“Remember Low Intensity? That Still Works” by Paul Nobles

“Remember Low Intensity? That Still Works” by Paul Nobles

Look I get it – after experiencing high intensity exercise with your heart beating out of your chest, there is no going back.  Anything else doesn’t feel like a real workout.  Here is the problem though:

TRUE variation not only includes low intensity work but does so without the need for a high intensity finisher.

Whether you are weight training or hiking TIME not only can work in your favor but it can also cause greater adaptation based on volume.  You can only do so much work staying just under your red line.

“But it doesn’t feel like I got a good workout…”

My wife actually said this to me after a squat session the other day (et too brute) and I had to remind her that getting better at squatting will make her better at the exercises she does at high intensity.   That’s because if you are doing a WOD for time but you have to scale the weight, if you could do that weight comfortably with similar reps and time, that is more work capacity.  More work capacity equals more adaptation which equals results at the gym but also in the mirror.  So working on your lifts slow (no I don’t mean that 10 minutes you half ass before your real workout) will make you better.  There is another point that is important as well.  When you work on lifts slow and controlled, you will typically end up stronger as a result.  Squats are a great example for me, while I CAN Rx most WODs based on my one rep maxes, I can lift a lot more slow and controlled with good form than I can at high intensity.

Is Your High Intensity Really Low Intensity?

One of the biggest viruses when doing high intensity work is doing it too long too often.  If you are constantly putting your hands on your knees during the fifth 20 minute met con this week it might be tie to look for another gym.  Part of the idea of “constantly varied” is that your program should wave in and out shorter, more intense days and into longer, less intense days.  Don’t get me wrong, I know those 20 minute WODs really get you sweating but if your program is real good you will have 4 minute WODs, 8 minute WODs etc.  The biggest enemy of adaptation is normalcy.  Constantly doing the same thing too often (even if the exercises are varied) will give you a similar mediocre result when it comes to improving.


Overusing Low Intensity

Above I described a scenario where your “high intensity” is actually low intensity because you are constantly checking to make sure that your collars are in place.  You aren’t fooling anyone; we all know that you are  resting.  The other side of the coin is also relatively ineffective.  As we all know, there are athletes that don’t redline near as much or their capacity is high.  They can mentally push themselves through hurdles that others struggle with, so often their solution when results slow is to simply add more work.  So they start adding in hikes or burpee challenges and just wear themselves out (they often under eat too but you can reference all of the other articles on this site for that advice).  It’s like constantly banging your head against the wall.  Yeah the wall may cave at some point but was it really worth it in the end?

Here is my workout schedule

I am not suggesting that this is what your workout schedule might look like.  I am simply putting this out as an example because frankly I don’t go “beast mode” or “kill it” all that often.  My strength days I try to get better and my WODs are conditioning.  If I was training for a competition, my workouts would be different but I am not at the moment; I am simply working out, trying to improve.

  • Mondays is a Rest Day, not an active rest day but an actual “sit on the couch” and chill out day.  If I am really feeling spunky I will take my dog for a walk at a local park.
  • Tuesday is a slow lifting day.  I like to lift coming off of rest because it’s more favorable for being 100%.  Amazingly enough, the stronger I am, the easier heavier WODs are.  Go figure.
  • Wednesday is a WOD Day.  Focus is on conditioning and moving correctly.  I scale freely.  I don’t work on skills in WODs; if I am not good at something I add it as accessory work on slow days.
  • Thursday is a rest day.  See above.  Massages are good on this day.
  • Fridays I lift slow and work on skills.
  • Saturday is typically a longer WOD at our box.
  • Sunday is a WOD.  I almost 100% of the time scale this WOD.  It’s the third of three days and even if I am feeling spunky I try to override those thoughts and dial things back.


The reason for all of this is simple.  I am just working out and because of that, I want to be able to do it as close to 100% as possible without getting hurt.  Make no mistake about it though, if you want to go for a hike with your spouse or do something active, you have my blessing but don’t do it because of fat loss goals.  This indirectly affects fat loss goals positively by building new tissue and adding work capacity but in the end most fat loss goals are typically addressed structuring the way you eat around what you do.

When you’re in the gym, you train to improve.  Keep training as productive as possible.