Without a doubt, form and focus are two very important elements to becoming leaner and stronger. But there is one more element to the fitness equation and that is intensity.
Intensity can be defined as the concentration of physical energy – the effort put forth in any given moment. When you focus your undivided attention on something you are concentrating energy on it. Intensity is amplified by desire, drive, motivation and will.
Intensity may be the most important factor in an efficient strength training programme. It is a main ingredient, not an option for building lean muscle tissue. It is the way to create the body you want without having to spend hours and hours at the gym and the missing link for so many in training.
For the most part, the greater the intensity, the greater and quicker the strength gains - you must train hard enough to set the growth machinery in motion for any increase in strength you want to see.
If the intensity is high, a small amount of training quickly produces significant results in muscle tone and strength. You must work each muscle to the point of fatigue when no more repetitions can be performed. It's all about quality, not quantity.
Engaging correct form along with concentrated focus and intensity is the quickest way to experience the results you are looking for. Simply going through the motions or training at low-intensity levels won't do the job. At best, you'll experience poor results, frustration and fatigue – with little to no improvement.
Low intensity does little to promote muscle development.
Achieving and maintaining high intensity requires "heart" manifested as sustained concentration and determination. Many people start out with intense concentration but only those that are able to maintain intense concentration are able to reach the highest levels of intensity during their final repetition and enjoy the successful results that follow.
Adequate resistance is required for the meaningful stimulus and intensity to increase strength. Intense effort literally breaks down the muscle tissue at a cellular level, triggering an adaptive response - growth.
The general rule of thumb is, "If you can lift a weight more than 15 times, it's too light." Choose a weight you can lift with proper form at least 10 times with effort. Do not exceed 15.
Each time the maximum number of repetitions is attained, the resistance needs to be increased for the next workout. The increase should be small, about 5 per cent or less, but it must be challenging. Your strength will remain the same if you keep the weight the same.
Aerobic exercises such as biking, swimming or running are beneficial to our heart and lungs but they don't prevent precious muscle mass loss as you get older. Strength training with weights that are too light will not build muscle effectively either no matter how high your repetition count is. You must stimulate your muscles to grow by using weights that are heavy enough to challenge them.
Forget about the latest fancy machines. The most critical variable in the strength training equation is you and the intensity (heart) that you put into something. Strength training is easier when you make wise use of your time.
Don't forget to allow for sufficient recovery to avoid overtraining. If you have never exercised with strength training exercises, consider tapping into someone else's knowledge and experience by engaging the help of a professional fitness instructor or personal trainer. You will experience the best results possible in the shortest time frame with the added benefit of your own personal motivator ensuring ongoing progressive results.
You might only require a few sessions to get started correctly but you will carry their knowledge for the rest of your life making your strength training exercise programme more effective and enjoyable.
• Carolyn Hansen is co-owner of Anytime Fitness.