Simplified Exercise Intensity: Just go Hard and go Easy


One of the most important skills a good personal trainer can help you with is gain is knowing how to implement intensity into your exercise program.

After all, if you are a reasonably fit 35 year old woman, can you can usually handle– and require– much different programming than a 50 year old man … though not always.

Intensity itself also comes in a few different flavors, ranging from uncomfortable to painful. Generally speaking, the more fit you become, the more painful the intensity levels become to create the stress required to make progress … though, again, not always.

Volumes have been written about Heart Rate Zone training to measure and manage intensity in cardiovascular exercise programs. Similarly, volumes have been written and are in practice for pushing into and beyond fatigue thresholds with resistance exercise.

It’s tricky business.

In looking at the purely physiological elements of exercise, the varied components of nutrition, hydration, flexibility, and recovery capabilities all mix into the “how much intensity do you need” formula.

If that isn’t enough, the additional psychological elements matter too. Perhaps it matters even more so … than the purely biological elements. How mentally prepared are you to accept a bit of intensity? Or maybe a lot of intensity? How much intensity is too much intensity in a program that requires both your head and body in the game for the long haul?

All of these questions are digested by a good personal trainer who combines utilizes the right combination of art and science to develop an effective program.

But is it really all that sophisticated?

Without belittling the craft of personal training, perhaps not. Certainly, you may need that level programming sophistication to reach your goals, or perhaps you need a trainer to simply hold you accountable to reaching them. That’s why we do what we do.

But if we ignore the value of a precisely designed exercise program, much of your exercise program can be broken down into a very simple rule called Hard and Easy.

It really doesn’t get any easier than this. Sometimes your exercise is going to be hard, and sometimes your exercise is going to be easy. You need both for both cardiovascular and resistance exercise. Mentally, it’s easier to prepare for a hard workout if you know that you only do hard workouts sometimes. It’s also easier to complete a longer workout if you know that it’s going be somewhat casual.

It won’t be a “fine line,” but if you simply toggle your workouts between hard and easy you will find an “acceptable scribble” between under training and over training. If you are in your 40s, 50s, or 60s your recovery ability isn’t what it was when you were 20 or 30. Your body must adapt to stress through recovery,just as it always has. It just takes longer now. This is where your easy workout comes in.

Often called active rest in the industry, an easy resistance training day keeps the limbs moving to assist with recovery. It burns a few calories, to be sure, but mostly just helps with rebuilding tissues broken down in more intense workouts, and improves range of motion around the joints (flexibility).

A good pattern to follow is something like:

  • Day 1 Hard Resistance
  • Day 2 Easy Cardio
  • Day 3 Rest
  • Day 4 Hard Cardio
  • Day 5 Easy Resistance
  • Day 6 Rest
  • Day 7 Hard Resistance

Go Hard. Then Go Easy.

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