Intensity vs. Severity

In Strongman Mastery by admin1 Comment

The terms we use when it comes to training, guide our thinking about training.

As such I feel this is one of the most important terms to “grok” if you want to become stronger.

The following comes adapted from The Master Keys to Strength and Fitness where I originally wrote about it.

After the typical Crossfit workout or a Spartan Race you’ll hear someone yelling:

“Man, that was INTENSE!”

Yet, if we’re speaking scientifically, that man is wrong, however hard he worked.

Intensity is commonly used as a term to describe the percentage of your maximum weight.

[Since I do a lot with bodyweight and other exercises, that don’t just involve adding weights to a bar, another valid way of looking at intensity would include how difficult of an exercise variation you’re using. With bodyweight exercises you lift your bodyweight, but HOW you lift (leverage, two limbs vs. one, range of motion, etc.) your bodyweight determines intensity. Even with weights these same other ideas apply too.]

This term is misleading when other uses of intensity, describing how difficult the exercise or workout was, are also used.

Many possible synonyms are already used for other terms which I don’t want to further confuse therefore for I will use the term ‘severity’. A severe exercise is one that is done towards the end of maximum possible work and takes toughness, mental and physical, to do. intensity-vs-severity

It is not necessarily ‘intense’ in the weightlifting term of intense, meaning it isn’t necessarily at 90-100% of the maximum weight you can lift.

A 60% intensity weight can be lifted repeatedly to make the exercise severe. It may not be intense, but if you do it to failure it can be very severe.

A marathon is about the further thing you can get from intense, but it can certainly be severe.

A 100% intensity weight can be lifted. If you do your training right you may do a new max PR lift without it being too severe. There’s few better feels than to hit a new max PR and doing it easily!

But it can also be quite severe, though still not as much as a 20-rep maximum weight that is used for 20 reps. (Or as the story goes a 10-rep maximum weight done for 20 reps!) The latter will be more severe as more work is done at a high severity.

A 110% weight cannot be lifted, allowing only for an isometric. This is likely not to be severe unless it is a long isometric.

I hope you can understand the difference. The way we define our terms is helpful in how much benefit we get out of them.

High Intensity Training is not intensity in the scientific weightlifting sense of the term. That would mean you do nothing but work on singles with maximum weight (which is another method that is itself quite severe). As I define it here it would be more aptly named High Severity Training.

Does it work? Yes. There are many people who have built great strength training in this way. Systems that do this include any that involve training to failure like High Intensity Training. The well-known 5×5 system, where you do five sets of five reps is often done like this. Anything out of Dinosaur Training or the works of Arthur Jones is severe. You need to fight for that last rep always. And when you think you’re done, fight for one more. Sometimes you even add in negatives, assisted reps or anything else to squeeze that last bit of work out.

However, training doesn’t need to be severe in order to work. In fact, training severely comes with certain drawbacks.

I often aim at keeping the severity low, even when intensity is high.

How can you do this? By listening to your body and still following the principles of progression. Another article coming soon covers that.

In the meantime, you can also sign up for the Strength Health Mind Power Inner Circle.

The next newsletter covers the Triple Triple Matrix, which I’ve found is directing the progression of my training better than anything else I’ve ever done. You also get The Master Keys to Strength and Fitness ebook as a bonus.

The price of the Inner Circle is going up after this month. If you sign up today you’ll be grandfathered in at the current price.


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