Intensity and the Art of Great Lifting

Dr Jordan Jiunta
Photographer: Sweat RX
main image for article

By Dr. Jordan Shallow D.C and Dr. Jordan Jiunta D.C.

There are several different definitions of the word Intensity. Art, Physics, Music and yes lifting all have their own definition for the word.
From the scientific expression of the luminosity of light to CT Fletcher telling you just how many mother fucking sets you have left. Intensity gets tossed around in many circles and in a variety of applications.
But lets hone in on intensity as it pertains to lifting.


Intensity in lifting is a numerical designation of how much weight you’re performing over a given volume.
Which by definition pairs closest with the Physics definition:

Intensity= power transferred per unit area
Power= rate of doing work
Work= Force x Distance

More recently intensity has been represented in the form of a subjective 10-point scale referred to as the Rate or perceived exertion or RPE scale for short more traditional lifters gauge Intensity off a predetermined objective percentage of a one rep maximum (either real or projected) eg: 5×5 @ 75% of 1RM.

Regardless of programing ideology, its safe to say that any good lifter subscribes to some sort of binary tracking system of Intensity.

But what about GREAT lifters?
What sets apart the good from the great?
Or the good apart from the BEST?

Well the answer (as I see it anyways) is intensity

We’ve been talking about intensity in lifting as an intellectual endeavor an extension of physics in an objective sense, with numeric values, logarithmic progressions and hell, even spreadsheets.
– the most soulless enterprise of the human experience.

But great lifters adopt the concept of intensity from a more “right-brained approach”, as is the definition of intensity laid forth by musicians and artists.

Intensity from an artistic vantage point puts a much more human spin than the aforementioned physics definition.

Often times being associated with the words “passion, violence and fire” and stemming from the root word “intent” which by definition means “showing earnest and eager attention”.

Therein lies the true definition of intensity that great lifters abide by.
“Earnest and eager attention.”

A mindfulness not fixated on objective numbers or values but rather the subjective pursuit of attention.
I’ve had the unique pleasure of getting to work with athletes at the highest level in numerous disciplines and it’s this measure, this artistic definition of Intensity that stands alone as the biggest differentiating factor between the good, and the great.

Chasing numbers on a graph pales in comparison to the progress made by those who have a preoccupying passion for their craft, and an earnest and eager attention to everything that constitutes it.

Anyone can be intense and mindfully present for that opening squat attempt or that last pull of the day.
But the success or failure of those platform attempts is a direct expression of the mindfulness and intensity that comes with the small details that make that moment possible.

Can you be Intense on your deload week? Show intent in your training when the weights and volume don’t require you’re whole “squad” to “turn-up”?

Can you be Intense in your accessory training? When the gym is empty and you have to do the evils necessary to become a better lifter?

Can you be Intense in your rehab sessions? Sticking to a regiment of proactive treatment so you can continue to train at your highest level?

Can you be intense in your diet? Sleep? Stress management?

Any Meathead (or any temperamental child for that matter) can spit, kick and scream and call that intensity.

Any mediocre to good lifter can follow a progression of numbers, charts and graphs and call that intensity.

But great lifters use Intensity to turn their attention to all facets of lifting in a mindful pursuit to turn their performance into an art form.

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