A new Way to think about Intensity – Pounds Per Second

lifting-weights-pounds-per-secondNot being your typical geek (at least in my commitment to fitness and avoidance of Mountain Dew), I’ve been working out for more than 30 years. Over time, my training has changed as I’ve learned new things and grown (hopefully) wiser. I take a much more cerebral approach to training now than when I was in my 20s, 30s, and even my early 40s, when my lifting philosophy could have been summed up as high weight, low reps, every set to failure, never go down. This max effort training eventually takes its toll….

As my strength gains slowly trickled to a halt, I began exploring alternate training methods and have found a good system that seems to work, in that I’ve made good progress in both strength and size, even as I hit the big 50 last summer. It’s more of a high intensity training approach as opposed to the volume training I used to do (and the one most people who weight train still do).

When the average person begin weight training, he or she probably begins with multiple exercises per body part, multiple sets per exercise, and repetitions (reps) in the range of 4 – 10. Typical weekly schedules for someone doing such a workout might be 4, 5 or 6 days a week, with workouts similar to the below:

  • 4 day
    Mon, Thurs: Chest, shoulders, triceps
    Tues, Fri: Legs, back, biceps
  • 5 day
    Mon, Thurs: Chest, triceps
    Wed: legs, shoulders
    Tues, Fri: back, biceps
  • 6 Day
    Mon, Thurs: Chest, triceps
    Tues, Fri: back, biceps
    Wed, Sat: legs, shoulders

Volume workouts like these include doing 3-5 different exercises for each body part, 3-5 sets (or more) per exercise, and 4-10 reps per set, usually with increasing weight. There’s nothing wrong with such a workout – I did a workout much like this for a long time. Everyone can make good gains lifting this way and eating the diet to support it, especially beginning weight lifters. Varying the exercises you do each workout, along with the amount of weight and the numbers of reps and the rest between sets can keep this routine from going stale. Start adding in some deloads and resets and you’ll do fine.

But this type of workout no longer seemed to be working for me. I wasn’t seeing gains (but I’m probably pretty close to my natural limit already anyway) and my joints were starting to pay the price. So I decided to try something new. After much research and experimentation, I came up with a routine based on several high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout methods, which you can read more about online if you’ve any desire to research it (HIT workouts @ Bodybuilding.com).

To determine the intensity of my training (how much work I am doing), I use a pounds per second calculation. It’s pretty eacy to figure out.


When you begin your workout, start a stopwatch. When you finish your workout, record the total time.

You’ll have to do a few calculations based on sets, reps and weight. Let’s run through an example with a typical chest workout. Substitute your poundages for the ones below if you want to see how your workout breaks down. The time under each exercise include rest time between sets ((# Sets – 1)*120):

Bench Press: 135×10, 155×8, 185×6, 205×5
tonnage: 4520 pounds

Incline Press: 135×8, 135×8, 155×6, 175×4
tonnage: 3790 pounds

Decline Dumbbell Press: 70×8, 70×6, 70×5
tonnage: 1330 pounds

Dumbbell Flys: 45×8, 45×8, 45×6
tonnage: 990 pounds

Total time to complete workout: 27:55 = 1675 seconds
Total Tonnage: 10630 pounds
Pounds per second = Total Tonnage / Total Time = 6.35

And after chest, if you were doing the 4 day routine (for example), you’d still have shoulders and triceps to do.

Here’s a sample workout, done mainly with compound exercise (exercise that involve more than one joint). It’s a full body that can easily be done three times a week (Mon, Wed, Fri).Each exercise is done for 1 set of 15 reps, with 2 minutes of rest between exercises:

Mon, Wed, Fri
Squat: 215×15 = 3225 pounds
Straight Leg Dead lift: 130×15 = 1950 pounds
Bench Press: 165×15 = 2475 pounds
Chin-ups: 190×15 = 2850 pounds
Military Press: 105×15 = 1575 pounds
Close Grip Bench Press: 120×15 = 1800 pounds
Dumbbell Curl: 40×15 = 600 pounds

Total time: 1,245 seconds (20mins 45secs)
Total tonnage: 14,475
Pounds per second: 11.63

Comparing the pounds per second with the chest workout example, this routine moves 183% as much weight per second. In less time than it took to do the volume chest workout (only one body part), we’ve completed a full body workout.

I realize traditional weight lifters will look at this and scoff, thinking there’s no way such a workout could result in gains. Although overall exercises, sets, and tonnage is lower, there is actually more work being done per second of this workout – 183% more work. By focusing on compound, multiple joint movements, you can get a full body, high-intensity workout done in about 20 minutes.

Many lifters enjoy those small isolation movements, but they really aren’t necessary to a workout program with the goal of increasing OVERALL strength and fitness. If you’re a bodybuilder, you might need to do isolation movements to bring out details, but for someone who simply wants to get bigger, stronger, and look better, basic, core strength movements are best. If you really want to put a little emphasis on a muscle group, simply add it in at the end.


  • Go all the way down on squats. Don’t listen to nay-sayers who warn you’ll injure your knees. If your knees are fine now, squats won’t hurt them. If they aren’t fine… well, do the best you can. Knees are made to bend – deep squats will make them stronger, not weaker.
  • Vary the exercises. For legs you might do squats for the Monday workout, then Dead lifts on Wednesday, then back to squats on Friday. For chest you might alternate flat barbell bench and dumbbell press. For back maybe Seated rows and chin-ups. The point it to do compound exercises.
  • Warm up! I didn’t discover how important this is until I hit my late 30s. Now I do 20 minutes slow jog on a treadmill or stationary bike at the start of every workout to get the blood flowing.
  • Stretch after finishing the workout.
  • Keep rest at a minimum – no more than 2 minutes between exercises.
  • You can do less reps with more weight if you want, but your goal should be to do no less than 10. If you can’t do 10, go lighter. If you can do more than 15, go heavier.
  • You can fit your cardio in on your off days.
  • If you want to use this for mass, use 10 reps as your target, eat big. and don’t do cardio. On such a routine, a novice lifter, in good health, eating enough calories and getting adequate protein could gain 20 pounds or more in only 6 months.
  • Constantly strive in increase your Pounds Per Second. That means going heavier, or faster, or both.

Very important:

You don’t get that workout body through workouts alone. Watch your diet – you don’t have to be a food Nazi, but you should limit fat and sugar. Get rid of soft drinks and fast food and high glycemic index carbohydrates.

Snack on mixed nuts. Limit red meat, eat more chicken, preferable white meat chicken, and fish. Tuna is good. Replace white rice with brown, stay away from bread and pasta as much as you can Eat more fruits and raw veggies. Make sure you get enough protein (1 gram per pound of target body weight). If you’re going for size gains, the most important thing is to make sure you’re getting sufficient calories.

Supplements are a good idea too. A good multivitamin, a protein bar without to many carbs, meal replace packs (MRPs) or ready-to-drink shakes (RTDs) are also helpful for trying to get protein. Read the label and avoid those that have a lot of sugar and artificial stuff.

For a beginner, it might seem overwhelming, but if you can get going and stick with it, you’ll soon reap the benefits.


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