Body Composition Training 101: Intensity

Intensity: Qualitative measure of your effort level in the gym, how “hard” you work out.

Recommendations: Push yourself to momentary muscular failure on most sets.


Here is the tough love truth — most people just don’t work out hard enough, or use enough discipline with their nutrition plans, to get noticeable physique transformation results. Trust me, it takes work, it takes A LOT OF WORK, to build a fit body. Sure, many people may be following an intelligently designed plan or program, but they are just going through the motions. They check off this exercise and that exercise like it’s a grocery-shopping list, never digging down and exerting anything close to maximal effort. They don’t challenge themselves or push beyond their limits. They do just what is comfortable. That ain’t body composition training to me.


Here’s the deal. Barring psychological issues beyond the scope of this article, it’s relatively easy to go from severely deconditioned, overweight, and out of shape, into decent shape. You clean up the diet, implement some basic fitness nutrition principles with some moderate level of consistency, walk more, and strength train using body composition-based training principles. It takes breaking some bad habits, building some good habits, and kind of just showing up and going through those new motions. You don’t have to challenge yourself too much to get the ball rolling in the right direction.

But to go from decent/good shape into great shape, that’s a whole other ball game my friends. Going from 40% body fat to 20% body fat is one thing. Going from 15% body fat to 5% body fat is another. It takes an incredible amount of discipline, consistency, effort, and intensity. Part of that entails going beyond your comfort zone and pushing your body to the limits with your training program.

This is nature. As human beings, we are not meant to be obese. It’s not healthy, it’s not functional, and it’s not natural. In the Information Age, the prevalence of this condition is so high because we have moved so far away from our evolutionary past. We eat too many processed foods, have never-ending access to an abundance of food, eat ridiculous portion sizes, and don’t move enough. Move closer to our past by eating more natural foods in moderate amounts and exercising/moving more, and you can maintain a more natural, decent weight without a ton of effort.

But at the same time, it’s not natural to be ripped at 5% body fat. It goes against our genes. Keeping a certain amount of body fat for energy reserves was advantageous for survival in caveman times, and our bodies have held on to this natural survival mechanism in the modern era. If a group were stranded in the desert, the fitness model would be the first to die due to lack of energy reserves, the overweight person would be second (because they couldn’t defend themselves or travel far to try and reach safety), and the person with just an average weight and build would have the best chance at survival.

We are training against nature to get ripped to the bone. If you have these higher aspirations of top-level physique development, than at some point you will be going against nature’s intentions. This means incredible discipline with the diet. And for the purposes of this article, it means incredible intensity in the gym. In other words, it means busting butt to push your body well beyond what you think it is capable of.

People who have never attained low, single digit body fat percentages severely underestimate how difficult the process really is. Oh just pop a couple of fat burners and protein shakes, and pull out the “get shredded in 6 weeks” training program from the latest fitness magazine, and presto, you’re on the cover of said fitness magazine. Dude, or sista, I wish it really were that easy. Most fitness athletes, models, and bodybuilders (minus the genetically elite) have been training their whole lives to build their bodies. What makes you think you can do it in 6 weeks by just by showing up and going through the motions?


The real road to “rippedville” starts with knowledge. Through this article series, I hope I’ve provided you with the base knowledge necessary to train specifically for cosmetic enhancement. But all of that knowledge is meaningless unless it is applied consistently, and applied with a warrior’s level of intensity.

Getting ripped is about maximizing your lean muscle-to-body fat ratio. It’s about building lean muscle levels higher than what nature intended. It’s about slashing body fat lower than what nature intended. This means asking your body to do what it is currently unaccustomed to. In other words, you need to train to failure on most of your working sets to force your body to respond.

If you just do what you are already capable of in the gym, there is no stimulus for your body to change. The body prefers homeostasis, or to remain in its current state of development. If you want to reach the upper echelon of physical appearance, you have to consistently force your body to adapt to higher and higher levels of training stress.


1. Intensity is not just about a quantitative measure like how much weight is on the bar. It’s more of a qualitative measure about how hard you push your body. It sounds counter-intuitive, but many people actually reduce training intensity by increasing their training weights, due to the deterioration of proper exercise form. Conversely, many people would benefit by reducing their training weights and focusing more on true muscular overload.

Remember this is not powerlifting or ego training. It is about building and shaping your body. Don’t worry so much about the weights you use, focus on squeezing every last ounce of effort out of the target muscle. The weights you use should be secondary to the effort exerted within the set.

2. People often misinterpret what training to failure really means. In regards to strength training, we are talking about momentary, localized muscular failure. We’re not talking about system wide collapse where you crash to the ground and can no longer move. Simply train to the point where the muscles lose the ability to complete the task at hand with a given resistance.

3. Never sacrifice form for more reps or more weight. That’s not training to muscular failure, that’s cheating, incorporating other muscle groups, and/or using momentum; all which take tension off the muscle. Real failure training means training to the point where you can’t complete another rep with proper form. Anything beyond that is counterproductive.

To summarize lift, lift hard, maintain good form, challenge yourself, and tell nature’s whole body fat survival mechanism to kiss your ripped ass.