How Intense Should My Cardio Workout Be?

Now that you have begun a regular cardio program, you may still be wondering: how intense should my cardio workout be?  If you are going to put in the time and the effort you want to make sure you are truly getting the best results.

When discussing the “intensity” of a workout, you are really talking about the level of difficulty of the exercise.  You want to make sure your workouts are challenging enough that your heart rate is elevated, and you burn as much fat and as many calories as possible.  Not only does the type of activity being performed affect the intensity of a workout, the duration and the frequency also play a large role.  There are major differences in the intensity of a thirty minute workout conducted five times per week compared to a ten minute workout done only three times per week.

In order to help you determine how hard you should be working out, you can either calculate your heart rate or you can use the Borg Scale of Rate of Perceived Exertion.  While the latter of the two sounds more complicated it is actually easier to figure than your heart rate and is considered to be more accurate.

Lets first begin by learning how to calculate the heart rate.  The basic rule of thumb for this calculation is to take your age and subtract it from 220.  This will give you your target maximum heart rate.  While this will give you a rough estimate of what your heart rate should be, it is important to note that there are many different factors that affect heart rate and each person is different.  Once you have this number, multiply that by .65 (or 65%) for your low heart rate number, and .85 (or 85%) for your high heart rate number.  This will give you a general range to focus on during your cardio workout.

Once you have your numbers, measure your rate periodically during your session by counting your pulse beats on your wrist or your neck for fifteen seconds and then multiplying that number by four.  Try not to rely on heart monitors found on some exercise machines; these monitors are often inaccurate.

The second of the calculations methods, the Borg Scale of Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), is much simpler to figure, and provides you a much clearer picture of your level of exertion.  This method uses a scale of one to ten, with one being no exertion and ten being maximum exertion.  A good way to judge your intensity is to understand that an exertion level of between four and six correlates to about 60 to 85% of your maximum heart rate.

Beginners (people who are new to exercise or those who have not done any exercise in at least six months) should aim for an exertion level of between four and five.  Intermediates (those who are somewhat regular with exercise, at least twice per week) should be able to achieve an exertion level of between five and six.  Advanced level exercisers (individuals that exercise very regularly) should be consistently working at an exertion level of between five and nine and a half.  No matter what skill level you are currently at, strive for the next stage.  Perform your exercise with higher bursts of exertion to really work your muscles and help burn extra calories.

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