How to Add More Intensity in Your Workout Routine

It's easy to get stuck in a rut with your strength and cardio workouts, doing the same exercises at the same pace day after day. But it's also easy to add some variety to your workouts while burning more calories and boosting your endurance. 


Add Power to Your Cardio Workouts

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If you want to burn more calories while improving your strength, speed, and power, why not add a little power to your workouts? Athletes use power moves, or plyometric exercises, to help them jump higher, build endurance, and protect them from injury. But you don't have to train like an athlete to get the benefits of power training.

  • Jumps. Adding different types of jumps to your workout can really crank up your heart rate. Try jumping straight up and landing in a slight squat as in a squat jump, jumping forward with both feet in a long-jump or jumping up onto a step or platform with both feet at a time.
  • One-Legged Jumps. Jumping with both feet can be very challenging, but try it with one leg and you'll experience a whole different kind of challenge. Try hopping across the room, jumping onto a step or just jumping up and down on one leg. Keep the movement slow and explosive.
  • Power Jacks. Another way to add power is by doing slow power squats. Jump up and land in a wide squat as low as you can. In an explosive movement, jump the feet back together.
  • Power Lunges. You can do the same thing with lunges (these are tough!). Just lower down into a lunge and jump up, switch legs in the air, and land in a lunge.

Lift Heavier Weights

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If you want to see results from your strength training programs, there's one important thing you have to do: overload your muscles. Overloading your muscles means that you have to lift more weight than your body is accustomed to lifting. When you do that, your body adapts by becoming stronger and building lean muscle tissue.

The problem is that many of us slack a little when it comes to weight training. Lifting heavy weights is hard and may feel uncomfortable if you're not used to the sensation. But, if you want to add a little excitement and intensity to your workouts, why not test your limits to see what you can do?

You don't necessarily have to take all your exercises to fatigue and you want to be safe and protect your body from injury, so you don't necessarily want to start powerlifting. But, if you've been lifting the same amount of weight for a long time, the idea here is to go heavier. Here's a simple way to go about it:

  • Choose a heavier weight than you usually use (have a spotter if you're lifting very heavy!).
  • Lift the weight as many times as you can with good form. The last rep should be difficult but not impossible.
  • If you can do more than 15 or 16 reps, go heavier the next time and try for 10 to 12 reps.
  • If you're uncomfortable lifting heavier, just try one set with the heavier weight and move on.

Another way to gradually add more intensity is to try pyramid training. For ideas, try these upper body and lower body pyramid workouts.


Try More Compound and Combination Movements

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When it comes to strength training, some of the most powerful moves involve more than one muscle group and more than one joint movement. These kinds of moves can enhance your training, allowing you to lift more weight while giving you the extra calorie burn that comes from involving the large muscle groups of the body.

Not only that, compound movements are often more functional, working your body the way it actually moves on a daily basis.

You no doubt already do some compound movements in your training but maybe there are different exercises you can try to recruit more muscles and add some intensity to your strength training workouts. Here are just a few compound moves to incorporate into your workouts:

Combination exercises are also good for working multiple muscles and saving time. By combining exercises that work different muscles at the same time, you can add intensity as well as work on coordination, balance, and stability:

  • Squats with an overhead press
  • Lunge with bicep curl or lateral raise
  • Deadlifts with a Lunge Press
  • Kickbacks with one leg extended at hip-level
  • Burpees with a renegade row

Slow Things Down

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Another way to challenge your muscles in a different way is to change the tempo of your exercises. Slow things down or change the speed of your reps throughout the workout. This will challenge your muscles in different ways while keeping your mind on what you're doing.

  • Slow things down. Take 4 or more seconds to lift and lower the weight
  • Make the lowering phase harder. Lift the weight for 1 second and lower the weight for 3-4 seconds
  • Change the tempo throughout the set. Alternate 2 reps at normal speed and 2 reps at a slower speed (2 seconds up and 2 seconds down).
  • Add an isometric hold. Complete one set of the exercise, then hold the last rep for several seconds. For example, do one set of bicep curls. Then lift the weight halfway up and hold for as long as you can.
  • Keep tension on the muscles. Shorten your range of motion just a bit to keep constant tension on the muscles you're working. For example, when doing a leg press, don't straighten the legs all the way but keep a bend in the knees.
  • Add pulses. At the end of a normal set (or halfway through) add several slow, small pulses. For example, do 8 squats and then stay down at the low end of the movement and pulse halfway up 8 times.

Try Interval Training

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One way to do that is with interval training. The concept behind interval training is simple: add bursts of intensity (either with speed, resistance or anaerobic-type moves) throughout your workout. The idea is to work very hard for a period of time—that means really pushing your limits—then slow down for a period of time to recover.

There are a few basic ways to do interval training:

Measured intervals — With this type of training, you work hard for a measured period of time or distance and then recover for a measured period of time. This Beginner Interval Workout offers an example of measured intervals.

Varied Intervals — In this type of training, you simply work harder for as long as you can and then recover for as long as you need to get ready for the next hard interval. For example, if you're walking or running outside, you could choose something in the distance and sprint to it, or walk/run up a hill as fast as you can and walk down to recover.

Aerobic Interval Training — This is a great place to start if you're a beginner, focusing on intervals that force you to work harder, but don't go to very high intensity. For this type of workout, you might do 3 minutes at a moderate intensity and then 3 minutes just slightly higher than moderate.

Anaerobic Interval Training — If you're more advanced, this type of training focuses on getting you well out of your comfort zone, working as hard as you can for short intervals. This workout might be running for 5 minutes and then sprinting all out for 30 to 60 seconds. This is also sometimes called High-Intensity Interval Training and can include a variety of different workouts such as Tabata Training, High-Intensity Circuit Training, and Metabolic Conditioning.

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."