There are numerous variables that a coach can manipulate when it comes to resistance training. Some of these variables include:
- Rest Interval
- Exercise Selection
Intensity is a key variable that will be the main topic of today’s post. Intensity refers to the percentage of 1 rep max on the bar. The following table categorizes percentages with its corresponding intensity.
High intensity lifts are best suited for the development of maximal strength. These loads produce high tension and activate high threshold motor units. Set and rep ranges typically range from 1-5 sets of 1-5 reps.
Moderate intensity lifts are traditionally prescribed for hypertrophy. Typical set and rep ranges for this intensity range between 3-6 sets of 6-12 reps.
Low intensity lifts are often prescribed for speed work or muscular endurance. The former requires lower rep ranges (1-5) for multiple sets while muscular endurance training will use fewer sets with higher rep ranges (>12).
The strength and conditioning coach needs to consider the acute and chronic effects of the chosen intensities during workouts. This is of particular importance during in-season training where practice and competitions require the athlete to be ready to perform, not beat up and sore from lifting.
A new study by Brandon et al, (2014) published ahead of in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports evaluated the acute neuromuscular responses to varying back squat intensities in elite sprinters. The athletes performed 10 sets of 5 reps with heavy, moderate or low intensity weight with maximal explosive effort. The results were just as you’d expect. Higher intensity lifting resulted in the highest impulse and lowest velocity. Low intensity provided the highest repetition power but resulted in the lowest muscles activation (EMG) compared to moderate and high intensity. The researchers ultimately found that moderate loads were optimal for providing a neuromuscular stimulus but with limited fatigue.
The results of this study have potential implications for in-season training where strength and power maintenance and even improvements in some cases, is important. Higher intensity training is a potent stimulus but unfortunately has undesirable acute effects of reduced performance and longer recovery. Moderate loads may still be effective at providing a stimulus while having less of an impact on acute performance decrements. The key of course is to perform these repetition with maximal intended velocity (explosiveness!). An important limitation of the current study however was that volume was matched for each workout at the respective intensities. Performing less sets and lower reps in the high intensity range may still be appropriate. This should be schedules further from competition time if possible. The take home message is that training intensity should be adjusted based on the goal and the sport schedule and that moderate loads can still be effective when programmed correctly.
Brandon, R. et al. (2014) Neuromuscular response differences to power vs strength back squat exercise in elite athletes. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, Ahead of print.