Exercise intensity – What’s right for me?

§ November 7th, 2010 § Filed under News § 18 Comments

Coming to a new class or embarking on a fitness program can be an exciting and motivating time.  However, it is important to start at the right level of intensity or risk failure.  If this happens, then all that initial enthusiasm can easily wane.  A lot of people assume that they have to work at maximum effort to progress.  This isn’t true.

If exercise is new to you and your fitness levels are low, it can counter-productive to work too hard.  In fact, it is almost certainly going to be more beneficial to work at a low level of intensity.  Basically, if you’re doing a one hour exercise class as a beginner and you build up to a mild sweat over the first ten minutes and maintain that level of work and perspiration consistently for the rest of the class, you are doing enough to improve cardiovascular fitness and burn fat.

If you were being given a gym program by a fitness trainer for example, then you would be given one-to-one supervision and the program would be specific to your own goals and current fitness levels.  However, if you are in a group exercise class, then you may need to pay closer attention yourself to your level of intensity and tone it down if necessary.

If there is someone next you in a circuit training class and they are working really hard, don’t feel that you have to work at the same intensity.  It is nice to have some friendly competition sometimes, but if you over-do it and it leads you to give up on your exercise program, then it is surely not a good thing.

What happens when in the body during intense exercise?  A by-product of very intense exercise (eg, 9 or more out of 10 effort) is lactic acid.  This builds up when the working muscles can’t sustain such a level of intensity for long.  You may feel a burning sensation and extreme fatigue in the muscles.  Regular exercisers who are used to pushing themselves hard will be used to reaching this level and may find training benefits from doing so.  However, for a beginner it should be avoided.  Also, working this hard very quickly uses up the body’s stores of glycogen (stored energy in the muscles, red blood cells and organs) and doesn’t burn fat effectively.  Keeping at about 6/10 effort and being confident that it is possible to maintain this level for a whole 1 hour session is the best way to work for a beginner.

Until approximately 15-20 minutes (this can vary a little from one person to another) at the start of an exercise session, the body is mainly burning glycogen.  At around 15-20 mins the amount of fat used increases and the amount of glycogen decreases.  This is best achieved if the warm up is progressive, eg; start at 2-3 out of 10 and bit by bit increase intensity and aim for 5-6 out of 10 after approximately 10 minutes.  If we maintain this and then go past the 15-20 minute point, the body will mainly be burning fat.  However, if the level of effort goes up to 8 or more out of 10 (eg, jogging and then sprinting), then the body will recruit more glycogen again, depleting your stores and fatigue may set in, which is best avoided for a beginner.

If you would like any advice on how to tone down the intensity level of an exercise, just ask your instructor.  They are there to help you.  If you would like any further advice, please get in touch.

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18 Responses to “Exercise intensity – What’s right for me?”