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Tip: Intensity vs. Effort – the true story

Intensity and effort are not equal in the world of strength and conditioning. People usually assume that intensity is the effort spent on a workout or exercise. Or they assume that intensity is the intensity of training. No, at least not in the field of strength training.

Here is a brief summary of the meaning of each word when it comes to resistance training:


Intensity refers to the weight used relative to your 1RM (1 Rep. Max) in a given exercise. For example, your 1RM cast is 275 pounds. If the program requires an intensity of 80%, it means that you are 80% of 275 pounds. That's 220 pounds. Easy. If you demanded 100% intensity, you would use your 1

RM weight of 275.


The effort is how hard physical work feels, regardless of the load. Consider these two scenarios:

  • Scenario 1: Heavy squats for sets of 3 reps on your 3RM. This will feel like a tremendous effort, as if you had to lift that weight to save your life and not get crushed under the bar. Scenario 2: Much lighter squats for sets of 15 reps at about your 15rm. It will also feel like an enormous effort. If you've ever made a set of squats for a 15RM, remember a lot of tremors, wheezing and "just a few more, come on, you have those thoughts" in your head.

The Point Is Both It will take a lot of effort, because in both cases you will need to spend a lot of energy to complete the set. The difference is that the amounts of 3 are high in intensity (about 90% of 1 RM), while the levels of 15 are lower in intensity (closer to 60% 1 RM).

Rate of perceived effort (RPE)

The effort can also be quantified using the RPE scale. This is used to determine how hard a sentence felt or how much effort you had to invest in the set.

There are some versions of the scale, but the simplest is the scale of 1-10. One is the least effort, and ten people feel like they're fighting for their lives throughout the set.

We want to use light squats at 60% 1RM as an example. If you do it to absolute failure, your RPE should be at 9/10 or 10/10.

Let's say the repetition count was 15 repetitions until failure. Obviously, if you do 5 repetitions at 60% 1RM, you are not giving up as much force as the set to failure, but the intensity is the same as you are using the same weight (60% of 1RM).

There are simpler scales such as "easy", "medium" and "heavy". Depending on your goal, it may only be important to keep in mind if you've failed a sentence. You have clearly achieved maximum effort.

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