11 Awesome Ways to Boost Workout Intensity

If you want to improve your fitness, increase your strength, or be otherwise awesome, you need to be prepared to leap (not just step) out of your comfort zone and make your workouts tougher.

Taking your workouts to a new level of intensity will not only keep you out of a fitness rut, it’ll show you just how tough you really are and make your regular workouts seem a lot easier. You’ll also make dramatic improvements in fitness and strength.

While you can do simple things like add more weight or run a little longer, there are other ways to crank up workout intensity and do something much more challenging (and interesting!).

If you love a challenge, and really want to push yourself and then some, try some of these workout intensity boosters. Be sure to include some easy days in your routine for recovery from tough workouts.

1. Add jumps

Jumping is hard – you have to really use your muscles to break away from gravity. Of course, gravity always wins but you can massively crank up your fitness and muscle power trying to kick gravity’s butt!

You can do box jumps, hurdle jumps, long jumps, hops, squat jumps – any kind of jump will do. Just try and get as much air time as possible.

How to do it: Try adding jumps to your cardio workout to increase exercise intensity and seriously crank up your heart & breathing rate.

2. Add Sprint Intervals

If you usually walk, jog or run for fitness, or even cycle or row, you can kick your fitness up a notch by doing less slow and steady exercise and integrating some sprinting. Sprinting should be an all-out effort and so, out of necessity, sprints are short. 

How to do it: Try 10 or 15 second sprints, depending on your level of fitness, and no more than 20 seconds. Rest 60 to 120 seconds between sprints and do 5 – 10 repeats.

3. Do Training Rounds

Boxers are amongst the fittest athletes around. Why? Because they compete and train using 3 minute rounds which are interspersed with 1 minute recoveries.

How to do it: Instead of doing 20 to 30 minutes of steady-paced cardio, try doing 6 or more 3 minute rounds instead. Go a little faster than normal and then enjoy a 1 minute rest or more depending on your fitness level. Don’t be surprised if time seems to stand still during those 3 minute rounds. They’ll feel super long and the rests very short!

4. Incorporate Tabata Intervals

Short and tough, tabata training is an advanced interval training workout designed to kick your butt in 5 minutes or less. Not for beginners, it should be practiced only by those with a high level of fitness.

Good exercises include burpees, kettlebell swings, thrusters, sprints, jump rope double unders and punch bag work. Not so good exercises include crunches, biceps curls and calf raises – the exercises need to be intense and work a bunch of muscles. If you’re looking for intensity this is it!

How to do it: Work as hard as you can for 20 seconds and then rest for 20. Repeat for 8 -10 sets to total 4 – 5 minutes. 

5. Add Weight

Ramp up the intensity of your workout by wearing a weighted vest. You can run, jump, do body weight exercises, or do your regular step class while wearing a weighted vest.

How to do it: Calculate 14% of your body weight, add it to your vest and then get your workout on!

6. Make Your Rests Active

If you lift weights, chances are you take it easy for 60-seconds or so between sets. You sit down, maybe grab a drink or ham it up with a buddy. Instead of being so passive during your rests, try being more active and include some cardio.

How to do it: You could try jumping rope between sets of squats, or hopping on a stationary bike between sets of push-ups.

7. Beat the Clock

Pick an exercise you are really good at – one that uses lots of muscles together like squats or burpees. Then, set your countdown timer for 5 minutes or according to your fitness level.

How to do it: Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to do as many reps as you can in the allocated time. Remember to focus on good form – quality over quantity. If you sacrifice proper form for the sake of speed, you increase the risk of injury. Rest when you need to but keep on cranking out the reps in small clusters of two or three.

The secret is to always stop just short of failure so you recover more quickly and can do even more reps. Make a note of your score and then try and beat it next time. 

8. Slow Movement Down

This approach works on the basis that even the lightest weight becomes heavy if you hold it long enough. Most of us do our workouts at a 1:1 tempo. That is to say, we lift the weight (or our body weight) in one second and then lower it in one second – we lift the weight at the same speed we lower it. Basically each rep takes two seconds. If you slow it down, each rep takes longer, which makes for a way more intense workout and also helps you to focus on proper form.

How to do it: Try 2:2 (2 seconds to lift, 2 seconds to lower), 3:3, or even 4:4 – depending on your level of fitness. Slow makes light weights feel very heavy! You can do this with weights or bodyweight exercises such as squats.

9. Throw in an Extra Half Rep – 1.5 Reps

Another way to make your workouts more demanding is to do one-and-a-half reps, instead of just one. Adding an extra half rep to just about any move makes it that much more effective, as it maximizes muscle tension and results in faster muscle gains.

How to do it: For example, with a squat, you would:

  • squat down
  • come halfway up, then squat right back down
  • return to standing position

You can apply this 1 1/2 intensifier to just about any exercise, including push-ups, lunges, and bicep curls.

10. Make Your Weights Heavier

How to do it: If you normally do 3 sets of 8 reps of an exercise, try doing 8 sets of 3 reps with a 20% heavier weight.

You’ll end up doing the same number of total repetitions but with a heavier load, so the intensity of your workout (the total amount of weight lifted) will go up significantly. This method develops strength and builds muscle.

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