The Story of Intensity
Purpose and transformation are life partners. One finishes the other’s sentences. When their eyes met for the first time, they both breathed, “you complete me.” One can’t quit the other. Unless you’re perfect in every way (therefore not needing transformation), your time steeped in that purposeful recess of training is simply the consecration of their union.
Well, sorta. Purpose is actually one third of the recipe. But let’s not jump too far ahead.
The Recipe for Transformation
That’s it. That’s the alchemy for your transformation. Here’s how it works.
Intensity ignites the potential for transformation, as we’ve mentioned in Ritual vs Routine. It is the spark for change. It’s also the focus of the next chunk of this book.
Consistency is simply repeating this ignition until it’s a fire. It perpetuates the change.
Purpose defines the change! This is perhaps the biggest theme of this tome. Not all transformation is good. Random or aimless encounters with intensity have no direction, and therefore the outcome might, well, suck. Even well-intentioned attempts at transformation can be badly programmed, steering the intensity through a series of poor choices, which, as we’ll chat more about, reduce our options and limit our freedom.
We’ve waxed ad nauseum about purpose throughout this blog site, so what needs some serious crime scene investigation is the concept of intensity. What the heck does it mean?
Do Better: The Story of Intensity
Through the omnipresent lens of social media, I’m witness to many prescribed workouts by many trainers and gyms across the world. A great deal of them fall into a theme of do-more-faster, with various workouts prescribing hundreds of reps. One recent example was a workout of 200 air squats/100 KB swings/50 pushups/50 box jumps, then repeat for half of everything, for a grand total of 600 reps. That’s a lot. Yet that’s becoming standard programming. Is there a point? Later we’ll also ask the question: Why would such programmed redundancy be at all appealing to the huge chunk of the population we need to be trying to get moving? Why has movement become regulated, and often celebrated, repetition?
Only a few bits of wisdom will seep through my old, calloused cranium, but a big lesson that has lodged itself in that pink orb between my ears is that quality trumps everything. Why do my athletes improve? They work on doing things better. Since our big journey is the path towards holistic usefulness, then it may behoove us to place a great deal of importance on the carry-over from workout to real life. Hence it is crucial to recognize that quality of life often has a direct correlation with the quality of your training… but less so directly with the quantity.
With that formula for transformation, the magic goop that puts glitter on our unicorn horn is Intensity. When we repeat it (Consistency) and give it direction (Purpose), we’re changed. Simple. Depending on that purpose, we might be one step closer to actually being useful.
This diatribe ain’t new gospel from my pulpit. In fact the premise of BodyTribe is the quest for intensity as a game, and life, changer. Strength is ability. Physically, it’s the ability to overcome obstacles. Metaphysically… well, basically the same thing. Face a challenge and deal with it. As with mastery of anything, we practice it. Our physical training is simply creating challenges and then slapping them around to make them our bitch. Or at least attempting to.
Therein lies a dilemma. Our limited time on this cosmic spinning glitter orb is already rife with challenges. Why would anyone want to create more challenges? Why would we want to purposely put real physical obstacles in our own way, simply to go over them, under them or move them?
Because it is a skill, this obstacle crushing. To improve our skills, we should practice. Frankly, in our quest for humanness, these challenges are what make things interesting. Even fun.
The good news is that we can have a blast doing it. The outcome, says those around us, is, as we mentioned earlier, an increase in our mate-able worth. Oh, and the real big news? There will be ass kicking in the future. Your tribe gains a superhero, if you choose to use your powers for good (and you will… that’s why I like you).
Why is volume not always the answer? Isn’t Volume intense? Hold on, my friends, we’ll be there soon. Sure, all transformation comes from challenge, but not all challenge creates transformation. We call this the classic Coaches Fallacy.
First, what is Intensity?
Don’t Google this one. It won’t quite solve the riddle. I see the strength athletes with their hands up. Calling on one of them would get me an answer about percentage of 1RM. Intensity for them is the all-out kaboom of a max effort lift.
The metcon junkies are going to counter this with a power output proposition. The yoga contingent will pitch a case for focus and awareness.
And yes, someone will make a case for volume. Doing a lot of something feels awfully intense, right?
You are all right, but it’s a math question, and none of you showed your work. Well, metaphysical math, but Intensity is a formula nonetheless.
Intensity = investment X challenge
That’s right. Intensity is the amount of investment times the level of challenge. Simple, right?
Now we’re masters at busy-ness, which is a bunch of investment in unchallenging things. On the other hand, many of us have strangleholds on walking away from giant challenges, maybe after a half-ass effort, what I call the At Least I Tried Syndrome. Those, obviously, fail at being transformative. According to our formula, not much intensity.
The examples of intensity given earlier, though – 1RM, focus, metabolic meltdown – all plug into our equation with a net sum of a high intensity quotient. So yes. Intensity can come from volume. High numbers represent a big challenge, and if met with high investment, your intensity formula will definitely ring in the red zone.
Beware. Not all intensity is the same.
Can intensity be abusive? Heck yes. Its transformative powers can turn metal into gold or shit into a bigger pile of shit. I’ve oft quoted the legendary Tommy Kono as saying practice makes permanent. If you’re finding your intensity through practicing a volume fest of crap, guess what you’re making permanent?