The greater the intensity, the more effort is needed to do the same quantity of work. Your heart and lungs will have to work harder because you’ll use more muscle.

Intensifying a workout has many benefits, including a higher caloric expenditure, better insulin sensitivity, a higher lactate threshold, and lessening your risk of heart complications. There is a potential for enhanced efficiency and effectiveness in weight loss, leading to enhanced athletic performance.

Exercise intensity has all these advantages; however, it also comes with a higher potential for harm, and the possibility of getting hurt grows in proportion to the effort put out. This article defines exercise intensity, types of exercises and their benefits, and how you can measure the extent of your workout.

Understanding exercise intensity

Exercise intensity refers to how much energy you put into your workout routine. The intensity of your workout decides how much fat you burn, how much muscle you build, and how much of an impact it has on your cardiovascular system and overall health.

In other words, intensity is the amount of effort expended within a specific period of physical activity.

However, when discussing cardio fitness, “intensity” is synonymous with “heart rate.” But, the physical exertion required during a cardio workout also contributes to its intensity. Sometimes the most excellent way to convey how intense something could be is by comparing it to another experience. Consider the difference between running and walking in terms of aerobic fitness.

Running is more strenuous since it requires more energy and produces an elevated heart rate in the exerciser. But that’s not all. The impact of running on your muscles and joints increases the intensity of the workout. However, walking does not cause as much of a rise in heart rate and exerts less physical demand on the body.

They both serve practical purposes. There is no clear superiority or inferiority of one over the other. However, “What form of activities is most good to your health?” is the more appropriate question.

Types of exercise intensity

There is a wide variety of exercises; however, they can be categorized into three levels of intensity:

Low-intensity exercise

These are physical activities performed at a modest pace that causes little to no change in heart rate or breathing rate. In other words, this exercise increases your heart rate slowly and steadily.

These are some low-intensity activities:

  • Light weight lifting
  • Slowly strolling down the street
  • Cycling on level terrain
  • Slowly exercising on an elliptical machine

Image alt text: exercise intensity. Couple doing outdoor workout and exercise.

Author credit: By Adewuyi Israel – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Moderate intensity exercise

An activity is considered moderate in intensity if it increases your pulse, breathing rate, and core temperature sufficiently to induce sweating.

The heart rate increases during the exercise of even modest intensity. You’ll be breaking a sweat, breathing harder, and speeding up your movements. It’ll be warm, so you might have trouble communicating.

Exercises that fall within the moderate intensity category include:

  • Hiking
  • Brisk walking
  • Water or pool aerobics
  • Slow biking or cycling (less than 10 mph)

Vigorous intensity exercises

Exercising at a vigorous intensity causes you to sweat heavily, speed up your pulse rate, and work hard to catch your breath. You’ll unlikely be able to carry on a lengthy conversation while exercising intensely. Extremely high-intensity workouts include:

  • Jumping rope
  • Running or jogging
  • Swimming
  • Cycling faster (more than 10 mph)

What Is the Appropriate Level of Exercise Effort?

Many factors determine the intensity you train during any given session. Workout intensity is determined by factors such as your present cardiovascular endurance, any physical limits you may have, and your fitness goals. To avoid injury and boredom, it is best to switch up your training routine now and then and increase the intensity as you progress.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults engage in cardiovascular (cardio) and muscle-strengthening exercises weekly to maximize their health benefits. The report also suggests at least 150 minutes of activity a week, equivalent to 30 minutes per day. But of course, you can always schedule your routine to your liking.

Techniques for Quantifying Your Exercise Intensity or Workout Hardness

Keeping track of your intensity level can be helpful to ensure that you are receiving a good workout. It is one of the most challenging aspects of exercise to quantify. Many choices exist, but none are perfect. Sometimes you need to use more than one technique to get an accurate read on your effort level.

Here are some of the methods of measuring the various types of exercise:

Talk Test

Pay close attention to how quickly you become out of breath to get a good idea of your intensity level. Light intensity is ideal when you’re just getting warmed up because you can still carry on a conversation while working out.

You are entering the intermediate range if a conversation is possible but challenging. If you’ve reached the point where you can barely speak in simple phrases, you’re probably working hard or vigorously.

Some intervals in high-intensity training will leave you gasping for air or in an anaerobic state when you won’t be able to talk, which is the most intense part of the scale.

Use of heart rate as an indicator of exertion

The speed at which your pulse is beating is another indicator of the intensity of your workout. To employ this technique, one must determine their maximum pulse rate or the point beyond which their cardiovascular system cannot sustain normal functioning.

Most people who keep track of their intensity utilize a percentage of their maximum heart rate. The process is easy to understand and implement with a heart rate monitor. Using a formula like the Karvonen Formula, you may estimate your heart rate range where you should be working out to maximize its benefits.

Perceived exertion

Perceived exertion, or the difficulty with which an exercise routine is performed, is a good proxy for exercise intensity. The degree of effort you put into an exercise may vary from another person’s experience undertaking the same activity. A run that seems difficult to you may be a cakewalk for someone else who is more physically fit.

How do moderate and vigorous exercises benefit your health?

You can reap several benefits from working out harder. The health benefits of moderate to strenuous exercise are best seen when practiced consistently.

Exercise help:

Helps drop extra pounds

Reduced body fat is the first and most obvious advantage. Everyone knows that carrying around extra pounds puts extra strain on the heart.

The health risks associated with being overweight are real. If your blood pressure is too high, you put your heart at risk for a variety of illnesses and perhaps a heart attack.

Boosts your moods

Increasing the difficulty of an existing physical activity has been found to benefit mood and reduce depressive symptoms.

Professionals are still investigating the specific mechanism by which exercising your muscles might improve your mood. One study hypothesizes that endorphins, or “feel good” chemicals, are produced during aerobic exercise.

As your pulse rate rises, a hormone called norepinephrine is released, which may improve the brain’s ability to handle stress. In addition, exercise boosts brain circulation. This has a domino effect on your body’s cellular processes, enhancing focus, facilitating restful sleep, and ultimately improving your disposition.

Increases the strength of the cardiac muscle

The muscles that surround your heart can be strengthened by exercise, allowing it to pump blood effectively and reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Exercising regularly reduces your likelihood of suffering from cardiovascular diseases.

Controls cholesterol

When we work out, our metabolism speeds up, and we burn calories at a higher pace than usual. In addition, it aids in cholesterol regulation, lowering the danger of heart disease from high cholesterol. In most situations, exercise also alleviates knee and back discomfort and keeps you fit and stable.

Eliminates or greatly reduces stress

Exercising not only helps you relax but also prevents you from feeling down. Reducing the risk of developing diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and others is one of the primary motivations for maintaining a regular exercise routine. The healthy glow of exercised skin might fool people into thinking you’re much younger than you are.

Reduced potential for death

A 2019 analysis of studies looked at the effects of both moderate and strenuous exercise on fatality and concluded that the more intense the workout, the lower the chance of dying.


The intensity of your workouts is only one component of overall fitness. If you want to make the most of your activities and speed up your progress toward your fitness objectives, you need to know how to track your intensity levels and reap the benefits of greater intensity.