It’s important to work out at the appropriate intensity, for two reasons. One, finding and maintaining the right exercise intensity can help you get the maximum benefit from your workouts. Two, exercising at the correct intensity can protect you from working out too hard and hurting yourself.
Exercising regularly and at the right intensity is important for your health. The CDC recommends that adults age 18 to 64 get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. You should also make time for strength-training exercises, like weight lifting, rock climbing or yoga, twice a week. But it can be hard to tell if you’re hitting the right intensity — especially with strength-training exercises. Monitoring your heart rate during aerobic exercise can help you gauge your exercise intensity — but you should also pay attention to how you feel during exercise.
Your Heart Rate Can Help You Gauge Exercise Intensity
Cardio exercises, like jogging, swimming, cycling or walking, can keep your heart healthy and provide a range of other health benefits. Tracking your heart rate during aerobic exercise is one of the most reliable ways to gauge the intensity of your workout. Heart rate watches make it easy for you to do this without stopping to take your pulse in the middle of a workout.
To gauge the intensity of your workout by tracking your heart rate, first you have to determine your target heart rate zone for the exercise intensity you’re going for. Start by calculating your maximum heart rate. The best way to do this is to subtract your age from 220. So if you’re 30 years old, your maximum heart rate is 190 beats per minute.
During moderate intensity exercise, your target heart rate is between 50 and 70 percent of your maximum heart rate — 95 to 133 beats per minute if you’re 30 years old. During vigorous intensity exercise, your target heart rate should be 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate — 133 to 161 beats per minute if you’re 30 years old. Be careful about working out too hard; getting too close to your maximum heart rate is dangerous.
How You Feel Is a Good Indicator of Exercise Intensity
According to the Mayo Clinic, your perceived exertion during exercise is probably a good indicator of whether you’ve reached the right exercise intensity. If you’re exercising at a moderate intensity, you’ll be breathing harder, but won’t be out of breath. You’ll break into a light sweat after about 10 minutes of exercise. You’ll be able to talk, but not sing.
If you’re exercising at a vigorous intensity, you’ll be breathing deeply and quickly and won’t be able to carry on a conversation without getting out of breath. You’ll break into a sweat after just a few minutes of exercise. If you become short of breath, feel pain or can’t maintain your exercise intensity for as long as you planned, you’re pushing yourself too hard; ease up and work on increasing your endurance gradually.
How to Gauge Intensity for Strength-Training Exercises
Gauging the appropriate intensity for strength-training exercises is a little different. These exercises don’t typically raise your heart rate much or leave you feeling out of breath, so those aren’t good indicators of whether you’re doing them at the right intensity.
Instead, pay attention to how the muscle group or groups you’re exercising feel during strength training exercises. Let’s take the example of weight-lifting exercises. Perform each exercise until the muscle group in question is too fatigued to do another repetition while maintaining proper form. When your muscles are too fatigued to keep performing an exercise, that’s when you know you’ve worked them hard enough.
You may have heard that experiencing muscle soreness the day after a strength training routine is a sign that your workout intensity was appropriate. This is not necessarily true. While a small amount of muscle soreness is a sign that your body is building new lean muscle tissue, you don’t need to always be sore to reach a good workout intensity — and if you’re sore every day or your soreness is interfering with your regular activities, that’s a sign that you need to back off a bit.
Finding the right exercise intensity is the key to making the most of your workouts and avoiding pushing yourself too hard. Once you’ve found your exercise sweet spot, you’ll soon begin to reap the rewards in the form of enhanced fitness, better health and stronger feelings of well-being.