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Defining Intensity

Q: How do you define intensity? Is it simply a matter of going to concentric—that is, positive—failure?

A: The sport science community has agreed-upon definitions of terms related to resistance training. Intensity is measured according to how much weight can be lifted in comparison to a one-repetition maximum, or 1RM. Thus, if you can lift 100 pounds for one rep and lift 95 pounds for one rep, your intensity level is higher than if you lifted 90 pounds for 10 reps. You may feel as though you’re working harder with a max set of 10 reps, but that doesn’t mean you’re working at a higher intensity.

I recently saw a popular book about strength and conditioning that defined a high-intensity/high-volume workout as one that used heavy weights for high reps. A reader would probably have no problem understanding the author’s explanation, but my point is that if you intend to establish yourself in the field of strength and conditioning as a professional, you should use the terms that have been accepted by the scientific community.

Editor’s note: Charles Poliquin is recognized as one of the world’s most successful strength coaches, having coached Olympic medalists in 12 different sports, including the U.S. women’s track-and-field team for the 2000 Olympics. He’s spent years researching European journals (he’s fluent in English, French and German) and speaking with other coaches and scientists in his quest to optimize training methods. For more on his books, seminars and methods, visit  IM

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