I've put together a rationally-created, hopefully trope-free list of the quantifiable benefits of working out with intensity. Think David Letterman's top ten list style:
Any trainer in the business can give you a million lame motivational sayings meant to make you exercise harder. However, for those of us who don't make decisions based on the potential to "unleash our inner warrior" or eat to avoid things being "forever on the hips", I've put together a rationally-created, hopefully trope-free list of the quantifiable benefits of working out with intensity. Think David Letterman's top ten list style:
First, a word about intensity. I define working out "with intensity" as working out with all of your mental energy. You don't have to be running as fast as humanly possible at all times, but you should have your full focus on doing whatever you're doing perfectly. This means focusing on form as well as being ambitious with things like how fast you run, how much you lift, how many reps you do, how high you jump, or how short you make your rests. There is no one benchmark for what is and is not an "intense" workout, but you can tell when someone is focused 100% on doing what they're doing and on doing it as hard as they can. It's about pushing yourself harder than you did yesterday, doing one more rep than you think you're capable of, and starting up again with way less rest than you wanted between exercises. Much like pornography, you know it when you see it.
So, without further ado, here are the top 10 reasons to work out with intensity:
10. Your workouts can be shorter.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you work out harder, more intensely, and with more focus, it only follows that you will make the same progress with a 30 minute workout as most "normal" people make in an hour or two lolligagging on their elliptical. Work out harder and you have more time for other things, like work, sleep, food, or...you know...seeing people.
9. Your workouts can be longer.
Yes, this seems to contradict the previous one, but hear me out. You don't HAVE to work out longer, but if you do your 30 minute workouts with intensity, the next time you want to try working out for longer than that it will seem easy. Your stamina will slowly build, and you'll be able (but not forced) to workout for longer with way less pain and agony than before.
8. It's more fun.
When you do your workouts with intensity, it improves your overall ability, stamina, strength, and endurance. With these awesome superpowers under your belt, you'll start opening yourself to more and more new types of exercise. You'll be able to do cooler and newer stuff, and working out won't be so much of a chore. For example, once you get a basic endurance level and a fundamental strength training, you are opened up to a world of boot camp, kickboxing, dancing, martial arts, crossfit, or other athletic wonderfullness that your stairmaster-obsessed, mid-workout latte-drinking peers can only dream of...
7. You get different types of growth.
Certain types of growth just can't be made by doing half-hearted workouts in which you don't really break a sweat. The long, slow plod does have some points in its favor (such as...umm...that you can read a magazine while doing them?), but they can only do so much. Working out with intensity enables you to do different kinds of exercises, such as interval training, plyometrics, or circuits that you just plain can't do without a little bit of let's say "oomph". These exercises, as well as the simple act of exercising with intensity, gives you increased muscle growth, different kinds of cardiovascular improvement (anaerobic as well as aerobic, if that means anything to you), and more rapid growth as well.
6. You get rest days.
Basic fact about exercise: Exercise is about tearing down your muscles, stretching your capabilities, and making your body do things it's not comfortable doing. You don't get stronger or faster or more enduring by DOING the exercise, you get these benefits from RECOVERING from the exercise. This process happens outside of a normal calorie burn. To burn calories, you do something that your body needs energy to do (like walking, gardening, or keeping your heart beating) and voila, the appropriate amount of calories gets burned. I'm talking about creating more muscle (not necessarily bulk, just the stuff that lets you run faster, jump higher, and toss your enemies about like a sack of potatoes). Also, the more muscle you have the more calories you burn AT REST. That means that, if you add 10 pounds of muscle and lose 10 pounds of fat, you will constantly (sitting at your desk, laying in bed, etc.) burn more calories than you did before.
5. One word: therapy
Some people meditate. Others count sheep. Some factor out quadratic equations in their heads. Everyone needs a way to unwind and escape the pesky worries and problems of their day. In my humble opinion, there is nothing that can replace a good intense workout in the therapy department. I could give you the standard lines about exercise releasing "happy chemicals" like endorphins or dopamine.
This is true, but, for me at least, it's about the fact that when you're focusing all your energy on your running stride, on keeping going for that last agonizing 20 seconds of a sprint, on keeping your form perfect as you kickbox, on lifting that extra 10 pounds over what you usually lift, or on getting your knees up a little higher on that tuck jump... when your focus is on that, it creates a magical period of time when you're no longer thinking about yourself, your problems, what you have to do that night before you go to bed, how many unread email you have, or what you need from the grocery store.
In that period of magical workout time, you are completely in the moment.
Now, this only happens if you are working out with intensity. A pleasant walk on the treadmill while you watch Gossip Girl on your iPad won't do it. But the more mental energy you spend on working out, the more your problems dissappear, and when you have to grab them out of your locker before you head home they'll be way lighter than when you came in with them.
4. You get, in the vernacular, "mad props".
So let's face it. Most of us, at some point in our lives, will have to exercise in public. It's a fact. And unless you're some kind of Vulcan freak (no offense meant to Trekkies), you probably care at least a tiny bit about what people think about you. So here's your chance to harnass your vanity and use it to your own benefit. If you workout to your fullest potential, devoting your full attention and ability to the task at hand, other people will...notice. I'm not saying you'll be the spitting image of a Greek god mid-discus throw, tan, oiled up, and ready for a calendar shoot. In fact, I look like a sweaty rhinoceros mid-charge whenever I work out. However, you will see people take a second glance at you as they walk by. Girls, you will start outlifting boys (which is a better feeling than eating cotton candy on the back of your very own unicorn). Guys, you will have to stop your workouts to answer other dudes' pesky questions about what your workout routine is and whether or not you use protein shakes. So to sum up, if you work out with all your heart, even if you're only there for 20 minutes, they will be 20 minutes of unrefined badassery.
3. In the words of that old Chili's commercial, "get in, get out, get on with your life".
When you work out with intensity, you get to do something very unique: when you work out with all your energy, you also get to leave the gym completely. By this I don't mean to imply that you usually leave your left leg in the gym while the rest of you hops home, but rather that, when you work out hard, you know with certainty that you did a good job and that you deserve to go about the rest of your day stress and guilt free.
2. You get better results.
Intense workouts are going to make your body change in the ways you want it to way better than, say, a slow comfortable jog during which you don't break a sweat. Believe me. (If you don't believe me, I could ramble on for days about how intense workouts are more likely to create the muscular overload that leads to microtears and eventually regrowth in the form of larger muscles or about how intense cardio will accustom your cardiovascular and respiratory systems to greater and greater level of exertion. Email me and I'll give you the full research paper if you need proof, but I figured I should spare the general public from the nerdy bits.)
1. You get results faster.
This is the most important reason intense exercise trumps ho-hum, leasurely, stroll-in-the-park type workouts. Everyone is in the gym (or the track, or the court, or wherever you exercise) to get results. And, seeing as humans are the least patient creatures in the universe (don't quote me on that, but anecdotal evidence sure seems to support it), we want our results and we want them NOW. If you exercise with intensity, it will make your body change faster. Isn't that what we all want anyway? If by exerting a little extra effort you can cut down on the time between now and when you reach your goals, why wouldn't you?