5 Ways to Increase the Intensity of Any Workout Routine

Most exercises are extremely versatile, allowing you to take it easy one day and then up the intensity another, using the same exact movements. The question is: Are you bringing more intensity to your workouts or are you just going through the motions in each session?

If you answered “going through the motions” to that question, it’s time to consider increasing the intensity of your workout routine. Why?

  • Muscle fatigue: Increase muscle fatigue, therefore improving tone, strength and growth.
  • EPOC (Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption): The greater the intensity of your workout, the more calories you’ll burn after.
  • Burnout: Mental and physical—change things up to keep workouts exciting and effective.

Luckily, you don’t have to spend money on an expensive program to reap these benefits. Use the following tips to increase the intensity of your workout routine once or twice a week.

Timed Intervals

Instead of always going by reps, used timed intervals—instead of just stopping at 10 reps, like you always do, you may end up doing more as you work to finish the 20- or 30-second interval.

The key with timed intervals is to keep it consistent and allow plenty of time for rest between sets. Here are a few basic interval options to try:

  • 20 seconds on, 30 seconds off
  • 20 seconds, 15 seconds off
  • 30 seconds on, 20 seconds off
  • 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off

Remember to build in rest between rounds as well. After 3 rounds of an exercise, give yourself 1-2 minutes before starting the next. Intervals work for strength and cardio training, whether you’re on the treadmill, lifting weights, or doing a plyometric workout, so experiment with all of your workout routines.

Mix Cardio and Strength 

Get your heart rate up with a cardio and strength power workout. The idea is simple: pair a cardio exercise with a strength exercise and complete them consecutively back-to-back, with a small amount of rest between each round. For example:

  1. Treadmill sprinting: 30 seconds
  2. Shoulder press: 15 reps

Rest 1 minute, repeat 3 times

If you don’t have access to a treadmill, you can do this with any plyometric movements (think: burpees, jumping lunges, box jumps, jumping jacks) or a jump rope, row machine, bike, or Stairmaster.


Performing two exercises back-to-back, with no rest between them is called a superset. To make the most of this, it’s smart to choose exercises that target opposing movements or muscle groups. For example, you might combine pushups and chest press, in which case you’re focusing on chest and back, in addition to using one push movement and one pull movement.

I enjoy splitting my workout, with the first half being regular sets and the second half being supersets to totally burn out before I head home.

If your exercises aren’t focused on opposing muscle groups or movements, that’s okay too—in fact, you can optimize growth by doing a superset focused on just one muscle group, like your quads or biceps. 

Up Your Weight

It seems obvious, but many people never increase the weight they’re lifting. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re focused on maintenance, it is an easy way to increase the intensity of your workout routine.

Increase your weight by just 5 percent and couple that with decreased reps to avoid injury. For example, if you normally do 10 sets of shoulder press with 10 lbs., increase your weight to 12 or 15 lbs. and dial your reps down to 6 or 8. 

Harder Cardio

I like to get a little cardio in most workouts, and if you’re the same, it’s safe to say that you probably coast through your cardio at a speed that’s manageable. Increase the intensity of your workout routine by taking your cardio up a notch with these ideas:

Switch your format: If you normally use the treadmill, head to the Stairmaster; if you normally use the elliptical, head to the bike.

Try Intervals: On the treadmill, this might look like:

  • 0 – 1 minute
  • 0 – 1 minute
  • 5 – 1 minute
  • 5 – 1 minute

Repeat for 15-30 minutes.

You can do this on any cardio machine at the gym and create the intervals that will push you most effectively. I like doing four intervals, going up, down, up, down to rest a little as I go while still pushing myself.