Are You Intense Enough?

Let’s get straight to the point – one way to dramatically increase your results in the gym is to train with a high intensity.

Simple enough?

Okay, I’ll give you more information than that.

One of the most common problems I face with my women lifters (not all, but most), is that they don’t use a high enough intensity with their workouts. Before our first training session, I always ask them what their workouts are typically like, including the intensity.

“Yeah, I work out really hard!” is what I usually hear.

Once we finally jump into our first training session, I quickly learn that we have different definitions of the term “intensity.”

For the sake of this article, I’m not going to define intensity as the percentage of your one-repetition maximum, usually displayed as a percentage (85% of 1RM). When I mention intensity in this article, I am referring to how hard an individual works on a particular set of an exercise.

For example: If I have a client perform a set of squats, do they keep going even though they want to stop because it feels tough? Do they stop the set knowing that they could complete a few more repetitions with perfect form?

Or do they keep going until they can’t perform another rep with perfect form, even though it’s brutally hard?

More often than not, my new female trainees are resistant to pushing themselves and “getting out of their comfort zone.” For the most part, they’re used to doing the good ol’ “light weights for high reps” because that’s the best way to get “toned,” right?

Well, that topic is another article, but most women never truly lift heavy. And by “heavy,” I mean using a heavy enough load so they can only perform six repetitions, or even less.

Tammi’s Story

When I first started training my client Tammi several years ago, she would never truly push herself on any exercise. She would always stop the set short, knowing quite well that should could have done at least three more reps. However, she wasn’t used to going beyond this point, and as a result was uncomfortable doing so.

After a couple of weeks, I slowly began to push her more and more. She was doing squats with perfect form, deadlifting, doing push-ups, and other movements with a little more intensity. I knew it was finally time for a test.

It was lower body day, and Tammi had completed a set of squats. I decided to increase the weight so she could only get about six reps or so on the next set. I told her this was a little heavier than she was used to, and that I didn’t want her to put the bar back in the rack until she knew she couldn’t do another rep with perfect form, and not any sooner.

Tammi got under the bar, came back in the squat rack, and descended for her first rep, and then exploded back up. It was a little tough, but she went down for her second rep.

After rep three, I could tell she wanted to put the bar in the rack and be done with it. However, I urged her to keep going because her form was perfect and I knew she had more left in her.

She busted out three more solid reps, and we both know she couldn’t have done another one with perfect form.

As soon as she racked the weight and stepped back, there was a new look on her face. The expression said, “I can do this. I’m ready for more.”

From that moment on, things were different with Tammi. She had a taste of her capabilities in the weight room, and was constantly challenging and pushing herself hard from that point forward. She loved lifting heavy weights and increasing her performance at every workout.

Just a side note: Tammi competes in Mrs. Kentucky, America, and Universe pageants, so if you think lifting heavy and with high intensity will make you big and bulky, think again. Tammi still has a very feminine physique and dominates the competition in her pageants.

So what is the point of sharing that story with you? I just want to get the point across that most people never truly train with intensity. They stop a set whenever they “feel the burn” or it becomes too challenging to continue.

That is not going to get you results. The best results come when you challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone.

If you have never done a set of squats and had to talk yourself into doing the last few reps, you have never truly trained with intensity. Heck, half way through my sets of squats, I’m ready to stop, but I stay focused and keep pushing.

As another note, if you can talk while you’re in the middle of a set (this applies to squats and even bicep curls), then you aren’t training with intensity.

What Intensity Looks Like

Just to give you a visual on “training with intensity”, here is a set of deadlifts I did a few months ago. I pulled 225 for 10 reps. Take notice that every rep looks the same, except the speed slows down towards the end of the set.


I have to admit that I wanted to stop after completing rep five, but I knew I could pull more with solid form. Once rep 10 came up slow, I knew that another rep with perfect form wasn’t going to happen. Yes, that set was brutally hard, but it pays off. Furthermore, if you have read any of my previous articles, you know I’m all about improving performance. A few weeks later I beat that record and pulled 235 for 10 reps.

If you’re ready to get more results from your workouts, then make sure you train with intensity. Only stop a set when you know another rep with perfect form is completely impossible. And just so you know, your last rep should look like your first. (In form, not necessarily in speed. It’s quite common for the last rep or two to be slower).

So the next time you are at the gym, ask yourself “Am I stopping the sets way too early? Am I even using a weight that is challenging?”
After you ask those questions, make sure you give an honest answer.

Commit to training hard. Put your all into a couple of sets for each exercise, and you’ll be well on your way to transforming your body.


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18 thoughts on “Are You Intense Enough?

  1. Nicole says:

    Awesome article….Most women dont push themselve nearly enough! There is NOTHING better than an intense workout.

    Thanks for the inspiring video =D

  2. Epona says:

    There is nothing like that quick dopamine release after lifting somthing heavy! I’m certainly a junkie for that.

  3. Christine says:

    Dude, that video just inspired me to do some heavy deadlifts today!! And I think I’m going to pull more just because of you 🙂

    Thanks for this!!

  4. Nia Shanks says:

    Glad you like the article and video. I agree with you – training with intensity is awesome. ; )


    Thank you!

    Rock on! Drop and line and let me know how the deadlifts go.

  5. KKKRRR says:

    Nia, every time I see you, I am SO impressed. How can someone so tiny (in a good way!) be SO strong! Its so amazing! I am totally showing this to my bf, he wont believe how strong you are!

  6. Nia Shanks says:


    Thank you for the compliment – I greatly appreciate it.

    I must say, however, that all women are capable of getting quite strong – as long as they realize that it’s possible and train hard.

    For example, a client of mine recently deadlifted 225×5 for the first time. In fact, before that night she hadn’t even deadlifted over 200 pounds. And this was after only a few months of deadlifting.

    ; ) Thanks again!!!

  7. Kim says:

    Holy Deadlifts!!

    I am so guilty of not pushing myself to the very max of what I know I can do. This is why I LOVE YOUR ARTICLES. It’s like you know me so well and always write something about what I know I need to improve on!!

  8. viridian says:

    Awesome article.

    Deadlifts are one of the exercises I KNOW I dont push myself hard enough on. I’ve gotta beat that habit.

  9. Nia Shanks says:

    Thanks, girl!

    There are times I don’t push myself as hard as I can or should either. Now I’m taking a few moments before every set to get focused and tell myself “do not stop the set until you can’t complete another rep with perfect form . . . no sooner, no later”. That seems to help to get in the mindset . . .

    Thanks! Just do what I mentioned above – get focused and “in the zone” before your sets.

    Just a quick FYI to everyone: unless you are an experienced lifter and have been deadlifting for a while, I would not recommend high rep deadlifts. If your not experienced with this lift and do a high rep set, you could be setting yourself up for injury. If you haven’t been deadlifting hard and properly for quite a while, I wouldn’t go above 6 reps.

  10. Kellie says:

    This is wonderful. I think we are all so blessed to find women like you because you demonstrate what we were taught to be an impossibility. You defy the odds.

    I am training for my second figure show. The first go around, I lifted a decent amount of weight, more than the average woman. This time around, I probably doubled my squat, DL, and other lifts. I am stronger, have more muscle, and weigh the same as my first show. I definitely owe it to watching powerful women like you push the envelope.

  11. Nia Shanks says:


    Thank you so much for the kind words.

    However, I must say this. I may be providing y’all with the information necessary, but, YOU are the one taking action. The best information in the world won’t help anyone unless the put the information in to practice.

    It’s women like YOU who keep me excited and motivated to keep learning and providing usefull information. I talk and email people everyday who want the “best” advice, but they never put it to use, and therefore they don’t accomplish anything.

    I’m glad I inspire you, but you definitely inspire me as well, and I thank you for that.

    Keep up the good work!

  12. Kellie says:

    After watching your video, I set a goal after my contest to do 225 lb deadlifts at 4 reps by the new year.

    Today, for the first time I really pushed myself hard. I did 205 lb deadlifts!!!! 225 is near ;o)

    Thanks, Nia!

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