Exercise Intensity: How Hard Should You Push Yourself? – Conditioning for Physical Fitness (Part 2)

Stairs Training

After completing your workout, you tend to feel good about yourself. Even if you can’t see the immediate results of your efforts, somehow you feel confident that you are one step closer to your fitness goals.

Then again, are you really getting the most out of your workouts? Do you think that you have pushed yourself sufficiently? How do you know if you are on the right track?

This is where your Exercise Intensity comes into play, where you can maximize your workout at the optimal intensity to achieve your goals – be it weight loss, building strength, improving your stamina, or otherwise.

How do we Measure?

There are several ways to measure the intensity of your workout, and it varies depending on the type of exercise you are doing. Some examples include:
1) Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE): A subjective method by indicating how you feel on a scale of 0 to 10
2) Strength Training: A percentage (%) of our 1-rep max – usually done with gym equipment
3) Heart Rate: A more objective method using beats per minute (BPM)

Today, we will be focusing more on using the heart rate as a way to measure exercise intensity and how we can utilize it for planning your upcoming workouts.

Measuring your Heart Rate

1) Carotid Pulse
Using 2 fingers (preferably index and middle fingers), place them on your neck to the side of your windpipe

• Might be easier to find than radial artery, especially after an intensive workout

2) Radial Pulse
Using the same 2 fingers, place them on the underside of your wrist (where your palm is facing the sky)

Make sure not to use your thumb to measure your pulse as it has its own pulse, which may lead to errors in measurement.

Resting Heart Rate
Your resting heart rate (RHR) shows how hard your heart is pumping to sustain the body activity at rest. Your heart rate can vary throughout the day even if you are not engaging in any activity – e.g. sitting on a chair, lying on the bed, etc.

The best time to measure your RHR is the moment when you wake up, minimize your movements and quickly count the number of beats for the full 1-minute.

Don’t be lazy by timing yourself for only 10-20 seconds and multiply it to make up the full duration worth. This might result in a highly inaccurate measurement due to the possible margin of error being multiplied in doing so.

Understanding your heart rate is actually a good indication of what’s going on in the body, and what you should do to take care of yourself. A higher than usual heart rate (deviation of 10% – 20%) on a particular day can possibly be an indication that your body is pumping more blood to fight virus internally, or you have been over-exerting yourself the previous day. In such a case, it is best if you taper down on your workouts and focus on recuperating until your heart rate reaches its optimal state.

Maximum Heart Rate and Training Heart Rate
One way of estimating your maximum heart rate (MHR) is by using: “220 minus your age”. It may not be the most accurate approximation, but we shall use it for illustration purposes. Assuming you are 20 years of age, which gives you a MHR of 200. Say you want to find out the optimal heart rate to train at, e.g. 60-80% intensity, and assuming you have a RHR of 60, you can calculate your heart rate range (200 – 60 = 140 bpm) and multiply it by 60% and 80% respectively to find your training heart rate: 144 bpm < THR < 172 bpm.

Heart Rate Image.JPG

To test your training intensity, for example during your interval-runs, you can measure your heart rate immediately after you have completed each round and time the number of beats for 10 seconds, then multiply it by 6.

Note: Don’t time for the full 1-minute during the workout itself since your heart rate would have dropped significantly after 10 seconds, and you won’t be able to measure your THR accurately.

Training Zones

Based on the intensity of your exercise, you can split them into 6 training zones that serve different purposes in your training.

Training Zones Image.JPG
*VO2 max is the measure of one’s maximal aerobic capacity; the amount of oxygen the body is capable of utilizing in 1 minute.

For those who are looking to train for an upcoming race, always remember to train at the race pace intensity. This means that if you are aiming for 1-hour in a 10 km run, make sure you are training at a 6 min/km pace so that your body is able to adapt to the same level of intensity that you will be facing on the race day itself.

Key takeaway: Adjust your training intensity accordingly based on the target that you have set for yourself.

Low or High Intensity: Which is Better?

It is important to understand the differences between the effects of low-intensity workouts from high-intensity ones if you have a specific fitness goal in mind – becoming stronger, faster or to lose weight!

Anaerobic activities, such as High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts, are a good way for you to build strength and speed, increase your endurance and metabolism, and burn more calories. Due to the extreme intensity of such workouts, it should only be done up to 2 times a week for an average person to allow the body to recover. It even helps in burning calories after your workout has ended, even while you sleep!

In contrast, engaging in aerobic activities, such as long-distance running, are forms of low-intensity workouts that provide benefits such as better blood circulation, stronger heart, improved overall cardiovascular health, and effective fat burning (in the short-term). As you engage in more of such exercises, your body will progressively adapt to become more aerobically efficient, and you will need to exercise for longer distances and duration to burn the same amount of calories as before.

Hence, if you are looking to lose weight and stay in shape for the long-term, you should engage in both high-intensity and low-intensity workouts to overcome the state of cardio plateau.

So if you find yourself exercising aimlessly all this while, start by measuring your training heart rate! Use it as a gauge to plan your workouts accordingly as you improve your fitness level along the way.

Good luck with your fitness goals, and feel free to share your experiences with us. See ya next week! 😊

Tip of the week:
Plan your workouts using the FITT formula: Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type.

For example:
F: 3 days/week
I: 75%
T: 45-minutes
T: Running


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