A lot of people are split between intensity vs consistency as the best way to go about training and reaching your fitness goals.
Some feel the best way is to go all out, pushing yourself to the max, while others feel a slow and steady approach is best.
Read on and we’ll explain the pros and cons of each, plus give advice on how to approach your training intensity.
Is It Better to Optimize for Intensity or Consistency?
Let’s start by saying there is no “best” way to work out. What works for one person may not work for another, even before you take into account different goals, schedules, etc.
The more intense you work out, the better your results will be. But this can be a detriment if it means your workouts are few and far between, because you’re struggling to recover.
If you go the other way and optimize for consistency but with very low-intensity workouts, you may struggle to make meaningful gains. It’s still better than not working out at all, but you might feel frustrated that you’re not making much progress.
The key is finding a balance, working out at the highest intensity that allows you to maintain a consistent workout schedule.
How Many Times a Week Should I Do Intense Training?
The optimal training frequency will differ from person to person, depending on things like your job, physical fitness, diet, recovery regime, age and genetic makeup.
Serious athletes, for example, may be able to train multiple times a day at a high intensity almost every day. Yet for someone new to the gym, this training frequency is far too much.
Most experts recommend doing high intensity training three days a week. This gives a good balance between a consistent training schedule and still giving you enough time to recover in between workouts.
How Many Sets and Reps Per Muscle Group Each Week?
If you’re training for strength or muscle growth, you want to be working out each muscle group at least once per week.
For sets and reps, aim for between 6 and 26 sets per week, with 6-15 reps per set. These ranges are broad, and with good reason. It depends largely on your goals.
Training for endurance or hypertrophy requires a higher rep range, while strength and power requires less.
It also depends on how heavy you go with each lift. The higher the weight, the fewer reps you need to see results, while lower weights require more volume.
How to Maximize Weekly Training Volume?
A lot of what we’ve discussed comes with the condition that the ideal training volume or workout frequency is different for each person. So how can you know what’s best for you?
Aim for the maximum training volume that you can consistently maintain. It’s fairly simple - the more you work out, the better your gains.
Here are some tips to help you get your training volume up, without overtraining.
Have a Plan
The key to maximizing your training volume is creating and following a plan to get there.
This plan generally involves a systematic increase in training volume, steadily increasing until you’re maxed out at an optimal level.
Allow Adequate Recovery for Each Muscle Group
If you push yourself to the max too fast, you’ll burn out, get injured, or both. So giving your body and each muscle group enough time to recover is key.
If you’re just starting your fitness journey, this recovery period may take a long time. But as you train, and maintain consistency, your body will begin to adapt and take less time between workouts to get back to 100%.
How to Recover Quicker
The best way to accelerate results, without cutting corners and risking injury or burnout, is to improve your recovery time.
This doesn’t mean coming back to training before you’re fully recovered, but doing things to speed up your body’s recovery process, such as the following:
Take Supplements like Creatine and BCAAs for Recovery
Your body relies on certain compounds in the recovery process. You can speed it up by taking nutritional supplements that boost your intake of these key compounds.
BCAA (branched-chain amino acids) and creatine are two of the most beneficial supplements for recovery. Taking them before, during and/or after your workout will give you a headstart on the recovery process and speed up recovery in between workouts.
Eat Enough Protein
Protein is another key compound for muscle recovery (among other things). Protein is the building block for muscle, and if you’re not getting enough, your body will struggle to repair your muscles at a fast enough rate.
Start by eating a high-protein diet, but if you’re working out regularly, it may benefit you to take supplemental protein in the form of a whey protein shake.
Our body recovers from working out most efficiently when we’re sleeping. This is because the body has fewer functions to manage, and can thus dedicate more resources to recovery.
So if you want to boost recovery, sleep more. Get a consistent 8+ hours sleep at night, and avoid any activities that disrupt your deep sleep.
Certain activities, such as sauna, massage and cold exposure (e.g. cold plunge) can speed up the recovery process.
Adding these recovery tools to your post-workout schedule or to rest days is a great way to decrease muscle soreness, boost recovery, and increase your workout volume.
Is It Ok to Do HIIT and Strength Training Together?
Each workout doesn’t have to be at all the same intensity level. It’s perfectly fine to mix high-intensity bursts with longer, more sustained routines.
You can get great results by adding a HIIT workout onto the end of your lifting sessions. HIIT gives you a boost for cardio and weight loss, while strength training allows you to get strong and build muscle.
How Can I Tell If I'm Overtraining?
You’ll hear a lot about the dangers of overtraining, but it’s not easy to tell when you hit that point.
Some indicators that you might be overtraining include:
- Elongated periods of muscle soreness/longer than usual recovery time
- Trouble sleeping, excess fatigue or brain fog the days after training
- Declining performance in subsequent workouts
- Depression, irritability
- Weight fluctuations, increased frequency of illness
If you notice any of these symptoms, think about taking a little longer rest between workouts, and do some of the active recovery techniques listed above.
Can I Run or Jog on Rest Days?
You don’t necessarily need to do nothing on your rest day. If you want to fit more exercise into your week, you could fill rest days with lower intensity training that still allows your body to recover from previous workouts.
Light to moderate running is a great thing to do in between strength workouts. As long as you don’t push the intensity too high, this can provide a lot of complementary benefits while still allowing your muscle groups to recover from earlier workouts.
When Should I Do Mobility Training?
Mobility training is another great complement to strength training or high-intensity cardio sessions. You can add it into your routine in several different ways. You could do mobility work at the start of your workouts, or at the end as a cool-down.
Alternatively, do mobility sessions in between workouts on your rest days. This can be a great way to speed up recovery time while boosting mobility and flexibility.
Best of all, it can help build consistency by keeping the habit of working out and being active, without pushing your body too hard.
This consistency, paired with a few intense training sessions per week, is the blueprint to achieving your fitness goals.