What is 'training intent'? | Fit Futures

What Are Your Intentions?

Have you ever seen a high level athlete do their strength and conditioning in the gym?

Have you noticed how focused, disciplined and precise they are with their training intent?

What is training intent? Training intent is the purpose of intention you have with your training, when you step inside a gym. Your intent for training will dictate your programming from reps, sets, exercises and how you perform them.

Have you ever seen a trainer ask their client what they would like to train that day? This either shows autonomy and flexibility with training or a lack of intent. For a bodybuilder who rotates body parts, they could have muscle soreness in a particular area of their body at the time they train with you, so you may need to change the training accordingly.

For a beginner or a new client who doesn’t know their way around the gym, it is important as a trainer to have full awareness of your client’s goals and training intent. This allows you to critique their form with regards to tempo and technique, depending on what they are training for.

A prime example of this can be the different characteristics of training for programs for fat loss, muscle gain and strength gain respectively. All of the aforementioned goals have a different intent therefore the way these exercises are performed, will be completely different.

The way to determine this is by time under tension, energy systems used and the goal of the session.

This will influence exercises, rest periods, training load and volume.

Firstly, characteristics of a training program for fat loss would be best described as metabolic in nature. For the sake of this example, it would be related to burning energy. In order for this type of training effect to occur, the training must be continuous in nature or have limited rest periods and elicit large energy expenditure. The intent of this type of training would be to burn as many calories as possible.

Typical examples of this type of training include, circuits, supersets, and anything that resembles interval training.

Due to the volume and continuous nature of this type of training, the intensity (% of 1RM) used will be lower to that of a training style with lower volume and higher rest periods. As the intent changes, the mode of training will too!


An example workout with the intent of fat loss in mind, can be seen as per below:

6 Kettlebell Swings

6 Kettlebell Squats

6 Kettlebell Romanian Deadlifts

6 Kettlebell Lunges

6 Kettlebell Overhead Presses

6 Kettlebell Upright Rows

1 minute of either a rowing machine at a set wattage or a spin bike at 110RPM, repeated 6 times with no rest.


With the above in mind, you will see how the different characteristics of a training program will change, according to the training intent. We will also delve in to the way exercises should be performed according to their goals.

When it comes to training for size or muscle gain, it is important to include some kind of strength training for the first movement of every session. The reasoning for this is to make sure that you gain strength, which will crossover when you perform exercises within the higher rep ranges of 8-12, which are more common for muscle growth, due to the time under tension from training in that range.

For example, if you gain 20kg on your deadlift for 3-5 reps, there will be no doubt that you would’ve gained muscle in the relevant areas. With that in mind, if you eventually go to training deadlifts in a higher rep range, you will create more tension thus creating more muscle growth potential due to the higher training load than you previously used, at that given rep range.

Using the deadlift as an example exercise and relating it to training intent, due to the fact that it is a compound exercise, you would predominately want to train this exercise in a way that you control it on the way down and perform it explosively on the way up. Since we are trying to train for strength, in order to cross over into other areas of training, think about using your power exercises, squats and bench presses etc as if you were moving them from A to B, obviously with safe and efficient technique in mind.

Moving onto accessory movements or exercises you perform after your main lift for muscle growth, these can be performed with a more controlled tempo, in order to induce a greater time under tension, which results in a more favorable outcome for muscle growth. Using a weight that you can perform for no less than 8 reps and no more than 12 reps is a good guide. Higher reps from 12-20 also have their place and can be used more towards the end of a training session, with more isolation or machine based exercises.

An example size type program can be as follows:

Exercise 1: 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps, rest as needed up to 3 minutes (strength focus)

Exercise 2: 3-5 sets of 6-8 reps 90 to 120 seconds

Exercise 3: 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps 60 seconds rest

Exercise 4: 3-5 sets 12-15 reps 45 to 60 seconds rest


Obviously the above example training session is more favorable for muscle growth but it allows for the first part of the session to be dedicated towards strength, to ensure there is an improvement in that area which crosses over into the high rep ranges. With progressive overload being a cornerstone of any good training program, it should be a given that the first exercise of every session is predominately training within a lower rep/heavier rep range. From exercises 2-4, the tempo/time under tension will obviously increase, as the reps increase as well. This will take care of the muscle growth aspect and provide the body with sufficient volume to adapt and grow.


Last and certainly not least, strength training is to train with the intent of moving heavy weights as fast as possible, in order to elicit a strength and power type adaptation.

Due to the increased intensity (% of 1 repetition maximum) the volume and time under tension will decrease accordingly.

Since recovery for strength is governed by the central nervous system, which controls the body’s ability to recruit muscle fibers to lift as much weight as possible, it is important to consider this and not overdo your training. Training with intent of strength and power requires more calculations with regards to training intensity and volume. Obviously rest periods will go up and repetitions will come down due to the increased intensity.

Strength training is usually periodised or planned in a way that includes a period of progressively increasing training intensity (load or % of 1RM) while simultaneously decreasing volume in order to prevent or mitigate fatigue of the central nervous system.

Typically compound exercises are used within a strength training routine and the accessory movements will change depending on what sport you do, for example a strength athlete, like a powerlifter, whose sole objective is to move weight from point a to point b and can benefit from extra muscle mass in order to achieve their goal can have a higher gym training volume than someone who uses the gym to supplement their sport and has a vigorous exercise schedule for their chosen sport.

An example program for a rugby player in season, who’s main focus is to perform on the field and use the gym in order to transfer their physical attributes of strength and power to the field would be:


Exercise 1:

Week 1: 4 sets of 6, working up to a hard 6 where you just get 6 reps and couldn’t have got more

Week 2: 4 sets total, consisting of: 6, 5, 4, 4 reps

Week 3: 4 sets total consisting of 5, 4, 3, 3 reps

Week 4: 4 sets total of 4, 3, 2, 2 reps


Exercise 2:

Week 1: 3 sets of 6

Week 2: 3 sets of 5

Week 3: 4 sets of 4


Exercise 3:

Week 1: 3 sets of 8

Week 2: 3 sets of 6

Week 3: 3 sets of 5


Rest periods can range from 90 to 120 seconds due to the fact that an athlete like a rugby player is required to produce bouts of strength in an intermittent type fashion therefore they must train in a manner that benefits or transfers to their field performance.


Disclaimer: The exercises and information provided by Fit Futures Learning Institute (T/A Fit Futures Academy) (www.fitfutures.co.nz) are for educational and entertainment purposes only, and are not to be interpreted as a recommendation for a specific treatment plan, product or course of action. Read the full content disclaimer.