Intensity is broken down into three levels: Low, moderate, and high intensity. Low intensity is fine if you are injured, have medical restrictions, or are doing extra on top of your 30 minute goal, but it takes longer to burn the same amount of calories working at a lower level and your cardiovascular improvement may not progress beyond a certain level. Moderate intensity is classified as working within 65-85 percent of your maximum heart rate. High intensity exercise is working beyond that 85% threshold and is meant for short bursts of activity to improve your cardiovascular functions and burn more calories in less time. High intensity exercise is usually left for those at a higher fitness level, but is great to throw in here and there for an extra boost if you are healthy enough to do so.
There are a lot of ways to test for intensity, most of them number based. Your heart rate is used as the gauge. Oxygen, found in the blood, is what fuels your exercising body, so the harder you work, the more oxygen you need, so your heart beats faster to deliver more oxygen filled blood to your exercising muscles. To ensure you are working at a moderate level of intensity, your target heart rate would be 65-85 percent of your maximum heart rate, the heart rate you do not want to exceed for safety reasons.
There is a simple equation to figure this out:
220 – your age = Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)
MHR x .65 or 8.5 = Target Heart Rate
The number you get for your target heart rate is the number of beats per minute (BPM) you are looking for. So mine would be 220 – 25 = 195 MHR. My target heart rate would be anywhere from 126 – 165 BPM. Anything above would be high intensity and anything below would be low intensity, however I would not want to exceed 195 BPM, my maximum heart rate.
To measure your intensity by heart rate, you can wear a heart rate monitor which will read your heart rate at any given moment. You can also take it manually, by periodically taking your pulse in the middle of your workout. You will want to do it while you are still in the middle of exercising for an accurate reading, (if you stop, your heart rate will drop as you being to recover.) Take your pulse for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to get your BMP. If you are using a cardio machine, many come with heart rate sensors, but I don’t recommend using them as they are often inaccurate.
Not into math? No worries. You can use the talk test or use RPE (rating of perceived exertion) but only if you are in tune with your body and being honest with yourself.
For the talk test, moderate intensity is defined as being able to hold a conversation with short sentences. If you can sing, whistle or jabber on with a friend without difficulty, you are working at too low of an intensity, but if getting out a full sentence is difficult, you are working at a high intensity.
For RPE, think of your physical exertion on a scale of 1-10. One would be sitting on the couch, watching TV and 10 would be working as hard as you possibly can, about to drop. During your workout, ask yourself, on a scale of 1-10, how hard you are working. If your answer is anywhere from 6-8, you are working at a moderate intensity.
So how does strength training work into the mix? Strength training can be done in a way that it also counts as cardiovascular exercise. Working your muscles uses oxygen in the blood just like cardio exercise. The bigger the muscle group, or the more muscle groups you use at once, the more oxygen your muscles need, and the higher your heart rate goes. Because of frequent breaks or focusing on smaller muscle groups, strength training usually won’t push you into your target heart rate zone, but you can easily bump it up into that range by shortening your breaks between sets, working in short bouts of cardio like sprints or jumping jacks, or combining smaller muscle group exercises, like bicep curls, with exercises that work big muscle groups, like lunges or squats.
Of course, the more you do, in terms of minutes and/or intensity, the better, but only to a point. Your workouts can be longer than 30 minutes or done at a high intensity, but do make sure that you give yourself adequate rest to reap the benefits of your workouts. Remember: your muscles need 48 hours between strength training sessions to repair, so if you like the strength training everyday, split your muscle groups so they are only being worked every other day. Cardio is more forgiving, but you should still take a day or two per week off to avoid over training, which can cause a plateau in your results.
Next comes the workouts themselves. Where do you begin? We’ve got you covered:
Want to split those 30 minutes up? Try: