Training Intensity

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Training IntensityAthletes and coaches need to realize there are two types of training intensity: Load-Based Training Intensity and Effort-Based Training Intensity.

Load-Based Training Intensity is based as a percentage of your maximum ability and is usually associated with strength training.

Effort-Based Training Intensity is a less definite measure of intensity and is based on the perceived effort of an activity. This measurement of intensity is usually matched with conditioning activities.

They both have their place, and in fact, can and should be used simultaneously.  If you’ve ever walked into the gym and have had those days when even a relatively light weight felt heavy (high effort intensity with moderate load intensity), you’ll know what I mean.

Load-Based Training Intensity

Load-based training intensity is most associated with strength training, but can also be used with conditioning style activities.  A simple definition is how heavy the load is you are lifting, relative to your 1RM (1 Repetition Maximum).  As such, the intensity of a particular lift will be expressed as a percentage of your 1RM.

An example in a conditioning setting would be working at a particular percentage intensity of your max heart rate.

Here’s the basic rule for load-based training intensity for strength training, depending on your goal:

Hypertrophy (muscle gain) – At least 70% 1RM
Strength – At least 80% 1RM
Power – At least 90% 1RM

In the programs you see here on Athletic Workouts, each lift has a designated training intensity.  They are listed either as a percentage of your 1RM, or as somthing like 8RM.  This would mean that you select a load you can lift for 8 repetitions. I sometimes list it this way, but call for 6 reps in a set, meaning you should be able to complete 2 more reps at the end of the set with the load you selected.  This is useful for de-load weeks and active rest weeks.

If you want to determine your 1RM, I prefer finding an estimated 1RM for most people.  Lifting at your max can be dangerous, and having an estimated 1RM is more than practical for most guys purposes.

In the AW Training Manual, I have lifters find their estimated 1RM based on a 5RM lift.  This is the most weight you can lift for 5 reps.

1. For beginners, start with an empty bar and perform 5 reps.  Rest at least 1 minute.  With lower weights, you can rest for a shorter amount of time and as the weight progresses, increase your rest time, even up to 5 minutes.

2. If you were able to perform 5 reps with good technique, proceed to the next step.

3. Add 5-10 lbs to the bar for upper body exercises and 10-20 lbs to the bar for lower body exercises, and repeat steps 2 and 3 until you cannot complete a full 5 rep set.

Of course, as the weight get heavier and closer to your 5RM, you may want to increase the weight more conservatively.

To calculate your estimated 1RM, take the highest weight you lifted for 5 reps and multiply by 1.12.  for example, if you lifted 150 lbs 5 times on the bench press, you can estimate your 1RM by multiplying 150 by 1.12 which equals 168.

This is much safer than attempting a true 1RM.  If you miss the lift, you usually stop at 3 or 4 reps (and can even calculate your estimated 1RM from that result), as opposed to failing with a weight you can’t lift at all.  Most of the guys here lift on their own, so this is the safest, most accurate way to find an estimated 1RM.

A lot of coaches argue against using percentages of 1RMs in their training programs, they feel it’s too rigid.  I use training percentages to ensure my athletes are working at a proper intensity, and are progressively overloading at proper, regular intervals. But I’m not foolish enough to believe that everyday in the gym will be easy, and not every lifter will be feeling 100%.  I use percentages more as suggestion and tracking, and realize that intensity sometimes needs to be scaled back for longer term gains.

Effort-Based Training Intensity

I used to judge intensity in conditioning activities based purely on an athletes MHR (Max Heart Rate).  But seeing as the most widely used MHR calculations are far from exact, I began implementing more of an effort-based intensity system.

I still use MHR calculations from time to time, mostly to measure recovery time during intervals (In this instance, the next work period in an interval session would begin once an athletes HR reached a specific recovery level).

There are various ways to measure effort, but I like to keep things simple and keep it out of ten.

For example, a 1/10 would be laying on the couch watching football, a 10/10 would be running for your life.  High intensity intervals would occur at anything above an 8/10.  The only drawback with this arbitrary method, is sometimes athletes work at a lower intensity than they should be.

Of course then, duration of the activity related to overall intensity of effort.  Running at a 10/10 for 2 seconds and running at a 10/10 for 10 seconds are different intensities as well.  Without a doubt, it can get complicated.

Putting Them Together

Let’s understand that different manipulations of how drills and exercises are performed results in different kinds of intensities. Both a 1RM squat (max load/max effort) and 100 bodyweight squats (min load/max effort) are both intense, but in different ways.

Properly manipulating both load and effort intensities  in a training program relate directly to the training principles of overload and specificity, leading to effective training.

Image courtesy of digitalart /

Exercise Specialization

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Exercise SpecializationExercise Specialization is a term I’ve come up with to describe the fact that beginners need to focus on a specific group of exercises and forget about any others.

What is Exercise Specialization?

Exercise Specialization means you specialize in certain exercises until you have mastered the technique of these exercises, without using any others.  It’s also important to note, that in the the AW Training Manual, I’ve selected only the most effective exercises for beginners to improve strength and size.

Proper technique, developed by focusing on only certain exercises, allows the athlete to lift more weight.  More weight means more strength, and more strength means more size.

This also allows the beginner to see quicker results (and in less time), meaning they’re more likely to stick with a fitness plan.

By using Exercise Specialization, the lifter doesn’t need to worry about learning a whole bunch of different exercises, wasting time and effort in the gym.

Get good at the most basic and beneficial of exercises first and then begin to add other exercises to your program.

There are plenty of other variables that can be manipulated in a training program that will lead to variety and results.

Exercise Specialization in the AW Training Manual

Here are the exercises featured in the AW Training Manual:

Bilateral Compound Movements

  • Power Clean (A very difficult lift to master, but beginners are recommended to begin with squat jumps and progress to a power clean.  This is really the only exercise where there is some room for judgement based on training experience.)
  • Squat
  • Bench Press
  • Deadlift
  • Overhead (Push) Press
  • Pullups/Chinups

Unilateral Compound Movements

  • 1-Arm Dumbbell Snatch
  • DB Stepup
  • DB Incline Press
  • DB Rear-Foot Elevated Squat
  • DB 1-Arm Shoulder Press
  • DB Rows (Can be chest supported)

That’s it.  Those are the only exercises included in the AW Training Manual.

To ensure variety and proper periodization, we manipulate other variables like load, volume (sets and reps) rest time, and rep speed.

Again, the idea with exercise specialization is to let the lifter practice and develop good technique in the most essential of lifts.

Better technique allows an athlete to lift more developing more strength.  More strength leads to more muscle (lean mass) and more lean mass helps burn more fat.

There’s no need for complicated programs.  Simple is better, especially for beginners.  Simple is easier to stick to, especially for beginners.

By using exercise specialization, strength gains will come quicker and that means a beginner will be more likely to stick with the plan.

Granted, at some point you’ll need to introduce other exercises into your training program.  I certainly don’t recommend exercise specialization for more advanced athletes.  They need the exercise variety of stimulus to achieve smaller gains.

Keeping exercises the same leads to familiarity in a beginner, and keeps from overwhelming them.  In this day and age of information everything, keeping things simple is the way to go.

So, if you’re a beginner, or have been away from the gym for a while, give the AW Training Manual a try for 8 weeks.  I promise you’ll see results.

And you’ve got nothing to lose anyway, the program is completely free.  Just sign up below to download the program today.

Note: Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Diet and Training Tips: How To Get Started And Succeed

Posted by & filed under Nutrition.

Diet And Training TipsA little while back, I posted “six-and-a-half” nutrition and diet guidelines to follow for better health and performance.

For some people, this still may be difficult to get used to in a short amount of time.  So here’s my suggestion to you:  Incorporate one guideline at a time.  Don’t even think about following another one until you are achieving that single diet guideline 90% of the time.  Only then should you consider implementing a second.

While diet is crucial to your success, I suggest the first change you make is to strength train.  Make a commitment to train 3 times per week – no matter what.  Build that habit for one month.  Only then should you begin to make other lifestyle changes.  I find that once you get into the habit of training, and see some success, other changes become easier because you are more motivated.

Now, some of you may be more ambitious and will make changes quickly and with relative ease.  But for most of us, too much change too quick, will only lead to failure.

Speaking of failure, inevitably, sooner or later you will fall of the rails with either your training or diet.  When this happens, don’t let it be an excuse to quit.  Believe me, I’ve thought the same thing – “Well, I blew it yesterday, so why bother trying today” – or something like that.  Cut your losses, so to speak, and get back on the wagon.

It’s consistency that leads to success, but consistency doesn’t have to be 100% of the time.  Even 90% will yield great results.

Don’t feel like you need to make a million changes all at once.  Focus on one change at a time until it becomes habit, then move to the next challenge.  Choose to become the person you want to be, and take it one step at a time.

Note: Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /

How To Progress To A Full Pull Up

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I’m asked all the time what people can do in place of the pull ups and chin ups if they can’t do full pulls or chins. Especially if they call for multiple reps.

Here’s what I suggest in progressive order:

Inverted Rows

For absolute beginners, inverted rows are a good place to start.  Depending on your fitness level, you may even find it difficult to do a pull up hold.  If this is you, start here.  While an inverted row doesn’t work in the same movement plane a pull up, it will serve as a good substitute and begin strengthening the muscles used to do a pull up.

For an inverted row, lay face up on the floor underneath a pull up bar a few feet off the ground.  Reach up and grab the bar, keeping your feet on the ground.  Pull your chest up to the bar and return to the starting position.  To make the move easier, bend your knees to bring your feet closer to the bar.

Pull Up/Chin Up Holds (Isometric Pulls/Chins)

Using a bench, plyo box or chair for support and position yourself at the top of the movement with your chin above the bar. Remove your feet from the support, and simply hold yourself in this position for as long as possible. Try for as many seconds as reps. If the exercise calls for 6 reps, hold for 6 seconds.

Drop Pull Ups/Chin Ups (Eccentric Pulls/Chins)

When you can hold yourself for as many seconds as reps are called for in your exercise, try doing Drop Pull Ups. You’ll position yourself above the bar again, using a support, but instead of holding that position, you will let yourself perform the negative or eccentric part of the movement. Slowly drop down to the arms extended position. If the lift calls for a 2 second eccentric portion, then it should take you 2 seconds to lower yourself.

Use your support to bring yourself back up to the top of the movement and repeat as many times as possible, until you can complete the required amount of reps. So, if you can perform 2 drops, and the exercise calls for six reps, you should finish the exercise by holding the top position for 4 seconds.

Full Pull Ups/Chin Ups (Concentric/Eccentric Pull/Chins)

Once you can perform as many drop pull ups as are called for in your program, you should be able to do at least one full pull up. Again, if you are asked to do six pull ups, You might find yourself doing one full pull up, doing 3 drop pull ups, and then a pull up hold for 2 seconds.

Keep working at it. This is not an easy exercise, but one that will provide many benefits. Of course, if you have access to an assisted pull up station go for it, or use bands to help you, but many people I consult with train at home, and don’t have access to these. This is a great progression for beginners and advanced athletes alike

Guest Post: Build Insane Muscle with Power Training Workouts

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Today’s guest post is by Jim Smith, CSCS.  I like his work because he takes a holistic approach to his training, including recovery workouts, and mobility work.  And if you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, you’ll know how important I think these components are to a program – especially as we get older.

In this article, he gives you a sample workout (and of course, it aligns with my philosophy of training movements),  and I really like that he emphasizes the “posterior chain” movements.

For more of Jim’s work, check out


Have you ever been in a situation where you need to modify your planned workout because of time constraints? If it has not happened yet, rest assured that it will at some point in your training career. Do not fret, with Power Training Combos you will be able to get in a decent workout and you may even be able to add some quality muscle on your frame as well. By combining certain mass building exercises, you will help accelerate your gains and decrease your time in the gym.

While there are limitless combinations you can choose, the following combinations will take care of a huge amount of muscle with minimal time invested in the gym.

1. Horizontal Pull / Vertical Push: Seated Cable Rows/ DB Military Press
2. Full Body / Vertical Pull: Barbell Power Cleans / Pull Ups
3. Vertical Pull / Hip Extension – Barbell Shrugs / DB RDL’s

You will notice that these combos really target the musculature of the posterior chain primarily. This will give you a huge boost of growth hormone and pack on the pounds where it counts. Check out a sample workout below for a way to get your own power building combo training going.

Sample Training Workout:

Warm Up:
1. Foam Roller-IT Bands, Hammies, Quads, glutes
2. Light Static Stretching 3 x 10 s hammies, quad hip flexor
3. Jump Rope


1a. Deadlift 5 x 5
1b. Military Press 5 x 5
2a. DB Shrugs 5 x 15
2b. Back Extensions 5 x 20
3. Abdominal Fallout’s 3 x 15

As you can see the work is not involved. Just make sure you perform the sets back to back and then take an appropriate rest period. It will be tough, but you will save time and build strength and some serious muscle.

Jim Smith, CSCS is a highly sought after lecturer, author and renowned strength coach. Jim is an expert for Men’s Fitness and a member of the Elite Fitness Q/A staff. He speaks regularly at clinics, conferences and seminars about the Diesel Method. His distinctive and comprehensive training approach has helped athletes and fitness enthusiasts of all skill levels attain their goals and “Achieve Beyond Potential”. Jim is an active student of strength athletics and is always seeking new ways to innovate and provide a unique perspective for gaining muscle, rehabbing injuries, improving performance and building better athletics.

The Most Effective Nutritional Habit

Posted by & filed under Nutrition.

Nutritional HabitI’m a meat guy. I love me some meat.

And I love to grill it just as much as love to eat it.

I’ll grill it outside on the BBQ all year round here where I live, about 45 minutes outside of Toronto, even when it’s well below freezing outside.

So lucky for me, I don’t have to worry too much about getting my fix of protein in a day.

But a lot of people don’t get enough protein to help them achieve their goals. And quite frankly the most important thing you can do for your nutrition is to make sure you get a good serving of lean protein at every single meal.

AW Nutritional Habit #1

Yep, the number one nutritional habit I can recommend is every time you plan to eat, be sure to get the equivalent of two fists worth (one for women) of lean protein.

We need protein to help repair and build muscle and other tissues.  Proteins and amino acids are the body’s building blocks.  Even more, protein helps your feel fuller, longer.

But protein does much more than this.

Protein helps control insulin responses because eating more protein usually means you will eat less carbohydrates that can spike insulin levels.

Protein also has a higher “Thermic Effect” than carbohydrates or fats.  What this means is the energy it takes to digest your food is higher with protein meaning more calories burned resulting in increased metabolism.

So if you want to get fast results with the least amount of fuss, make sure to get into the nutritional habit of eating lean protein with each meal.

And look, I know you can’t eat steak, or chicken, or eggs with every meal of the day, let alone cook it.

Plus, sometimes you just need a convenient way to get your protein needs at some meals, or maybe you just need a little variety.

Well, that’s where supplementation can help in the form of a protein shake.

I advocate eating whole foods as much as possible, but when whole foods aren’t an option, a protein shake is a great substitute, and one or two shakes a day can keep enough variety to help you stick with your nutrition plan.

Here’s what has to be my favorite shake recipe right now:

1/2 cup of water
2 scoops Chocolate Prograde Protein
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
1 tsp cocoa powder
2-3 drops of mint extract
5 ice cubes
half a handful of pecan halves
(and you can even throw in a handful of spinach – trust me, you can’t even taste it, but it does change the color)

You can use any kind of chocolate protein powder, but I highly recommend using Prograde.

It tastes amazing, and is sweetened with stevia (not sugar).

=> Get Your Bottle Of Prograde Protein Here

Next time you want a sweet tasting snack without falling off the wagon, give this shake a try.

Stay committed,

Mike Dunk, BHK, CSCS
Athletic Workouts

Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut /

Beginner Plyometric Workout

Posted by & filed under Workouts.

A great way to prepare for a plyometric program is to jump rope for a couple of weeks — especially if you’ve never done plyos before.  Jumping rope helps condition the body and muscles for those quick muscular contractions I was talking about in the last post.

The next step, believe it or not,  is to learn how to land.  The idea is to learn how to land soft and in an athletic position.  Coincidentally, once you find your proper landing position, this is the same position you should be squatting in.  To learn how to land soft, you can start with drop jumps.  Find a step or platform about a foot high and step off the platform (do not jump).  The goal is to land as softly as possible and try not to even make a sound.  To do this properly, you will need to land in an athletic position and absorb the shock as you land.  Do this for another couple of weeks to help make the neuromuscular adaptation (the brain muscle connection) — making the response automatic for your muscles.

So yes, take about a month to prepare.  You must do this to perform beginner level plyos.  To be able to do intermediate level plyos, you should have done the above and be able to squat your body weight.  For advanced plyos, the same as before, but you should be able to squat 1.5x your body weight.

Here’s a sample beginner plyo program:

  1. Squat Jumps 2×5, rest 1 min between sets
  2. Medicine Ball Chest Throw 2×5, 1 min rest
  3. Jump to Box 2×5, rest 1 min
  4. Medicine Ball Incline Chest Throw, 1 min rest

Add this into your workout program even once per week to get amazing benefits (I wouldn’t do it more than twice). And make sure to change it up after no more than 4 weeks.

Don't Believe The Hype

Posted by & filed under Training.

Hey, that’s more than a great Public Enemy song, it’s something you need to be careful of in today’s fitness industry.

I’m amazed at how people can turn fitness into a flavour of the month. Every week there seems to be a new program or plan out there that uses some new type of training methodology. I was catching a morning show the other day and they had a guest on that was claiming something like “evolutionary training” was the way to get fit. Apparently they had their clients move the way our ancestors did and that was the best way to get fit. You mean to tell me our ancestors moved differently than us? Well actually, the clients were crawling around the gym floor (with awful lower back position I might add as well). I couldn’t help but be amused – and the media thought this was newsworthy!

All of it is just marketing hype. Something they claim to be brand new and different, when it’s usually not, or it’s so different, it’s sometimes laughable. All they’re looking for is sales. And hey, if you never quite reach your goals, you’ll just have to keep paying, won’t you?

Another thing I can’t stand is when someone takes common knowledge and just decides to call it something more catchy, and then put a trademark on it to look official.

Average people think it’s the next greatest thing and continue to get frustrated because frankly, they’re being taken advantage of. They just don’t know what to do anymore. And personally, I think it’s unfair, and outright insulting to you.

Some marketers (and I call them marketers, not trainers, or strength coaches) take science, and actually play with it to make it look like something it’s not.

My inbox has been bombarded lately with promos for a new program that has completely mashed real science. (Yes, I’m on other people’s lists) It’s nothing more than pseudo-science, or hype. They’re claiming their program helps develop a type III muscle fiber, but really there’s no such thing. I scoured scientific journals, and couldn’t find any real evidence of their claims. And after further research, I found an article where the program author himself says this, “Type III muscle fiber is just a cool name for a hybrid type II muscle fiber that takes on traits of a type I fiber. It’s nothing new. It’s just something a lot of people haven’t heard about.” So why the hype? Why not just say it is what it is?

Now, to be honest, the program itself might be great … I haven’t seen the actual product, but knowing they’re claim is less than factual makes me distrustful and skeptical.

These people seem to spend more time on their marketing efforts, rather than emphasize their practice. I hate it, because it makes all of us look bad, especially when all it is is taking advantage of people that don’t know better and are desperate to change their lives.

To give you another example, a friend of mine has been going to this bootcamp, and just because she sweats and feels like she’s going to puke she thinks she’s had a great workout. Hard work doesn’t always make a great workout. The type of training she’s doing does not match her goals, and she keeps getting more and more frustrated. She’s paying all of this money, and giving up her time, just to work hard. But people can very easily be influenced by something that seems good, and is new and different. After all, people that want to be fit bad enough are the easiest to influence (brainwash?) because they want it so bad – they’ll believe anything. I’ve tried to convince her otherwise, but she won’t listen. I’m frustrated for her.

That said, to reach your goals does take hard work. But you also need to work smart. Train for your goals. Realize there is no magic 12-week fix. Can you make significant gains in 3 months? Of course, but don’t think in finite terms of time. I may have 4, 8, 12, or 16 week programs, but those are designed to be just a piece of a large puzzle. Not the whole puzzle itself.

I promise you’ll always get the straight goods from me, with no hype. I’m just not creative enough anyway to come up with the next “greatest thing” anyway.

I will say, some highly marketed products I’ve seen are actually well designed. But my point is for you to be skeptical.

Don’t believe the hype.

The Two-Exercise Workout Plan

Posted by & filed under Training.

Here’s a workout plan that will have you in and out of the gym in no time.

All I’ve done is separate 2 days into pushing and pulling movements, and in each of those workouts I have  a lower body and upper body exercise.  In total, four movements — knee dominant, hip dominant and upper body push and pull.

Here’s how it goes:

Day 1

  1. Knee Dominant Variation (Squat, Front Squat, DB Squat, Prisoner Squat, etc.) – 3×5
  2. Upper Body Push Variation (Bench, DB Bench, Overhead Press, Pushup, etc.) – 3×5

Day 2

  1. Hip Dominant Variation (Deadlift, RDL, Glute-Ham Raise, Stability Ball Leg Curl with Hip Raise, etc.) – 3×5
  2. Upper Body Pull Variation (Pull Up, Chin Up, Barbell or DB Row, Inverted Row, etc.) – 3×5

Make sure to perform a dynamic warm up before the workout and use a couple of direct warm up sets before getting into the 3x5s.  Rest no more than 2 minutes between sets.

If you are absolutely pressed for time, try super-setting, keeping the rest time between sets the same.

Remember, a workout doesn’t have to be long to be effective.

Hydration For Exercise And Performance

Posted by & filed under Nutrition.

Water and hydration is an important part of any workout program.  Water is most important for helping to regulate our body temperature during intense exercise.  Water also helps to lubricate our joints for movement and it helps prevent cramping.  It is essential in the production and use of raw energy in the body’s cells.  What’s more, with less water in the body, our blood volume actually decreases causing the heart to work much harder.

Rehydration After Exercise – For these reasons, among others, replacing fluid loss is important after exercise.  Sport drinks like Gatorade are quite popular with athletes and they contain electrolytes like sodium and potassium which are lost through sweat.  Sodium and potassium are responsible for helping nerve and muscle cells work they way they should.  They also contain glucose for a quick energy boost, meaning they are often high in calories (but now they have G2 — a lower calorie version of Gatorade with less sugar), and they are all expensive.  In addition, the formula may not be suitable to your type of exercise and your particular needs.

3 Types of Replenishers – As athlete’s needs become more specific, — it could depend on the sport they are training for, or even the phase of training they are in — so can their hydration needs.  The most elite of athletes will have their post-exercise hydration planned by their dietitian.  So here’s a small idea of some different ways to replenish your fluid stores after exercise.

  • Isotonic Replenisher – Is usually made of 80% water and 20% juice concentrate (glucose and/or fructose source).  This replenisher will help athletes replace fluids quickly during and after exercise, but will also give a boost to help replace some energy. This is usually the most common type of replenisher.
  • Hypotonic Replenisher – (Kind of like G2) Is usually made up of 90% water and 10% juice concentrate. This will help replenish fluids fast — useful in hot weather training — but won’t give much of an energy boost.  It can be used during and after less intense exercise, and before training to help prevent dehydration. You can also use this to keep fluid levels high and maintain your glycogen (stored glucose) levels.
  • Hypertonic Replenisher – (Similar to regular Gatorade) Is usually made of 70% water and 30% juice concentrate.  This formula provides more energy replacement and can be used after intense exercise to replenish lost energy stores.

Homemade Recipes – You can save a ton of cash by making your own homemade sport drinks, and you can match your formula to your specific training and caloric needs.  Each of these recipes will give you a 1 litre serving.

  • Isotonic Replenisher – Add 200ml of juice concentrate (orange and grape work well) to 1L of water, then add a pinch of salt.
  • Hypotonic Replenisher – Add 100ml of juice concentrate to 1L of water, then add a pinch of salt.
  • Hypertonic Replenisher – Add 300-400ml of juice concentrate to 1L of water, then add a pinch of salt.

You could even add a scoop whey protein for a decent post-workout drink.

So there you go, a little background on the how and why of hydration and a little tip to help you customize your training plan on the cheap.  Enjoy!