You walk into class and see a movement on the board. It has a few choices for weight, and you're new to the class so you ask, "How much weight should I do for this movement?”
The strategy for each workout is about finding out where you can push and where you can pull back. It's about intensity, not weight. Of course, weight does play a role in determining intensity, but it's not the only factor. For example, Working up to a 1-Rep Max Deadlift can feel just as intense as an all bodyweight Hack n' Slash even though they're wildly different workouts.
According to Wikipedia, Intensity is the amount of physical power (expressed as a percentage of maximal oxygen consumption) that the body uses when performing an activity. But think of it like this: Intensity is how hard you've pushed yourself during a workout.
To show someone what intensity levels feel like, we like to use the 10 Burpee Test. It works like this:
Do 10 burpees nice and slow.⠀
When you're done pay attention to how you feel after those 10 burpees. Check in with your breath. Are you winded or could you keep going easily?
Once you’ve recovered, do another set of 10 burpees as fast as you possibly can.
Now, pay attention to how you feel after those 10 burpees. Check in with your breath again. If you can easily do another set, continue doing 10 burpee rounds until you feel winded. A good way to tell if you're actually winded is if it's hard to string together full sentences. If you reach this state, then you have an idea of what we mean by intense. Pushing yourself to a point where it would be tough to push harder.
To augment workouts for intensity, weight can be added or taken away. If 10 burpees in a workout are easy, then those burpees can be changed into Nerdmakers (a burpee with dumbells) or High Jump Burpees (bring knees to the chest during the jump.) Note: a Gym Master should be consulted before making these adjustments in class, as there may be a specific reason for the level of progression they've included in the workout.
Doing more reps, adding weight, or scaling up a movement isn't always the right thing to do, specifically when your form is flawed. The goal of many workouts is to push yourself to the limit while staying far away from injury. At Nerdstrong, we suggest focusing on the form before shooting for intensity, as it's a safer way to improve. In addition, great form generally means you're getting maximum benefits from the movement.
Once you have the form down, remember to have fun and switch it up. Give your body new challenges, one day add weights, the next add reps, and later scale up to a harder version of the movement. All the while, keeping the workout intense.