercise to the maximum potential of your body over the longest time period that is realistic for you, build an (informed!) exercise programme to tune your physical form, and include intensive workouts as part of such training.
You will be stronger and have more energy as a result of doing so.