Change the Intensity, Change the Results

Ty Valkanas

Fri March 28, 2014 11:18am

How Hard Should I Exercise to Lose Weight?
Are you confused about how hard you have to exercise to lose weight? The truth is that low intensity aerobic exercise, moderate intensity aerobic exercise and high intensity aerobic exercise all play an important role in a well-designed fat loss program. What matters is how you combine all three to create effective workouts.

If you are going to put in the time to exercise, you want to make sure you reap the maximum rewards. Learn the benefits of each level of exercise intensity and then learn to combine them to build a safe workout program that is enjoyable and effective.

Some of your daily physical activity could be categorized as low intensity exercise. If you take your dog for a walk, go bike riding with the kids, or stroll to the grocery store to pick up dinner these things might be considered low intensity exercise.
Low intensity exercise increases your heart rate but not to the point that you have to breath heavily. On a scale of 1-10, low intensity exercise would rank between 4-6. Your heart rate during this type of activity would fall between 40-60% of your maximum heart rate. You should feel comfortable enough that you can continue the activity for a long period of time.
Benefits of low intensity exercise: The value of this kind of low-key activity is that you can do a lot of it. Low intensity workouts improve range of motion in your joints, lower your stress level, increase your total daily calorie expenditure and provide recovery from harder workouts that you may have scheduled during the week.

Experts often recommend moderate exercise for improved health and fat loss. But what does that really mean? Moderate intensity might be one workload for a fit person and something totally different for someone who is new to exercise. How do you know if your workout falls into the moderate category?
When you are participating in moderate intensity exercise, you should feel like you are working, but not working so hard that you need to quit in the next few minutes. You are breathing deeply but not gasping for breath. On a perceived exertion scale of 1-10, you should feel like you are working at a level of 6-7.
So how much moderate intensity activity is necessary? The American College of Sports Medicine offers guidelines for the amount of moderate intensity activity required to meet specific goals.
•   To see modest weight loss, exercise at a moderate intensity between 2 ½ and 5 hours per week.
•   To see fat loss in moderate intensity exercise you need more than 4 hours per week.
•   If you are combining diet and exercise to lose weight, engage in moderate intensity exercise between 2 ½ to 5 hours per week.
•   To prevent fat gain after you’ve lost it, engage in at least 4 hours per week with smart nutrition.
Benefits of Moderate Intensity Exercise: The benefit of moderate activity is that it allows you to maintain your calorie burning session for a longer period of time. Moderate exercise improves cardiorespiratory endurance, reduces stress, improves heart health and boosts your metabolism. Because the intensity level of a moderate workout is tolerable, you are able to do more of these workouts during the week without risking injury or burn out.

High intensity workouts are the sessions that you can only maintain for a short period of time. Because the work is so hard, high intensity exercise requires substantial recovery, both within the exercise session and in the time following the workout.

When you are participating in high intensity exercise you are breathing very deeply and on the verge of gasping for breath. You don’t feel that you can maintain the activity for more than a few minutes. On a perceived exertion scale, you feel like you are working at a level of 8-9.
Because high intensity exercises can only be maintained for a short period of time, they are often programed into interval style workouts. A popular form of interval training is called High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT. To program a HIIT workout, you combine bursts of intense exercise that last 30 seconds to several minutes with short recovery periods that last 30 seconds or more.
Benefits of High Intensity Exercise: If you exercise to lose fat, high intensity workouts will do the trick. Experts have found that people who participate in high intensity interval workouts are more successful at losing weight and burning fat. High intensity exercise is also the most efficient. An intense workout will burn mega calories in a very short amount of time.
The drawbacks to high intensity exercise are a higher risk for injury and possible burnout. This is where careful exercise programming comes into play.
Combine High, Low and Moderate Intensity Exercise to Lose Weight
If you are healthy enough for physical activity at every intensity level, plan 1-2 high intensity workouts during the week. These short workouts will help you burn maximum calories in minimum time. You’ll also build lean muscle and boost your metabolism during these sessions.
On the days following your hard workouts, give your body a rest by participating in low intensity exercise. The increased range of motion during these easy days will help your sore muscles recover more quickly and you will still increase your calorie burn for the day without taxing your body too much and risking burn out or injury.
Fill in the rest of your workout week with moderate intensity sessions. Challenge yourself by making these sessions longer. The calorie burning benefits from these moderate workouts come from the duration of the session, not necessarily from the intensity.
Lastly, remember that you need to watch your diet as well. Make sure you eat a proper balance of lean protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and healthy fat to fuel your workouts. Count your calories and make sure you don’t over eat… or under eat! Once you are in your ‘caloric window’ you will see your fitness goals become reality!