It pains me to see many well-intentioned folks toiling indefinitely on their ellipticals and bikes, or suffering through moderately-intense sets of machine exercises. Why? Because they could be getting much more out of their workouts if they understood and applied the principles of high-intensity exercise.

Most folks self-select a mild, even comfortable intensity for their workouts, regardless of which piece of equipment (cardio, machines, free weights) they choose to use. It makes perfect sense since human beings naturally avoid physical pain. However, staying “comfortable” is exactly why you haven’t lost that extra 5 pounds or been able to increase your bench by 20.

While I’m not suggesting that you suffer every time you hit the gym—there needs to be a balance between bouts of lower and higher intensity workouts (to avoid injury and burnout)—being uncomfortable is how you make gains.

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What exactly is “High-Intensity” (HI)?

Whenever I read discussions about HI, the author usually refers to elevating one’s heart rate through the use of sprints, jumps, or other explosive exercises. Let’s call this Metabolic HI.

Metabolic HI: When you jog on the treadmill for 20 minutes and can still engage in a phone conversation, you’re probably maintaining a heart rate of 50-60% of your maximum. In order to amp up your intervals into HI territory, you’ll want to aim for a heart rate between 75-90% of your max. Rather than giving you a fancy formula to calculate those exact numbers (but you can click http://www.briancalkins.com/HeartRate.htm if you really want to know), aim to push yourself hard enough so that you can’t last at the activity for more than 30-60 seconds.

high intensity workout_2

Implementation: Aim for 2 sessions of HI training per week, ideally using a heart rate monitor to accurately track your heart rate.

1. Warm up for 3-5 minutes at a comfortable pace (treadmill, spin bike, rowing machine, etc).
2. Push yourself for 30-60 seconds and then follow that up with a lower-intensity active recovery interval of about 1 minute.
3. Repeat bursts of higher and lower intensity intervals approximately 8-12 times per workout.
4. Cool down for 3-5 minutes at a comfortable pace

In addition to HI interval training, intensity is also a term used to describe the weights you would use for resistance training. Let’s call this Mechanical HI.

Mechanical HI: When you grab dumbbells for shoulder presses you are selecting a load that represents a percentage of the amount you can lift 1 time. This is called your 1 Rep Max (1RM). Essentially, the heavier the weight you lift, the closer you get to your 1RM. The closer you get to your 1 RM, the higher the intensity you are using.

Like cardio users, most people who lift weights (or who use resistance training machines) stick to relatively comfortable loads, that can be lifted from 8-15 times. In order to take advantage of the benefits of high-intensity resistance training, you’ll want to select weights that you can’t lift more than 4-6 times (with perfect form).

Implementation: Aim for 2 strength training sessions per week.

1. Use movements you are familiar with and know how to perform with good technique
(Check out my YouTube channel for instructional videos)
2. Warm up with a relatively light load with which you can do 8-10 reps.
3. Do 2 sets with a heavier load that you can only lift 6 times (not 7).
a. Rest for 2 minutes in between.
4. Do 2 sets with an even heavier load for 4 reps.
a. Rest for 3 minutes in between.
5. Focus on performing 3 different movements during each HI strength workout
a. Day 1: Squats, Rows, and Lunges
b. Day 2: Deadlifts, Shoulder Press, and Step Ups

Benefits of HI Training

Aside from feeling MUCH stronger and more fit, you can also expect to:
*Incinerate calories, during and after your workouts, allowing you to lose weight more quickly
*Increase your bone density and muscle mass
*Reduce your blood pressure
*Increase your heart’s efficiency and strength

Other ways to incorporate HI into your workouts

In addition to the above recommendations, you can focus on:

*Increasing your running speed, so that you travel a further distance for each HI interval
*Reduce your active recovery period during cardio exercise from 1 minute to 30-40 seconds, or the rest intervals during your strength training from 3 minutes to 2.
*Adding other exercises to your HI training repertoire:
-Jumping rope
-Bear Crawls

-Sled pushes and pulls
-Battle ropes (if available)
-Hill running
-Plyometrics: jumping, hopping, leaping (have a professional watch you for good form)

Summary: If you want to get better results from the gym, start incorporating some HI work. However, it’s important that you implement this type of approach slowly rather than completely abandoning the workouts you already do, because your connective tissues and muscles need time to adapt to the added stress. The last thing you want is to get injured, so use good judgment.

Therefore, when first starting out, aim for 1 HI cardio session and 1 HI strength session per week. Do this for 3-4 weeks before upping the ante, so your body has adequate time to recover and adapt.

Good luck and let me know how it goes.

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