The intensity of your workouts can do everything from defining your goals to defining your personality. Some workouts will be low intensity; kind of like a lazy afternoon on a river interspersed with shooting some class III rapids every once in a while. Other workouts are like a firefight; short, intense, gut-wrenching and leave you in a puddle of sweat (and other bodily fluids if you’re not careful). Low intensity workouts are usually associated with building absolute strength; think Dan John and Pavel’s Easy Strength protocols. High intensity workouts are currently associated with building cross-modality strength and endurance; think CrossFit. Does intensity correlate to certain personalities? Could be! Think of the strong, silent-type of strength athletes – definitely low intensity. How about the wild, spontaneous, Type-A athletes – definitely high intensity. I know these are both generalizations – but you get the idea!
When you discuss workout intensity you need to look at load and duration as well – because they are interrelated. Intensity can be looked at as how explosive a muscular contraction will be needed for a safe, efficient, and effective execution of a given technique. In other words, a kettlebell snatch is a lot more intense than a biceps curl. Intensity can also be perceived as dependent on the overall physical condition of an athlete. Doing a series of fifty yard sprints would be intense for a powerlifter but not so bad for a soccer player – and it could outright kill a sedentary IT tech! Think about this: as intensity increases so does the anaerobic capacity requirement. If you think running sprints and running a 10k are the same because they are both running, then think again. The anaerobic requirements of a sprinter and a long distance runner are completely different; but the sprinter will fare much better than the long distance runner when it comes down to survival-based anaerobic functions. Also, don’t forget that intensity needs to be determined by the individual and is highly variable depending upon age, weight, diet, recovery, experience, and the presence of illness or injury, etc.
Load refers to how heavy the object is that you are moving. Once again, heavy is a relative concept. If you are swinging a 53 lb kettlebell and switch to a 110 lb kettlebell, you will immediately get a sense for what load does to intensity. A light load will allow you to move faster for longer, while a heavy load will only allow you to move “fast” for only a short period of time. Did you notice how I snuck the relationship between duration in? Yeah, they are mutually exclusive in that one is going to adversely affect the other. If you don’t have first-hand experience with this phenomenon trust me, you will very soon! All it will take is doing your snatch test with a heavier or lighter kettlebell than you are used to and you will have a graphic example of the effect of load on intensity.
Absolute vs. Strength Endurance
Which one are you? Are you focusing on your absolute strength or are you working on stretching your strength and endurance to new heights? Well, as athletes (and if you are using kettlebells you are most definitely an athlete) then you have to be able to work towards fulfilling both of these area of your training. The accumulation of absolute strength will give you the ability to do more work and make physical tasks easier to accomplish. Plumbing the depths of strength and endurance will temper your spirit and give you the tenacity to keep going when the going gets tough.
So, can you accomplish both? Yeah – by learning how to moderate or wave the intensity of your workouts. When working on absolute strength, think double body weight dead lift, you need to stay fresh and strong in between each set. That means low reps, heavy loads and lots of rest between sets. The intensity will be high because of the heavy loads but the duration will be short. You won’t exhaust yourself quickly and you’ll be able to make steady gains. When working on strength endurance, think RKC or USSS Snatch Test, you need to work as hard and as fast as you can to meet the time requirement for each test. The intensity will be high because of the time constraints but the load will be low in order to let you move fast and stay fast. This is when you are pushing the limits of your strength, physical and mental strength, by going fast (while maintaining technique and safety) but you’re done quickly – really done!
So can you make steady progress to meet your absolute strength goals and your strength endurance goals? Absolutely! With a little planning and a lot discipline you can make this work. It’s not “snake oil”- it’s all about planning your workouts and leaving the gym behind while you still have some reps left “in the bank”. Planning the workouts to alternate low intensity workouts and high intensity workouts might look something like this over the course of ten workouts:
The above training outline isn’t going to work for everyone. It’s really going to depend on your existing strength base and your ability to recover in between workouts. What it does show is that with a little planning and a basic understanding of how to manipulate intensity you can progressively move forward and gain strength and endurance without excluding one or the other from your training.
The long and short of it is you’re going to need to gauge the intensity of the workouts based on your own experience and the advice of your RKC or coach. Going too fast with a heavy load will “blue flame” you and going too slow with a light load will get you nowhere fast. You’ve got to find just the right mix of load, speed and intensity – and that balance has to include attention to form, execution and safety.
High intensity Video:
About Mike: Michael A. Krivka, Sr. is a Washington, DC native who has been involved in Kettlebell training for over a decade and is currently an RKC Team Leader and member of the RKC Board of Advisors under Dragon Door (where he has been listed as one of the top reviewed RKC’s in the world for the last five years). Mike has traveled extensively throughout the United States teaching Russian Kettlebells to military (USMC, USN, USA and USAF) and law enforcement personnel (FBI, DEA, USSS and CIA) as well hard-living civilians from Soccer Moms to CEOs. In addition to teaching workshops and clinics he logs several hundred hours a year teaching and training with Russian Kettlebells at his own gym and martial arts studio. He is also a Level I CrossFit Trainer, and Olympic Lifting Coach.
When he is not tossing Kettlebells around he is teaching and training in the martial arts, something he has done since he was thirteen years old. His martial arts training, sparked by a childhood fascination with Bruce Lee, spans early training in Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Wrestling, Western Fencing, Sambo, Ninjutsu, Muay Thai and Gung Fu and has culminated in being awarded a Full Instructor JKD Concepts (Jeet Kune Do – Bruce Lee’s base art) and the Filipino Martial Arts (Kali, Escrima, Arnis and Maphilindo Silat) under Guro Dan Inosanto. He continues to train in and explore other martial arts to continue to hone his technical and teaching skills.