Turning up the Intensity

With New Year’s celebrations a month behind us and a new year of progress ahead, it’s a good time to take stock of your workout. Are you moving closer to your goals, or are you stalled? If you’re not getting the results you want, consider stepping up your exercise intensity.

Before diving into details, it’s important to be clear about what I mean by results. Improving markers of good health like blood pressure, triglyceride level or resting heart rate is one form of result. Another revolves around body shaping by decreasing body fat or building muscle. Low intensity exercise like walking is perfectly fine for improving and maintaining health. But substantially changing physical appearance takes greater exertion.

That’s not to say that low intensity exercise won’t have some affect on appearance and higher intensity exercise won’t positively affect health. The benefits of exercise exist on a continuum and there’s always some overlap. The trick is to tailor your exercise plan to best match your main goal.

Higher Intensity = Greater Effort

Intensity isn’t the only thing that drives results, so slow progress could be due to other things. But, increasing effort is often the best way to break out of a rut. For weight training, the easiest solution is to add resistance to exercises. Make weights heavy enough so that muscles fatigue between 8-12 repetitions per set. For cardio exercise, boost speed or resistance on a cardio machine, or take a route with more hills when walking.

A great way to measure how hard you’re working is with a rate of perceived exertion scale. Try the CR-10 scale pictured below. Aim for 5-7 when training with weights and 3-6 during steady pace cardio exercise. For high intensity interval training, sprints should be 6-9 and recovery should be 1-2.


Borg CR10

As always, check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you to engage in higher intensity exercise before trying this. Once you’re cleared, try cranking up your effort to see better results.


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Michael Bento is an Advanced Trainer at the Clubs at Charles River Park. He holds a Masters degree in Human Movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Corrective Exercise Specialist and Performance Enhancement Specialist.

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