Saturday, January 28, 2012

Up The Intensity!

Hey, want to lose weight fast?  How about pack on some serious muscle in as little time as possible?  Maybe increase your metabolism and push your body into building, burning, fitness mode?  Well my friends, it's about time you increased your workout intensity.

Sure sure, everyone tells you to "push it," or work harder, egging you on in the gym, while you might be perfectly content to walk on the treadmill at an average pace so you can still actually hear the TV hanging on the wall, and watch the soap opera comfortably.  To you, the gym might be just an annoying routine, where you'd like to be as comfortable as possible doing uncomfortable things (like walking, jogging, biking, or lifting heavy things.)  That's all fine and dandy, and it's up to you, but not only will your progress toward any sort of goal be slowed to a crawl, but you're more likely to get into the rut that so many fall into --The rut of ZERO MOTIVATION,and of course.....low intensity.

Listen, your body responds to intensity.  You'll feel your heart rate shoot skyward, beads of sweat pop out everywhere, and your muscles burn.  It's uncomfortable, no doubt.  But by doing intense things, in any sort of workout you do, you're forcing your body to adapt, to work, and to push itself to the next level.  You'll burn a fantastic number of calories.  Think about it, the harder your heart is beating, the more your calorie furnace is heating up.  If you just saunter along on the treadmill all day, or lift weights far below the level of any sort of real effort, your heart won't get going, your body won't strain, and you won't increase your metabolic rate a bit.  No effort = no results, it's as simple as that.  These days, I see far too many people who are too comfortable in the gym.  Listen, you can love the place, but love it for the results it gives you, not because it's comfortable.  Be comfortable with pushing yourself.  Here are a few ways to get on the seriously intense workout track:

HIGH INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING:  Are you a cardio lover?  Do you enjoy the treadmill, the spinning machine, or the elliptical?  Well then, HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, is definitely for you.  This is truly the next level of cardio.  It'll take a shorter amount of time, and shoot your heart rate sky high (safely of course).  The concept is pretty simple.  Let's use the treadmill as an example.  When starting out, warm up for about a minute with a medium walk to slow jog.  Then, for the next minute or so, get up to a relatively comfortable pace, one you could keep for at least half an hour (a steady jog, I'd suggest between 5.5-7.0 mph for the average person).  Hit this for another minute.  Once that second hand turns over for the third minute though, the fun begins.  Quickly increase to an 80-95% sprint for a good 15-30 seconds, making sure to push yourself to near maximum speed.  Keep breathing deep and steady, and feel the burn in those legs.  PUSH HARD.  Then, when time's up, go back to your steady jog pace and cool down for about a minute. guessed it, repeat.  For a beginner, I'd suggest four complete cycles (four jogs, four sprints), then every week or so get one more interval in there.  Work up to a total of around 20-25 minutes of HIIT, and I guarantee you'll see some real results.  Religious HIITers drop weight quickly and keep it off due to their vastly increased metabolism which is due to the irregular taxing of your heart and muscles.  You'll build leg muscle too, especially if you play around with the incline.  There's all sorts of HIIT workouts out there, google a few and try them out.

Oh, and HIIT works with any sort of cardio.  Try some hardcore spinning intervals, or elliptical, or jump rope, or take it outside and use a hill, a bike, or just plain RUN.  You can even walk and do it (have you ever tried to keep pace on a maximum speed walk?  Definitely not easy).  It's simple, and it produces guaranteed results.  It's not easy, but it gives an amazing sense of accomplishment.  And sometimes it's fun to see just how fast you can run.

Here's a great intro to HIIT, along with a few provided workouts:

HEAVY SQUATS:  My personal favorite.  To be honest, I'm not the cardio type.  But guess what, to keep lean, cardio ISN'T A NECESSITY.  Sure it's great to get at least something aerobic in there every now and then, but you can have plenty of intensity in your workouts just from lifting heavy things.  Squats are one of the best high intensity movements out there, especially heavy ones.  I believe one of my biggest idols, Nick Horton (coach of PDX weightlifting) put it best in a recent email to me by saying: A hard set of squats is really similar to a sprint, actually, as far as your body is concerned. Boy is he right.  Squat a heavy set of five, and not only will your heart rate increase, but you'll feel taxed pretty darn close to your limit.  Keep the reps close together, push as hard as you can, and you'll use so many muscles in such an intense, powerful manner that your body can't help but go into "beast mode," and fire up that calorie burning furnace.  You'll also build a ridiculous amount of muscle too, quite quickly.  I squat 7  days a week (I do NOT suggest this to a beginner, start off with 1 or 2 at most, with wide spacing between days), and it hasn't even been a year and I've already put 100 lbs on my max squat.  I feel stronger than ever, and despite being about 10 lbs heavier I'm also leaner than I was when I started.  Amazing right?  The magic of squats is fantastic.  

Bottom Line:  Squats make you powerful and increase your metabolism enormously.  Do them.  But make sure your form is good.  Get flexible and lift heavy.

PLYOMETRICS:  Plyos are insane.  They kill you with just one set, then on each successive set continue to kick you when you're down.  But they feel GREAT.  They build muscle, they build explosive strength, and they shoot your metabolism through the roof.  They will force your body to go through calories like water through  a sieve.  And like any good high intensity exercise, after you're done you'll still be in high gear, burning through every new meal you consume, packing on muscle and dropping fat.  It's called the "afterburn effect," and it's basically an increased metabolic rate that lasts for a certain amount of time after your workout.  The more intensely you worked out, in general, the longer and larger the afterburn effect is.  Hard, explosive movements force your body to work at maximum level with each rep, and therefore your afterburn effect will be quite large.  So get jumping, leaping, and lunging.

Want a good plyometric workout?  Start here, but please look all over the internet, because there are thousands of different workouts that will ALL kick your butt and produce serious results.  People who practice plyometrics on a regular basis are stronger, fitter, faster, more powerful, and in general on a level above those who don't.  Step up.  Try a few.  Start small, then really go for it!

Now clearly you can't just jump into a highly intense workout and expect to be all right.  Don't start squatting twice what you are now, or sprinting for 12 solid intervals right off the bat.  Chances are you'll burn out, or worse, hurt yourself.  Increase the intensity in levels, or steps, starting small and working up to the truly daunting.  Like I've said in my previous goal setting articles (read my most recent one here: ), give yourself a lofty goal that you really have to reach toward, and set smaller short term goals that will allow you to reach it.  Want a 50" box jump?  Start with 24" box jumps for reps this week, then maybe 26-28" next week.  You'll be leaping like a frog in no time, and the body fat will start to melt right off you with every successive day.

Also, one more thing to close down this article and send you on your way to success:  Be intense inwardly, not outwardly.  What do I mean?  Well, focus all your energy toward that next sprint, that next jump, or that ungodly heavy squat.  Don't waste it screaming your head off in the gym to get psyched up, or making a ridiculous commotion.  Sure, everybody's got their psyche-up routine.  I've got my own, and I'm sure it looks quite strange, but it doesn't necessarily draw attention.  Keep it refined, shall we?  Power toward the movement, not outward into thin air.  Efficiency is the name of the game.

Push hard, then harder, then do it again.  All it takes is all you've got.  GOOD LUCK!

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