How to Measure Exercise Intensity

Did you know that 61% of people overestimate how much exercise they’re getting and subsequently fail to reach a healthy fitness level? Movement is the key to health, but the intensity of movement matters just as much as the duration.

But how do you know if you’re exercising too vigorously? How do you know if you’re not exercising hard enough?

Exercising too hard can result in overtraining and decreased performance. Exercising not enough can result in serious health consequences. Whatever your fitness goals are, it’s important to be able to monitor your exercise levels. 

When it comes to how to measure exercise intensity, there are a few different methods. In this article, we’ll be discussing how to establish your exercise intensity based on heart rate and how to create a comprehensive workout plan to reach your goals. Read on to learn more!

Overestimating Exercise Intensity

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 150 to 300 minutes of moderate activity or 75-100 minutes of vigorous activity per week. The words moderate and vigorous don’t mean much. You could think you’re exercising vigorously when you’re actually only hitting the moderate range.  

Not hitting the proper exercise intensity means you’re not getting the benefits you think you are. It can also raise the risk of premature death and heart attacks. The heart is a muscle, so it’s important to keep it strong and healthy. 


You don’t need to be a professional athlete to overtrain. You just need to push yourself too hard. Overtraining is common in exercisers who increase intensity too quickly. When you’re not aware of how hard your body is working, it’s easy to fall victim to overtraining syndrome. 

Anytime you push yourself so hard you can’t recover, you’re risking symptoms like:

  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Decreased performance
  • Increased risk of injury
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Frequent head colds
  • Loss of a menstrual period
  • Decreased coordination
  • Lower strength
  • Fatigue

Take the time to figure out your exercise intensity levels and stay within them to avoid overtraining.

Taking breaks and spacing out difficult workouts is a great way to achieve balance for your body. You could even add yoga class in between high-intensity workouts to ensure you’re getting the proper recovery. 

How to Measure Exercise Intensity

Now that you know the risks of not exercising at the right levels, it’s time to learn how to measure your intensity. If you measure your exercise intensity, you can meet your requirements and avoid pushing your body too hard.

Benefits of Each Intensity

A good exercise routine has some variety to it, but all exercise ranges provide their own benefits.

Low-intensity exercise is the foundation of your routine and builds up your ability to move for longer spells. It warms up the body and reduces the risk of injury. Low-intensity primarily exercise burns fat cells as fuel. 

Low exertion exercise is usually walking, light yoga, easy cycling, and leisurely swimming.

Moderate-intensity allows for quicker results than low-intensity. Your body uses fat, carbs, and sugar for fuel in this zone, providing more weight loss benefits and greater cardiovascular benefits.

Some examples of moderate exercises are brisk walking, hiking, dancing, and tennis. 

High-intensity exercise is when you work your body at its full potential. This maximizes the potential for body fat loss and muscle gains and boosts your metabolism for hours after a workout. 

High exertion exercises include jumping rope, running, HIIT, and high resistance cycling.  

The Talk Test

The talk test is a quick and easy way to estimate exercise intensity. Begin your exercise, and try to have a conversation. The ease of conversation will inform the intensity level.

With low exercise, you’re moving, but you can still hold a conversation without losing a step. 

With moderate exercise, while it’s difficult to hold a conversation, you can still talk. You will also be panting and out of breath. 

With high or vigorous intensity, you won’t be able to converse at all while exercising.

Monitoring Your Heart Rate

Calculating your resting heart rate and your maximum heart rate allows you to figure out what range of heart rate you should hit when exercising. 

Your resting heart rate is how many times your heart beats while at rest. For a healthy adult, this range is somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute. You can determine this with a heart rate monitor or by starting a stopwatch and feeling your pulse. 

Your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. For example, a 45-year-old has a maximum heart rate of 175. 

Then, you can calculate the target heart rate for training. 

Low-intensity exercise is 30-50% of your maximum heart rate. Moderate-intensity exercise is 50-70% of your maximum heart rate. High-intensity means working at 75-100% of your maximum heart rate. 

As an example, for the same 45-year-old, the bottom of their low-intensity heart range is 0.30 * 175 = 52.5. The peak of their low-intensity heart range is 0.50 * 175 = 87.5. So they should be targeting  52.5 to 87.5 beats per minute to achieve a low-intensity workout. 

How Do You Know Which Intensity to Target? 

Your target intensity will depend on your goals. If you’re new to a fitness routine, consider starting with low-intensity exercise until you build up your stamina for moderate and high-intensity exercise. If you’re performance-driven, combine all three levels. 

Regardless of your goals, getting a personal trainer is a great way to figure out your target intensity. They can give you cardiorespiratory exercises to reach your goal with the least amount of work necessary, or they can build a routine that allows you to exercise as much as possible without risking overtraining.

Optimize Your Fitness

Now that you know how to measure exercise intensity, it should be easier to meet your health and fitness goals. Whether you’re looking to begin a healthy lifestyle or optimize your exercise routine, start by reaching out to Fitness Quest. 

At Fitness Quest, we have a wide variety of classes at every intensity for every skill level. We also offer some of the best personal trainers around! So if you’re looking to up your fitness game, contact us to learn more! 

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