Master Personal Trainer                         


The Right Intensity  //  UNDERSTAND.  GAUGE.    EXECUTE.

Many people are unable to gauge exercise intensity.  In a recent study at York University participants were told to walk, jog on a treadmill at light, moderate, and vigorous levels.  Most of the participants were unable to to gauge both the moderate and the vigorous levels. although most were able to figure out the light range.  Generally speaking most people don't work out hard enough to change their bodies. 

To get the most out of your workout it is imperative that you learn to exercise at the right intensity at the right time. 

Our resting metabolic rate declines as we age, so understanding the importance in measuring, gauging and tracking your exercise intensity will set you on the right track to shedding layers and having an efficient cardiovascular system.   If your exercise is intense enough (both cardio and resistance training), your oxygen demand remains elevated for hours beyond the exercise session, as well as specific fat eradicating hormones. This phenomena is called Exercise Post  Consumption; EPOC for short. 

Unfortunately if your activity level does not push your body past what it is naturally used to doing there will not be enough stimulus to change your body.  I like to call this the "gym gerbil phenomena."  You've all seen the person who goes to the gym everyday, performing the same exercises, at the same pace day in and day out.  That person is stuck in the gerbil wheel, immune to change.

The easiest way to monitor your intensity is my Rate of Preceived Exertion (RPE).  It is the measurement of hard you feel like you are working.  It takes in to account the physical sensations you experience during exercise, such as; increase in heart rate, breathing rate, sweating and muscle fatigue.

Another way to gauge your exercise intensity is to see how hard your heart is beating during physical activity and use a heart rate monitor to keep track.  To use this method, you first have to figure out your maximum heart rate — the upper limit of what your cardiovascular system can handle during physical activity.

The basic way to calculate your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220.

For example, if you're 45 years old, subtract 45 from 220 to get a maximum heart rate of 175.

(This is the maximum number of times your heart should beat per minute while you're exercising.)

Once you know your maximum heart rate, you can calculate your desired target heart rate zone — the level at which your heart is being exercised and conditioned but not overworked.

Here's how heart rate matches up with exercise intensity levels:

  • Light exercise intensity: 50 to 65 percent of your maximum heart rate
  • Moderate exercise intensity: 65+ to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate
  • Vigorous exercise intensity: 75+ to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate

If you're not fit or you're just beginning an exercise program, aim for the lower end of your target zone (50 percent). Then, gradually build up the intensity.

If you're healthy and want a vigorous intensity, opt for the higher end of the zone.

How to determine your target zone

If you're aiming for a target heart rate of 70 to 85 percent, which is in the vigorous range, you would calculate it like this:

  • Subtract your age from 220 to get your maximum heart rate.
  • Multiple that number by 0.7 (70 percent) to determine the lower end of your target heart rate zone.
  • Multiply your maximum heart rate by 0.85 (85 percent) to determine the upper end of your target heart rate zone.

For example, say your age is 45 and you want to figure out your target heart rate zone for vigorous intensity exercise.

Subtract 45 from 220 to get 175 — this is your maximum heart rate. To get the lower end of your target zone, multiply 175 by 0.7 to get 123.

To get the higher end, multiply 175 by 0.85 to get 149.

So your target heart rate zone for vigorous exercise intensity is 123 to 149 beats per minute.

I generally steer my clients toward High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), basically it involves combining high intensity and low intensity intervals in a way that maximizes fat burning.  During the high intensity interval you work from 20 seconds to 2 minutes, followed by a lower intensity interval from 10 seconds to 4 minutes.

Here is an example:
Have fun!!! 

Your Coach and Friend,