MMA 101: That Dirty Word “Intensity”

Intensity is a word that conjures up images of a high school football coach in short shorts screaming “Intensity, give me some intensity!” between whistle blasts. It’s associated with going hard, sending it, getting after it, top speed and #beastmode. All of that sucks in combat sports. The folks that train with that level of maximum intensity all the time make for the worst training partners. The spazzy white belt and the new power punch king in the gym share a common quality, and sparring with them is an intense experience. Intensity is an infinitely variable thing, a point that most people miss. You can be more or less intense depending on the circumstance. All out intensity all the time is a solid way to either injure yourself, injure others, or have others injure you ‘cause they can’t stand training with someone who is always at the redline all the time. I know it’s not supposed to happen in our all-inclusive pillows and unicorns fantasy land gyms, but we have all seen that one guy who goes hell bent for leather each and every time get choked near unconscious over and over ‘cause he’s not getting the memo. Each time an overly intense person gets taught a hard lesson a paralyzed kitten learns to walk, it’s a beautiful thing.


If you’re gearing up for a fight, or a competition, or your partner is, it’s time to dial it up. Competing is a nerve wracking, adrenal gland draining experience. You have to train as you plan on competing, and that means pushing the pace and matching as closely as possible the fury of a head to head battle with a stranger. It’s ok to go all out, as long as you’re doing it with purpose. Don’t be the guy who’s throwing soft jabs and flow rolling while your partner is trying to sharpen his edge. Get in and get after it. It’s how you expose holes in people’s games, and make them better ahead of a competition. You can also crank up the go hard when you or your partner are trying to improve conditioning. I’m a big proponent of using all means necessary to improve overall cardiovascular condition. One of the most readily available ways to do that is to up the intensity whilst you train. If you’re trying to get into better shape, or train for longer durations, screw moderation and put the pedal to the wood. You’ll find that with consistent hard goes, your ability to train harder longer will improve. Max effort has a place in training, undeniably. It’s knowing when to do it that’s important.

When Not To Be Intense

The short answer is, most of the time. Training should be about improving your skill sets and getting better, not racking up bodies in the gym. Modulating the intensity will allow you to see things more clearly and execute techniques with perfect mechanics. Think about it this way – what would happen if, on your first day of driving, you simply hammered the throttle down and hoped for the best? Likely you’d maul an unoffending roadside ditch, and have some real serious explaining to do. Slowing things down and going lighter in any combat sport will make the next hard session that much clearer. Our brains and bodies take time to learn how and when to move. If all you do is go as hard as possible as often as possible you’re missing out on opportunities to see things develop in front of you. You’ll miss the nuance of things if everything has to happen RIGHT NOW. Most of your training should be done a few notches below balls out.

Intensity doesn’t have to be a dirty word. It’s a noun that can be modified to fit your goals. Know what your goals are and ratchet up the intensity to meet them, and don’t be the guy everybody hates to train with.

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