Workout Intensities Defined

You know that you are supposed to exercise and, as an athlete you’re probably pretty good about it. Changes are actually pretty high that you might even have the official recommendations regarding physical activity memorized. Just as a refresher, though, here’s what the Centers For Disease Control (CDC)¬†have to say on the subject: Adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week. Of course, there should also be two days of strength training in there. But, for now, we just want to focus on all this talk of intensity levels. Why? Well, because it seems like there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the concept.


Sort Of A Mess

But this confusion is more than just an issue of syntax. These recommendations were created to act as guidelines to ensure that you are able to reap all of the health benefits that are available through proper exercise. But, it’s possible that if you are not working out to the given intensity, you could be missing out.

And, according to a new study, this practice is fairly common. In fact, the researchers found that on average the subjects involved in their study greatly overestimated just how hard they were really working out. The findings led one of the researchers involved in the study to comment that “This is worrisome both for personal and public health and well-being.”

So, what are the proper intensities that you should be aiming for?


Workout Intensities Explained

While the exact recommendations differ slightly based on what country you live in and which government agency you talk to, they are all based around the practice of using heart rate to measure exercise intensity.

According to the CDC, you enter the realm of moderate activity when your heart rate is between 50 and 70 percent of its maximum. Vigorous activity exists between 70 and 85 percent maximum heart rate. It should be noted, however, that in Canada – where the above noted study was conducted – the standards are set much higher. The Canadian take on moderate intensity is 64 to 76 percent. Vigorous is defined as 77 to 83 percent.


Getting It Right

Obviously, measuring your heart rate is the best way to make sure that you are working out to the proper intensity. Of course, heart rate monitors are the easiest way to do this accurately. If you are working out inside using an type of cardio equipment, most modern machines have built in heart monitors. There are also many wearable models available for purchase.

If you do not want to invest in a heart rate monitor, though, you can still do it the old-school way: Take your pulse. Depending on your activity, this may prove problematic since you will probably have to stop what you are doing to find your pulse and count it for a few seconds. Plus, if you’re like me, it might take you a few seconds to do the math. But, this method works nonetheless.

You may also chose to use a rating of perceived exertion. A simple scale of 1 to 10 can be used to judge your exercise intensity, where 1 is laughably easy and 10 is impossibly hard. One this scale, 5 or 6 would be moderate and 8 or 9 would be vigorous.

While it is important not to push yourself too hard during your workouts to avoid injury, you should still make sure that you are challenging your body so that you can see positive changes in your health.

What techniques have you used for measuring your workout intensity? Please share them in the comments.




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About jonathan.thompson

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Running Coach with the American Council on Exercise, specializing in nutrition. In addition to his real-world experience working with clients, his articles and blogs on fitness advice have been published on many websites and magazines.