Intensity in Lifting

Today I was lifting all the things in order to find the weight that would challenge me the most in my incline bench db chest press and incline db flys. All the things.

You ever feel like you’re just spinning your wheels in the gym? Getting no where? Going around and around and around…

My coach always impressed upon me that if I wanted results, my goal was always to get the most intensity from my workouts- intensity is grandmas secret ingredient for results and progress.

Not time.
Not weights.
Not form.
Not speed.
Not blank blank or blank.

Okkkkk- but here’s where I’m mincing words. All those elements, time spent, weight used, rep schemes, form, sets, speed etc. together create intensity. Sounds like a super squad of some sort πŸ˜‰

For serious- no one technique lands you with shredded abs and bubbly glutes.

So how do you know? How can you tell? What can you do??? To be absolutely sure you’re working at the right intensity?

That’s where it’s all subjective. Really, how do you feel while lifting? Usually if you feel like you’ve got more in the tank, you probably need to be pressing harder.

Ask yourself: are you just moving heavy things around? Or are you looking for the work?

But is that it? It’s easy to feel like you’re working hard- it’s especially easy to not be working as hard as you can if you’re in a cut cycle and our just dragging anyway.

For starters, I do think many many women, and definitely men, lift too light, and miss out on a whole lot of muscle hypertrophy (growth), even though they achieve some kindof burn.

Read this article from on gauging whether you might be guilty of going too light.

Chances are, you’re not lifting heavy enough, so that’s a great place to start in increasing intensity. This article from the Get Fit Guy , Ben Greenfield, has a great article and podcast that makes it super easy to know if you’re not grabbing enough metal.

Here’s the article. I love all his podcasts from His quick and dirty gauge: if you can get 3 reps over your goal reps, up that resistance! Easy as pie.

But here’s the thing, if you just focus on moving more and more heavy weight, you’re missing out on other ways to challenge those muscles, and thereby make gains, burn fat, get pumped, and all those other lovely things. That’s where really feeling for intensity is important.

This article from gives some great techniques, besides lifting heavier, to achieve intensity. Do super sets, pick up the time between sets, switch up set/rep schemes, introduce new exercises, slow the contraction down, add plyos, take out plyos. Basically: shock ya bod.

Ultimately, as I said from the get go, intensity is subjective, something you feel. This article from talks about how to check your mental game to get more intensity from your workouts. Basically you need to get focused in order to achieve intensity.

You need to be intentional with each workout about increasing the intensity. Keep track of what you did last time, review, and ask yourself, how can I challenge myself this time?

A few things I do:

*I always include one exercise I hate doing in my routine for the day. Ex: I loathe lunges, so you better believe I’m doing long lunges or split squats or lunge jumps 1x every week.
*If I find myself asking if I’m lifting enough, that’s generally my clue to lift more. My body will tell me it’s too heavy.
*When I find myself dreading a certain exercise, I flip my script, and tell myself I love that exercise and that I will rock it. My deadlift numbers blew up after I started switching up my pre-lift self talk.
*I move quickly through my routine- no chatting, be efficient, keep my heart rate up.
*I treat every single rep as important- I aim for full range of motion and a deep contraction on every single repetition. I imagine myself training alongside someone like Jaime Eason or Felicia Romero, and I want each rep to be clean.
*I try for every rep. Just one more rep. Just one more rep. Etc.
*I change something about each workout every single week. Keeps both my mind and body guessing!

And remember: intensity is NOT about being balls to the walls all the time. Nope. None of those ‘train insane’ tshirts.

Train smart, really smart. Sometimes that means going into grunting sweaty beast mode. I’ve made my share of ‘ugly faces’ and ‘huhhs!’ in order to eke out one more rep.

Sometimes it just means being one step ahead of your body- sending it a curve ball.

Sometimes it means being accurate, precise, and thorough with each move.

Be a detective. Feel out what you need that day, that moment, to achieve intensity. Surprise yourself, and your body will make changes to adapt. In other words, you’ll achieve results.

So stop spinning your wheels and enjoy that progress!

How do you achieve workout intensity? Have any tips or tricks to share with me?


Happy sweating!!


So this post is a little on the heavy side. If that’s alright with you, go ahead, read on πŸ™‚

I love to run. And dance. And kickbox. I even like the elliptical. But when trying to lose the baby weight I was escalating up and up in how much cardio I did, with more and more intensity. At the same time I was eating less and less. Still, it’s pretty cool that I PRd a half marathon in the middle of a Chicago winter: brrrrrrrr!
Look at my lashes!

On the one hand, I really needed to just love myself more. I needed to pause and love my body for a moment for all it did in growing the beautiful baby boy I see before me today.

Enter weight training. I was always scared of being BIG. I was also scared of asking for things, needing things, having big scary emotions that might scare or inconvenience someone. I know, this is getting cheezy, but it’s important. This post is way personal.

I started reading up on bodybuilding and was SO inspired by the women, of all shapes and sizes building their bodies up, rather than just tearing themselves down. Brooke Erickson, Neghar Fonooni, Nia Shanks, and Molly Galbraith to name a few. Have you seen the girls gone strong site??

I don’t intend to bash long distance running, Pilates, yoga or any kindof fitness. It’s all good! It ALL can be life giving. But for me, the medicine I needed was serious strength training.


pause squats, 2 second hold at bottom… that’s why the bar is a little sparse of weight, I’m just holding it at the bottom!! Ouch!

At the time we were able to hire a coach. He had me on a bulk right away. Gulp! Eating- a lot! At one point, I was eating 2700 calories. And hardly gaining a single pound, which, for once, I really wanted to gain. In pregnancy I had become more comfortable with gaining weight, but it was for my baby, and I had every intention of incinerating it all when all was said and done.

This time I just wanted to gain weight.


definitely there are a lot of ways to achieve workout intensity, heavy lifting being just ONE of them: da gurl and da bar.

There’s a lot about my journey into bodybuilding that completely fascinates me for the change it’s evoked in how I see myself- and in how I approach the world.


my first time doing a sumo deadlift

I love how I look- but somehow my identity is far less tied up in it. Can you talk about freedom? Whether bulking or cutting, I’m still me, and I still like me. Can you imagine being free to like, even love yourself, no matter what??

I’m learning to eat and train for my goals, and to respect in my actions the intentions I set with my heart and mind. If I eat big, it’s because I want to. Not because I’m ‘sneaking’ something. And there’s no guilt.

If I refrain, it’s within limits, for a set period, in order to do something specific. It’s not part of a forever ever ever never again can I have something yummy regimen just because I think it will finally make me into someone lovable or valuable.

stuffed acorn squash all ready to go into that oven!

And then here’s the magic: I’ve found that being more in tune with what my body needs, and being smart about how to guide it, I’m more aware of what I need in the rest of my life, and I’m more in tune with how to take care of myself as a whole.

I am better able to ask for and accept help. I can say no, or yes, based on how I actually feel and think, rather than on how I think I should answer. I’m less scared of the risk that kindof honesty involves because I know I’m strong. I’m free to be me- isn’t that what they say?

I’ve been ushered into a new era where the starting point is radical acceptance. I no longer fight my feelings, my needs, my body like an enemy. At least, not like I used to. There’s sympathy, and understanding, and negotiation. I can laugh at myself, too. It’s not perfect- but isn’t that kindof the point?

I’m SO a newbie lifter, but god I love it. Hey, if you have tips, I’ll take ’em! Here’s what I did today:

today was alllll about glutes n hams

How about you? Is your current workout routine, or lack thereof, tearing you down or building you up?

Is it easy for you to ask for what you need from others? If not, do you think this might be affecting your ability to reach your own health and fitness goals?

Also: do you have a favorite lift or exercise?

For me, I rarely feel so badass as when I’m squatting πŸ˜‰