I'm workin' hard!
….compared to what?
This is a tough one….”relative intensity” is how difficult something is (to you) at your current fitness level. Measuring relative intensity can be quite subjective. How red your face gets, how loud you grunt, how dramatically you collapse at the end of a workout – all those can be relative intensity measures. However, I believe measuring relative intensity is where the art of coaching meets the science of coaching.
Before discussing relative intensity, it’s important to understand “absolute intensity” – the actual measure of intensity -- how fast, how far, how much weight, etc. A study done at York University in Canada (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0097927) asked people to walk or jog on a treadmill at light, moderate, and vigorous intensities. The results were pretty interesting. When asked to walk at a pace that felt like “light intensity”, most people were right on with the light pace. When it came to increasing their pace to what felt like “vigorous intensity”, defined as absolute intensity of a heart rate between 77 and 94 percent of maximum, people were way off. Most people in the study didn’t even reach 75% of their maximum heart rate. Most people who think they’re doing something vigorous actually aren’t.
There are scientific ways to measure intensity (how fast, how far, how much weight), but unless I’m actually working hard, I’m not going to see physical changes, such as weight loss, leaner, stronger muscles, faster splits, or overall better health. It was interesting to see that most people really don’t work out with enough intensity to make tangible changes.
So how do we bridge the gap between what we think is high intensity and what actually is high intensity. Again, this is where the art of coaching is key: I took my family to an outdoor water park last summer. My two-year-old watched the older kids go down a water slide that he so badly wanted to do, but he was scared. Did I take him to the top of the slide and strap him down on my lap while he was kicking and screaming and force him to complete his first water slide experience? Of course not! Instead, I started at the kids’ wave pool and showed him that his life jacket really worked and kept him afloat. Then we moved to the lazy river, and he got a chance to float around with me by his side. The entire time we could see and hear his older siblings going down the big water slides. We walked to the top a few times to see his brother and sisters go down. Then he wanted to try it with me. We did a couple trips down together and soon enough, my little guy was able to walk up alone and head down the slide by himself.
This is no different than the way a good coach helps you increase intensity…by encouraging you and helping you slowly build to a level where you’re safely pushing yourself and aiming for a goal that’s just a little bit more, higher, faster, etc. Granted, it takes adults more time to figure things out than it does a toddler. But over time, with the appropriate set of progressive skills and the right type and amount of encouragement, no matter who we are, how old we are, or how fit (or unfit) we are, we canincrease our intensity level and experience physical improvements and adaptation. Guess what next week’s workouts will be like?