It’s the Intensity, Stupid

Any exercise, either with or without equipment or machine, can give you the workout of your life. It all comes down to intensity. From jumping jacks to the elliptical; from burpees to the humble stationary bike, it’s all about work in, work out! If it’s too easy, you’re not working hard enough.

I started thinking about this since I have started going back to spin class at CYCLEBAR. Done right, indoor cycling studio classes should always be a spoon full of sugar to help the HIIT go down. The disco lighting, loud music, dark room, and attractive instructor are all distractions from all the hard work (you should be doing).

If you leave a spin class without feeling this close to vomming, it’s on you. You, yourself, need to turn it up a notch. Performance in a class is all on you. Only you can judge your hard work. The performance board can give you numbers, but it’s not there to tell you, “hey, you can do better than that.” I mean, you should be having fun and it should feel a little like Ibiza; however, if you get home and don’t feel spent, that’s on you.

“Chris, any exercise machine can give you an amazing workout—even HIIT! It’s the intensity, stupid! Haven’t you noticed that there are programs on the elliptical machine at the gym? Those programs are supposed to push and challenge you. Same thing a stationary bike and your rowing machine. Of course, you could just get on there and just grind away for hours just to move your body; however, any machine and most objects like your kettlebells can be used to challenge your body to within an inch of its limits.”

My ex-girlfriend was a genius—is a genius. Betsy’s alive and kicking! I told her how my workouts went and that I would spend 30, 60, 90-minutes on the elliptical machine, catching up on stacks of unread magazines or other reading; or, I would sit down at my Concept2 Model C rowing ergometer and row a slow 10,000 meters at a time, all the while watching episodes of sitcoms on the short end and entire blockbusters on the long end when I might make it to 15,882 meters.

I think we got on this conversation when I went to a Friday morning coffee at the Potomac Boat House years ago. When I got there, spent some time hanging around while the Olympic Hopefuls were getting out of their boats and spending some time finishing their workouts on land at the boathouse.

While the ergs and the boats at PBC are brand new, everything else is extremely well-loved and well-used. From the weights in the scruffy weight room to the line of stationary bikes, everything looks and feels a little like my High School or College weight room—way before boosters started turning every humble weight room into a The Sports Club / LA. No, back in the day, all weight rooms were like this.

What I noticed is that all of these prospective Olympians were using all of these scruffy hand-me-downs with fearsome earnestness! They were jumping onto creaky old stationary bikes and grinding out sprints so powerful that these bikes complained underfoot. Sweat poured and giant lungs of breath were inhaled and exhaled, each rower out of breath and wringing themselves out, drinking water from bottles and wiping themselves with towels.

I told Betsy about that and she hit me with the “it’s the intensity, stupid” tagline. And that’s so true. None of these Olympians would ever actually need a Spin Coxswain or even a spin class to spin themselves up into a froth of exercise and exertion.

I always walk past my local XSport Express when I walk home from CYCLEBAR Columbia Pike and I feel a little smug after my 45-minutes of stoked fire and extreme workout, the high intensity coming from either the high cadence (RPM) or from the high resistance (gearing)—or both! What I almost always see is people who are just like I was (and am): they’re just putting in their mileage. This is less true when people are running on treadmills, but it’s almost always the case when people are cycling, stair-climbing, or doing the Chris Abraham grind on the elliptical.

Compared to how hard and how fast and how intensely the lovely Miss Natalie makes me spin, it looks like everyone in the gym are caught in the thick, viscous sap that prefaces amber; or, some awful planet with exceptionally heavy gravity, like Jupiter’s, which has 2.5x that of Earth.

Don’t get me wrong! I am still a fan of slow jogging and slow rowing; however, it’s all about those power-10s! It’s the intensity, stupid!

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