How hard should your workout routine be?

Are you sabotaging your workout routine by going too hard or not hard enough? There is a lot of confusion around exercise intensity and how hard your workout routine should be. Increasing the intensity of your workouts can either be beneficial or detrimental to your workout routine depending on your goals and fitness levels.

Follow these guidelines to get the most out of your workout routines.

How hard is hard?
There are a number of factors to consider when trying to decide how hard your workout routine should be, such as:
• Are you working out simply to lose weight or are you training for an event?
• Your current level of fitness
• Existing medical conditions and injury history
• How long have been exercising regularly for?

For weight loss, lower or ‘aerobic’ intensities work best. This doesn’t mean that you don’t need to work, it just means that you don’t need to be sweating blood at the end for it to be an effective workout routine. A simple rule of thumb to remember is that if you aren’t able hold a conversation with an exercise partner then you are definitely working too hard.

Staying under this guideline is often called ‘talking pace’ and is very effective for weight loss because, at lower intensities, our bodies use a higher ratio of fat as an energy source. A good test when you are exercising by yourself is counting from 1 – 6 which you should be able to do comfortably, if you can only make it to 3 or 4 before gasping for air then you need to slow down.

If you are training for an event and have a competitive time in mind, then adding a little intensity can be beneficial but only if done correctly and at the right time. Higher intensity workouts are not as effective for weight loss because our body is in an anaerobic state meaning you are burning a higher ratio of carbohydrates in the muscles as opposed to stored fat.

It is always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to intensity because you can do a lot of damage to your muscles if you are not ready for it. Below are some guidelines for safely adding a little intensity to your workout routine:
• Before adding intensity to your workout routine, it is very important that you have a solid ‘base’ fitness developed from lower intensity workouts built up over 8-12 weeks
• The intense part of any workout should only make up about 20% of the total workout time. You can spread this over your workout by adding adequate rest periods in between
• Always warm up for at least 10 minutes, slowly bringing your heart rate up, before adding any intensity
• Include a 10 min cool down after your workout to gradually bring your heart rate back to normal

It is very important that every hard(er) day is followed by at least 1 easy day, never do intense workouts on consecutive days. So exactly how hard is a hard workout? Using a perceived effort scale, it should be 7 out of 10 and no harder. Any harder than that and the damage to your muscles and need for recovery will outweigh any potential gains.

If you have any existing medical conditions or have been injured in the past then seek medical advice before adding any intensity to your current workout routine.

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