Managing the intensity of your exercise

6 minutes

Why manage intensity?

We all exercise for different reasons. You may want to increase your endurance, your strength your flexibility or all of the above. You may want to change your shape. The only way to do this is to go beyond what you normally do. For flexibility, it means stretching your muscles further than they usually go. For strength, it's lifting weights heavier than you are used to lifting. When it comes to your endurance you need to get your heart and lungs to work a little harder than normal. If you don't push the limits your body will remain the same.

To make sure you're working at the right pace to reach your exercise goals it's important to monitor your intensity. You can do this using a Perceived Exertion Scale using the “talk test" or by monitoring your Heart Rate.


Perceived exertion

Perceived exertion is how hard you feel like you're working. Listen to your body. It's based on factors like how hard you're breathing, how tired your muscles feel and how much effort you're using. Think of how hard the exercise feels to you and give it a number from 1 to 10 (not the number on the treadmill!). Be as accurate as you can. A brisk walk may feel like a 5 to one person or a 9 to another. Remember this is how YOU feel not someone else. Once you figure out your intensity this will give you an idea of whether you need to speed up or slow down.


Talk test

The Talk Test is really just a matter of monitoring how hard you're breathing. If you can belt out a Whitney Houston number, the exercise is probably pretty light. If you can carry on a conversation, but not sing you're working at a reasonable level. If you're gasping for breath you're probably working extremely hard.


Heart rate

Another method is to use a Target Heart Rate zone. You'll first need to calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220 (e.g.: if you're 30 years old your max HR is 190 beats per minute). This is just an estimate but it's close enough for the purpose of calculating workout target zones. Your intensity is expressed as a percentage of your Maximum Heart Rate (HR Max). Some people like to use a Heart Rate Monitor to keep themselves on track.



It's especially important to monitor your exercise intensity during pregnancy. Listen to your body and exercise at a level which allows you to carry out a conversation (level 4-6 on the Perceived Exertion scale). This is different for everyone and can vary based on your pre-pregnancy fitness level and your age. You should never let yourself become breathless or exhausted. As your pregnancy progresses you'll also find that you reach your maximum intensity level sooner maybe just by walking upstairs. This is not a time for trying to dramatically increase your fitness but is a good opportunity to get into healthy lifestyle habits.


If you're making the effort to exercise you may as well make it worthwhile. Trust your body. It will let you know how you're going and if you're working hard enough or letting yourself off lightly. It's up to you. Listen to your body and you'll reach your goals.


Written by Sarah Straton

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