When it comes to seeing the benefits of any type of exercise routine, intensity is key. The degree of that intensity is relative: to a chronic couch potato, a walk around the block could be intense. For a bodybuilder who doesn't stretch, twenty minutes of Bikram yoga could be killer. The point of talking about the importance of workout intensity is not to fit-shame anyone, but rather, to shed light on how you can use your workout intensity to measure your success and your progress. Being able to measure how far you've come is great motivation, and will keep you on track and out of trouble. After all, while an amazing sweat 'sesh will definitely push us out of our comfort zone, you don't want to leap out of it. Going too hard, too fast can result in injury, which will take you out of the game for good at worst, or set you back at best.
While there are many ways to measure your workout intensity, we're going to give you the rundown on our three favourites. These methods are fast, easy and provide pretty spot-on assessments, so you will know if you can push harder, or if you should ease back.
1. Rate of Perceived Exertion
As the name suggests, measuring your workout intensity by rate of perceived exertion (RPE) simply entails observing how hard it looks like you are working. The RPE scale runs from 0 - 10, where 0 is akin to sitting on the couch watching Riverdale (we see you), and 10 is when you feel like you're going to puke, your lungs or going to burst, your muscles are going to give out —- preferably all of the above. This is your max limit: you cannot possibly work any harder than that.
A stroll in the park would be a 1. An aerobic for spin class, a 3-5, depending on the class and how hard you push. HIIT would be (or should be) a 7-9.5.
Being able to place yourself on this scale can help you know if you've got more fuel in the tank. So, for example, if you're doing an interval of burpees but only feel like you're working at a level 4 or 5, then you know you should be kicking it up a notch. Add a plyometric push-up to that burpee, a tuck jump or a slap on a weighted vest. In HIIT, you're not working long, but when you do work, it needs to be hard.
If, however, you're training to complete a 10km charity run and find yourself working at a level 8 after only a couple clicks, then that's a sign you need to improve your cardio conditioning, leg strength, core conditioning and overall agility and endurance before you'll be able to crush that particular goal.
Like we said, these measurements are meant to show you not only where you stand, but guide as to what to do next.
2. Talk Test
Ever go to the gym and see a couple of people on the elliptical chatting like they're seated at an afternoon tea? Yeah, us too. Their ability to gab at ease is an indication that they are not working hard enough to get a solid cardio workout. When you exercise, talking should feel like a chore. Depending on the type of workout you're doing, the chore may be mopping the floor (a walk) or plowing the fields by hand (HIIT). One is not necessarily better than the other -- floors need to be mopped and fields need to get plowed — but you need to feel like you're working at something. If you find you can speak without effort, then chances are, you need to kick it up a notch. This does not mean you have to be struggling for breath: simply that you could not recite the opening soliloquy of Richard III without having to stop for some serious breathers.
3. Heart Rate Monitor
Here's the no-brainer exertion test: a heart rate monitor! These are particularly great for people who are working toward super specific goals, like training for a marathon (wherein you may be training in heart rate zones) or, if you are pregnant (aiming to keep heart rate below 140 bpm) or have health conditions in which your heart rate should be closely monitored. The most common fitness heart rate monitors usually strap onto your wrist like a watch and track your heart rate with light technology. By using an LED to illuminate the capillaries in your wrist, a sensor beside the light measures how frequently blood pumps past the sensory. This is your heart rate.
Our recommendation: The Polar M200. Not only is this a waterproof heart rate monitor that’s suitable for swimming (and loads of sweat!), but it’s got a built-in GPS that can track pace, altitude and distance, as well as a 24/7 activity tracker.
Know where you are. Know where you’re going. That’s why — one way or another — you need to track your workout intensity if you want to keep seeing the good gains. Ready to see even more?
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