Managing intensity

Updated: May 20

Whether you are just beginning to strength train or are a seasoned veteran, there are variables you must manage: frequency, volume and intensity.

The one-rep max

Frequency refers to how often you train. Volume is calculated by multiplying the number of sets by the number of repetitions. Intensity is how heavy you lift.

In the strength-training world, we measure the one rep max (1RM). This is the maximum amount of weight lifted for one repetition with correct technique. Historically, this has been the gold standard for assessing strength capacity.

There are some advantages to the 1RM. Also disadvantages. One such risk is injury.

Relative perceived effort

In a recent course I took, they introduced the relative perceived effort (RPE) scale for weight training. Measurements of RPE are from 1 to 10, similar to those used for cardiovascular training.

The bulk of training is performed in the RPE range of 7 to 8.5. Advanced lifters can do some training in the 9 range. However, consistently training in the 9 or 9.5 range increases the risk of injury.

To program intensity, first determine your goal. If you are training for endurance, work in the 15 to 20 rep range. For muscle development, known as hypertrophy, the optimum is 8 to 12 rep range and strength in the 4 to 6 range.

Start the first sets in the 7 RPE range and then move up. Evaluate each set and readjust the weights. If you find yourself consistently in the 7 or 6 RPE range, your results and progress will be slower.

Performing three to five sets has been shown to be optimal.

Learn from a trained professional how to perform each lift. Proper form is imperative, and feedback from a qualified coach will help you avoid injury.