Blog Series - Train Like an Athlete? "Varying Training Intensity" | APEX THE GYM

Blog Series – Train Like an Athlete? “Varying Training Intensity”

Richmond fitness

By Kevin Hirose – BHK, CSCS

Training requires a minimal intensity (for the particular individual) in order to reap any benefits or gains.  This means that the body and/or nervous system must be overloaded or pushed beyond a certain point for adaptation to occur.  This goes back to the whole “recovery/regeneration” entry a while back, which stated that after a workout or exercise stimulus the human movement system requires recovery in order to see those adaptations.  However, taking a step back, the body must first encounter a stimulus or exercise or resistance that will actually be substantial enough to be an “overload” to the system.  For example, for someone who can do 30 consecutive push-ups in a set will likely not get much benefit from only doing 10 push-ups since it does not stress the system enough to elicit an adaptation; it could serve as a warm-up for heavier sets or higher rep sets.  Perhaps a better option for strength, in this case, would be to program weighted push-ups rather than high repetition sets of push-ups for 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps with at least 2 minutes REST between sets.  A quick review of which strength/muscle qualities are targeted depending on the number of reps/set:

(Each category is not necessarily confined to the assigned reps – there is some variation)

Maximal Strength: 1-5 reps
Functional Hypertrophy (some size and strength): 6-8 reps
Hypertrophy: 9-12 reps
Strength Endurance: 12+ reps


So let’s say you have decided to choose Functional Hypertrophy because you would like a combination of size and strength for a while.  So you’ve already figured out you would like to do 3 sets of 8 on the bench press but are not sure how to progress and when to back off or ease up.  Here’s a suggestion:

Week 1 – 3 x 8 @ 185 lbs
Week 2 – 4 x 8 @ 185
Week 3 – 3 x 8 @ 190
Week 4 – (Deload – reduce weight/load to 50-70% of norm) 3 x 8 @ approx. 115 lbs
Week 5 – 3 x 6 @ 200
Week 6 – 4 x 6 @ 200
Week 7 – 3 x 6 @ 205
Week 8 – (Deload) 3 x 6 @ approx. 135


Every fourth week you will do a “deload” week, in which the weight is 50-70% intensity of the previous week but with same # of reps in order to promote “active recovery” to prepare for the next 3 weeks of slightly heavier work.  This planned progression/organization of training and deload is known as “periodization”, if you do not already know.  If you are an athlete or are familiar with professional and Olympic level strength & conditioning, you should know it well. There are many other ways to “deload”, here are a few of them:

– decrease VOLUME (total reps) by approx. 50% but maintain INTENSITY (resistance/weight)
– decrease INTENSITY (resistance/weight) anywhere from 50-70% of normal but maintain set/rep scheme
– reduce the NUMBER of exercises each workout by removing some assistance/lower priority exercises but maintaining the main lifts
– COMPLETE REST week (which I DO NOT recommend on regular basis since “active recovery” is usually better)


These deloading methods can allow an intermediate/advanced lifter to progress long-term by allowing for recovery of the body’s tissues such as muscles and joints and the nervous system (especially from very heavy lifting).  However, for many people life often gets in the way, such as illness or work, and they get some time off that serves as a period of recovery, in which case a planned deload will not be required until the next month.

If you have not tried a planned deload before, give it a try and see how you feel and track your progress.  If you are feeling better with it, go with it.  And if you are feeling better AND making better progress on your lifts, definitely make it a part of your programming.  All the top athletes and lifters do; as a necessity for long-term progress.

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