Intensity vs. Frequency

by Tom Swift

There are two means by which one grows muscle: by lifting weights with intensity or by lifting weights with frequency.

Intensity: you lift hard.

Frequency: you lift often.

While you can, of course, find outliers, generally speaking, that is the choice. You must take one approach or the other.

That is, you cannot do both simultaneously: you cannot at the same time lift heavy and lift often. You can’t do many heavy sets every day, or even most days. The body will break down. That is, in fact, the point. The harder you go the more time your body needs to recover.

At same time, it is also the case that the positive effects of a single weight lifting session, no matter how intensely that session, wear off — some 36 to 72 hours after the fact, depending on the person, environmental factors, diet, stress, sleep, and so forth.

This would point to the favorability of frequency. And there is much to be said for lifting with regularity. Except here, too, there is a caveat. You can’t go too light, can’t lift with too little intensity, and still make muscles grow. They need to be pushed. Just not too much too fast.

Lifting weights, then, is about seeking the sweet spots.

It’s about trying hard, but not too hard. It’s about putting forth regular effort, if not every day, then most days.

The parallel with the work of writing is self-evident.

If you don’t push, you don’t grow muscles.

If you don’t put enough sentences together, you don’t accumulate pages.

You can’t get strong all in one day.

You can’t write a book all in one day.

Where, then, is the sweet spot — how many sets? How many words?

For the weight lifter and the writer both that is a question they have to answer themselves.


Every day.