Taking your workouts to a new level of intensity will not only keep you out of a fitness rut, it’ll show you just how tough you really are and make your regular workouts seem a lot easier. You’ll also torch calories, make dramatic improvements in fitness and strength, and it can help you break through weight loss plateaus.
While you can do simple things like add more weight or run a little longer, there are other ways to crank up workout intensity and do something much more challenging (and interesting!).
If you love a challenge, and really want to push yourself and then some, try some of these workout intensity boosters. Be sure to include some easy days in your routine for recovery from tough workouts.
1. Add jumps. Jumping is hard – you have to really use your muscles to break away from gravity. Of course, gravity always wins but you can massively crank up your fitness and muscle power trying to kick gravity’s butt! You can do box jumps, hurdle jumps, long jumps, hops, squat jumps – any kind of jump will do. Just try and get as much air time as possible. Try adding jumps to your cardio workout to increase exercise intensity and seriously crank up your heart & breathing rate.
2. Sprint. If you usually walk, jog or run for fitness, or even cycle or row, you can kick your fitness up a notch by doing less slow and steady exercise and integrating some sprinting. Sprinting should be an all-out effort and so, out of necessity, sprints are short. Consider 30 seconds your maximum but don’t be afraid to do 20 or even 10 second sprints. How fast? Like your life depends on it. Rest 60 to 120 seconds between sprints and do 5 – 10 repeats.
3. Try training rounds. Boxers are amongst the fittest athletes around. Why? Because they compete and train using 3 minute rounds which are interspersed with 1 minute recoveries. Instead of doing 20 to 30 minutes of steady-paced cardio, try doing 6 or more 3 minute rounds instead. Go faster than normal and then enjoy a brief 1 minute rest. Don’t be surprised if time seems to stand still during those 3 minute rounds. They’ll feel super long and the rests very short!
4. Incorporate tabata intervals. Short and tough, tabata training is an advanced interval training workout designed to kick your butt in 5 minutes or less. Work as hard as you can for 20 seconds and then rest for 20. Repeat for 8 -10 sets to total 4 – 5 minutes. Good exercises include burpees, kettlebell swings, thrusters, sprints, jump rope double unders and punch bag work. Not so good exercises include crunches, biceps curls and calf raises – the exercises need to be intense and work a bunch of muscles. If you’re looking for intensity this is it!
5. Add weight. Ramp you the intensity of your workout by wearing a weighted vest. You can run, jump, do body weight exercises, or your regular step class while wearing a weighted vest. Calculate 14% of your body weight, add it to your vest and then get your workout on!
6. Make your rests active. If you lift weights, chances are you take it easy for 60-seconds or so between sets. You sit down, maybe grab a drink or ham it up with a buddy. Instead of being so passive during your rests, try being more active and include some cardio. Examples of active rest includes jumping rope between sets of squats, or hopping on a stationary bike between sets of push-ups. Alternatively, you could perform two exercises back to back to halve the amount of rest you get per workout. Either way, stop resting so much and get active!
7. Beat the clock. Pick an exercise you are really good at – one that uses lots of muscles together like squats, deadlifts, or power cleans. Then, load up the bar with a heavy weight. Not your single rep maximum but something you can lift around five times on a good day. Then, set your countdown timer for 20 or 30 minutes. Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to do as many reps as you can in the allocated time. Rest when you need to but keep on cranking out the reps in small clusters of two or three. The secret is to always stop just short of failure so you recover more quickly and can do even more reps. Make a note of your score and then try and beat it next time. This approach also works well with bodyweight exercise such as burpees.
8. Slow it down. This approach works on the basis that even the lightest weight becomes heavy if you hold it long enough. Most of us do our workouts at a 1:1 tempo. That is to say, we lift the weight in one second and then lower it in one second – we lift the weight at the same speed we lower it. Basically each rep takes two seconds. If you slow it down, each rep takes longer, which makes for a way more intense workout. Try 2:2 (2 seconds to lift, 2 seconds to lower), 3:3, 4:4 or even 10:10. For a super-intense challenge, try doing a single push-up, dip or pull-up using 30:30 – slow makes light weights feel very heavy!
9. Throw in an extra half rep – 1.5 reps. Another way to make your workouts more demanding is to do one and a half reps. For example, in the bench press, lower the bar to your chest as normal but then only push the bar half way up. Lower the bar back to your chest and then push it all the way up. You can apply this intensifier to just about any exercise.
10. Lighten the weight with each set. Pick a weight and do a set of as many repetitions as possible. On completion, reduce the weight by 10-15% and immediately do another set. When you reach failure gain, reduce the weight by a similar amount and go again. Drop the weight as many times as you like but two to four sets is ideal. This technique is known as “drop sets”. This system works best with dumbbells or when using selectorized resistance training machines you find at the gym.
11. Make it heavier instead. If you normally do three sets of eight reps of an exercise, try doing eight sets of three with a 20% heavier weight. You’ll end up doing the same number of total repetitions but with a heavier load, so the intensity of your workout (the total amount of weight lifted) will go up significantly. Not only that, you’ll develop strength. You can do this no matter what your normal set and rep scheme is – two sets of twelve, four sets of ten – whatever!