Varying Your Training Intensity

Hand-eye coordination training

Earlier this year, I shared a few tips about how to stay healthy and active as the years pass. To no surprise, I emphasized the importance of consistency. Consistent work and effort have always formed the backbone of my life. I’ve never been good at taking it easy. I’m an all or nothing person. If I’m working on something that matters to me, I don’t know how to give less than 100 percent. The question though is can you consistently give 100 percent without eventually running yourself into the ground?

Struggling to Reduce Intensity

Most schools of thought encourage athletes to perform lighter sessions on occasion to facilitate recovery and prevent burnout. I too agree with this general premise. Constantly pushing yourself to the max each day with strenuous work is a recipe for failure. Such intensity cannot be sustained indefinitely. It’s only a matter of time before the body begins to suffer.

Unfortunately, recognizing the importance of lighter work isn’t the same as applying it. Speaking for myself, I’ve always struggled to include lighter days. My temperament is one that always wants to do more. There is no sense of accomplishment when I am intentionally working with less intensity than I can apply.

Pushing Yourself With Lighter Work

The compromise that I’ve learned to make with myself is to perform lighter work that remains challenging. In other words, the work remains difficult, but there’s no risk of beating my body down. I simply shift the focus away from strength and instead target another attribute.

A few examples can be seen below.

Other exercises that I often perform on lighter days include shadow boxing, hitting a double-end bag, and skipping rope. No matter how hard I go, my body isn’t taking much abuse. There’s no risk of overreaching or overtraining.


I’m often asked when it makes sense to include lighter training days. Personally, I don’t plan such days in advance. I’ve been training long enough to know when my body is asking for rest. Therefore, if I notice any signs of getting run down, I’ll shift gears and include a lighter day or two. Such an approach might sound overly simple, but it really doesn’t need to be any more complex.


Just as I don’t plan when to include a lighter day, I also don’t spend much time planning what to perform on a such a day. My lighter days are usually just a random mix of activities like those demoed above. I’ll work for around 30 minutes and then finish with a few sets of calisthenics.

Complete Rest

Another question that I’m often asked is about complete rest. Does it make sense to include full days of rest during the week?

Naturally, there’s no single way to answer such a question. Every athlete is unique. We all have different schedules, goals, and needs. With that said, I prefer light work over complete rest. It is extremely rare that I don’t perform some type of exercise or movement on a given day. Even if it is just a few minutes of hand-eye coordination training on a Sunday, I’ll find time to do something. I always feel better as a result.

Final Thoughts

If you are anything like me and struggle to perform less intense work, perhaps you can implement some of the ideas from above. It took me years to realize that I could still push myself hard with less intense work. Now that I’ve seen the light, I actually look forward to such days rather than dreading them like I did before.

And as a member of 40+ crowd, I’m assuming that such work will continue to prove useful as the years pass. I take great pride in continuing to function like a younger athlete and believe that varying my intensity is one of the keys. I’m able to satisfy my need for a constant challenge without beating my body down.


“Long-term consistency trumps short-term intensity.” – Bruce Lee


  1. Thank you, Ross, for this timely article. I recently joined the ranks of the 50+ Master’s athlete and have noticed my body asking for more effective rest & recovery. I was literally getting ready to write myself a note to do some research. As a note – I was in the best shape of my life about 12 years ago when a group of friends & I went through your “50 days of Infinite Intensity.
    Keep up the good work,

  2. I do include full rest days in my schedule, and I find that the next day’s workout is almost always a good one. But even on those rest days, I usually mix in some walking.

    Occasionally I’ll schedule a “light day.” For example, I’m running a 5K early tomorrow morning, so I didn’t want to knock myself out this morning. But for the most part, I agree that there are just days where I just want to get something, anything done to keep the goose egg off the training log.

  3. Great post Ross! I’m 38 this year and I’m just coming off the back of a holiday where I think I’ve trained three times in the past three weeks. It’s not good – stress levels are high and I feel like crap! I got back in the gym yesterday and I’ve been trying to mix up the intensity a little bit. I’ll be taking onboard some of your points above. Thanks again.

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