By Ross Enamait – Published in 2008
According to Merriam-Webster, an intense effort is one marked by great zeal, energy, determination, or concentration.
Intensity seems like a straightforward concept, but it isn’t visible on paper. Not even the best book or website can illustrate intensity through text alone. It does not pass through osmosis and isn’t sold at the supplement store. Training is like many things in life. You get what you put into it. The intensity that is put forth is entirely up to you, and must come from within.
Unfortunately, many athletes overlook this imperative (yet simple) fact. Even highly motivated athletes with the best intentions tend to forget that certain attributes must come from within. Intensity is one example, with passion, perseverance, and dedication forming an abbreviated list of others. These individual factors cannot be located with even the cleverest Google search. They must be found internally, as external resources will only offer so much in return.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against reading. As an author, it wouldn’t make sense to knock the values of reading and writing. My problem isn’t with books or websites, but with those who assume that the keys to success are always found elsewhere. Those who fall into this trap become lost, tirelessly searching books and websites for new workouts, rep schemes, and exercises. They search high and low for answers, but never take the time to search internally. In their eyes, the secret to success must be hiding elsewhere.
Just recently, I received an email from a new reader to the site who asked where he could find the most intense workouts. Here was a young fighter looking for a challenge. At face value, it was a fine request. How could anyone knock a fighter who is trying to improve?
My problem is not with the question, but the fact that aspiring athletes have been fooled to believe that they need someone else to create an intense workout. Perhaps the industry has fooled him, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Many in this industry do everything in their power to create confusion and unnecessary complexity.
As I stated in a past blog entry:
“Many from the world of fitness strive to create confusion in topics that a 5th grader could easily comprehend. They’ll throw together a few basic movements and then create a fancy name that ‘defines’ the workout, as if a fancy name somehow adds another level of sophistication. After all, if you are confused, you’ll become dependent on the guru and his advice. If you become self sufficient, you offer nothing in return.”
You don’t need anyone to create an intense workout for you. It isn’t complicated, no matter what others would like you to believe. Creating new workouts also happens to be fun. It is a great way to stay personally connected to your training, while ridding yourself of staleness and monotony. For a perfect example, you can find several sample workouts on my message board. I did not create any of these workouts. Readers from the forum contribute a new workout each week.
Many of the workouts will appear easy on paper, but then creep up on you as you progress through the session. This shouldn’t come as a surprise however, as even basic workouts can be challenging if you are willing to bring the intensity. Even a one mile run could be a challenging mini-workout.
At first glance, you may be thinking that I left something out. Did I just say a one mile run could be challenging? How hard could it be?
As always, the answer to this question lies within. The one mile run is as intense as you make it. For example, suppose your training partner strolls through the run. He will finish the distance without breaking a sweat. Now suppose you run the mile as if your life depended on it. Perhaps you envision running away from a pack of hungry wolves. Wouldn’t you crank up the intensity and run your ass off?
You and your partner will have completed the exact workout on paper. You have both run one mile. Intensity was an individual factor that you applied to the workout. It isn’t visible on paper.
How Much Is Enough?
I’m not suggesting that we attack each workout as if our lives depended on it. That isn’t the point of this article. The real message that I wish to convey is that you cannot expect to become a special athlete without a special effort. If your goals are general fitness, you can accomplish this task with a moderate level of intensity. If however you wish to become a champion, the time will come when you must dig down deep within. You cannot stroll through workouts and expect greatness. You must raise the bar on what is expected of you to separate yourself from the majority.
Many years ago, a story passed through our gym about Bernard Hopkins, who at the time was the undisputed middleweight champion. He was (and still is) known for his Spartan-like lifestyle and training camps. One of his sparring partners at the time (who was also a professional fighter) had left camp and commented on the experience. The sparring partner described training camp by saying if that is what it takes to be a champion, he doesn’t want to be a champion. It isn’t worth it. Hopkins was up at the crack of dawn, training fanatically each day, in bed early at night, and always eager to start the next day, only to repeat the process. His work ethic was enough to break down professional fighters who were just training with him, never mind having to actually fight the man.
Paper Is Never Enough
On paper, much of what Hopkins does in camp is not much different from what many fighters do as well. Whether it is running, sparring, hitting the bags, or hitting the mitts, these are all common activities amongst fighters. One cannot simply go through the motions however, replicating the same workouts on paper and expect the same results. A round does not always equal a round. World champions separate themselves from the majority. They push the limits of the human body, always looking to improve.
I often see young fighters on the message boards who search for workouts performed by top level fighters. Unfortunately, reading a workout on paper does not paint the full picture of what goes on behind the scenes. For example, a few rounds on the heavy bag can be intense if you push yourself, throwing as many punches as possible throughout each round. Conversely, these same few rounds could also be a light session if you toned down the intensity. I’ve seen many fighters over the years who have mastered the art of looking busy on the bag, while exerting as little energy as possible. Therefore, hitting the bag for X number of rounds does not mean anything by itself. What you put into each round is far more important than the number of rounds. Once again, intensity is not something that you can find on paper.
A Combat Specific Example
How about a real life example to drive home this idea? I’ll gladly share one of the greatest combat sporting examples in history.
On April 15th, 1985, undisputed middleweight champion Marvin Hagler defended his middleweight titles against devastating knockout puncher Thomas Hearns. In what was one of the most exciting bouts in history, Hagler stopped Hearns in the 3rd round. Now, to those who never saw the fight, you must be wondering how exciting such a short bout could be. How much action could have taken place in less than ten minutes?
Fortunately, you now know that it is impossible to describe the intensity through text alone. For this reason, take a few moments to watch the fight below. Keep in mind that it took place over 20 years ago, yet still gives me goose bumps after watching just the first round.
After watching the fight, you’ll know what I meant earlier when I said that a round does not always equal a round. And although I’ve used boxing for this example, the general concept applies to any physical activity. Regardless of what we do in the gym, we all have the option of aimlessly going through the motions or instead striving to become something special. For me, it is an easy decision. I am never satisfied with mediocrity. If I do something, I want to be the best at it. I enjoy pushing myself to places that I once didn’t know existed.
Simplicity Trumps Complexity
I was fortunate to grow up around some of the best fighters and trainers around, and have been fortunate to train some of today’s top fighters. Yet despite years of research and real world experience, I still believe that the most important ingredient to a successful training program comes from internal resources within each athlete. These individual factors outweigh even the most sophisticated means of exercise selection, periodization, and program creation. Often times the most important task of the coach is to light the fire that ignites the passion and intensity within the athlete. Once that fire burns, the athlete will find success with almost any style of training. He’ll realize that a round does not equal a round, as his rounds are always crammed full of intensity and action.
And while this may seem like a knock against research and science, it is everything but that. I’m actually a firm believer in research and science. I just happen to be against unnecessary complexity. After all, science is defined as the state of knowing. It is knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding. No part of the definition calls for needless complexity.
In the words of Albert Einstein,
“Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone.”
I don’t need to throw out irrelevant catch phrases or technical terms to develop successful athletes. I’d rather focus on topics of substance, as we travel the most direct path towards dominance. I’m also not here to suggest that my style of training is the only style of training. Yes, I have my own way of doing things, but there are countless others who have also developed successful athletes with their own methods. I’d be ignorant to suggest otherwise. Yet to those who do, why not simply accept this fact and focus on your own athletes? Why waste time trying to belittle other coaches and athletes who may have found success with other methods? Does anyone in this day and age honestly believe that they have reinvented the wheel?
No one can deny that countless trainers and countless methods have worked for countless champions. No single system reigns supreme and never will. Those athletes who bring forth unparalleled levels of desire, intensity, and perseverance will excel with almost anything. Clearly, training knowledge is imperative, but not any more important than getting the athlete to believe in the system and then maximize his efforts.
In the words of the legendary Vince Lombardi,
“Coaches who can outline plays on a black board are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their player and motivate.”
Many athletes have potential that currently lies dormant. An external search will never uncover the key to unlock this potential. The athlete must tap into these resources by first looking within. Great athletes find these resources on their own, just as great coaches find these resources in athletes who had previously failed in past searches.
To the coaches, push the buttons that need to be pushed and light the fire that needs to be lit.
To the athletes, ask yourself how bad you want it and then look inward to find the real secrets to success.
The results will follow.