Should You Use High Intensity or Low Intensity Strength Training

This morning two of my high school track athletes came in to train.  Shoutout to them for their dedication to the grind, coming in at 6am before school.  They both just hit big PRs at their last 2 track meets last week too!

In their session this morning, we did some pretty powerful work.  Many of our high schoolers who have been with us for a couple of years are entering a power phase that features some intense training on the way to states.  On tap for today:

  • Single leg tuck jumps
  • Weighted jump squats
  • Heavy deadlifts

Now, not all of our youth are doing that, even if they are in high school competing right now.  Why?  Training age & maturity.  

Strength training is good for kids of all ages.  And of course much needed for adults.  Pushing a sled is strength training.  Sometimes the perception is changed once there is a traditional weight in hand though.  

What you should keep in mind is to aim to use the least intense method that gets results most of the time.  Intensity being the percentage of best possible effort.  A weight you can lift 20-30x is not intense.  A speed you can run for 45min is not intense.  A weight you can’t lift more than 5x is very intense.  A speed you can’t run for more than 20-60sec is very intense (with 5-15sec being max intensity).  

But in track (and many sports) you are training to be at maximal during play.  So how can low intensity training help (think sets of 25 reps) and when should you use high intensity training (think sets of 5).  

Low intensity training is great for athletes new to training & for young athletes.  A 32 year old who is just starting out has a training age of 0, just like an 8th grader starting out.  Doing exercises for sets of 20-30 teach athletes how to move well, don’t require many sets compared to high intensity work, create muscular endurance, build up of the tendons and ligaments, and still build strength.  This builds up a frame that can later handle high intensity training and often takes 2-3 years, even for those who are rather gifted in strength. 

For someone who has done little strength training, sets up to 25 is optimal, even if the resistance is light.  This is also good for recovery days for more experienced athletes as the high reps are actually refreshing to the body as the weight is less stressful and promotes recovery in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

High intensity training is for athletes who have more mature bodies, as well as have been training for a few years.  There are levels to intense training.  For me at GHP, the intro to high intensity training is sets of 6-10 repetitions.  Hard, & somewhat heavy, but still far from maximal.  Sets of 1-5 reps is considered truly high intensity training.  There are other coaches opinions you can find, but the differences aren’t stark.

Once entering high weight and/or high speed training, there is a significant neurological factor as each repetition requires a significant amount of muscles to work at the same time, compared to low intensity, high rep work which requires few muscles each rep and fatigue happens once they are all repeatedly cycled through.  

This high neurological recruitment is quite stressful on the entire body. And the more powerful the athlete, the more this is so.  But the high stress nature of this causes very good adaptations in making an athlete more explosive.  Even for endurance athletes, running a 4min mile, or a 800m run faster than 2min is helped by having a high power capacity.  

Athletes who specialize maximal effort sports, like 100-400m sprinters and football players need this type of work to realize their full potential of force output.

Remember, the stronger and faster you are, the more reserve you have to still be fast and strong at 90%.  When sprinting 400m, you are never really at 100% of best speed, but often between 90-97%.  How fast can you make your 95% AND do you have the stamina to run that speed for a long period of time?  That’s how you get better at long sprints.

The reason I only have my older athletes who also have been training with us for at least 2+ years to do this is because you actually have to be training long enough to need this type of training.  Once the 2x15s, 3x10s, 2x30s, 4x8s stop giving you the same effect, you need to step it up.  You have to be strong enough for heavy weights to be more beneficial than lower intensity training.  Often considered squatting and deadlift at least 1.5-2x your bodyweight for 1-3 reps.  If you aren’t strong enough, you can get hurt if your frame isn’t developed enough, or at minimum diminish the benefit of this.  

High intensity training, as all other training must be done in phases.  And is best used when in season, after an off season of using low intensity methods and short bouts of high intensity training.  Never start a training plan with high intensity training if you’re new to training. And unless you plan to get very strong, test your maximums, or play a sport, high intensity training is not often necessary when training.

Examples of low intensity training: body weight, bootcamp types workouts, low weight - high rep weight training, low rest circuit training, & bodybuilder style training

Examples of high intensity training: Olympic lifting, maximal jumping, top speed sprinting, lifting heavy weights [8 rounds of 3 repetitions], squat jumps with weight.

What type of training do you do right now?   What questions do you have about what you should do?  Reply and let me know!

Global Human Performance
Global Human Performance

Life Changing Fitness

About us