Working Out Too Hard or Not Hard Enough? Here’s How to Tell 

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Working Out Too Hard or Not Hard Enough? Here’s How to Tell 

Use these three easy mehtods to determine if your gym time has turned into social time.

At one extreme of the workout spectrum you have people who tackle their workout at full-intensity every time but wind up fizzling out from exhaustion before the end. At the other end there are exercisers who go through their workouts at half speed, leaving too much untapped potential on the table.

Either scenario can easily be avoided by paying closer attention to how you’re handling the intensity of your workout in the moment. By noting your response, you can then decide whether you need to dial back the intensity or kick it into high gear.

That said, knowing when and how to vary intensity will revolve around your goals, says Rondel King, CSCS, exercise physiologist at NYU Langone’s Sports Performance Center.

For example, if you’re trying to improve your cardiovascular endurance, you have to find an intensity level that you can sustain for longer periods of time. On the other hand, if your goal is to boost anaerobic fitness (for activities like plyometrics or sprinting) or you need to squeeze in a quick workout but still want to maximize your caloric burn, you’ll want to work at near-maximum intensity.

Try one (or all) of the following methods during your next workout to determine whether you need to push harder or ease off.

1. The “Talk Test”

One of the easiest ways to gauge your intensity is to see if you can strike up a conversation. This method is known as the “talk test,” and, according to sports physiologist Mike Bracko, CSCS, it’s ideal for cardio and high-intensity sessions.

During a steady-state run or bike ride, for example, you should be able to chat with your workout buddy a sentence or two at a time. You want to move at a pace that’s moderate enough to allow you to go for the full 30-plus minutes without bonking before the end. So if you can only manage two or three words at a time, slow your pace a bit until the conversation flows more easily.

On the other hand, if you’re doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) — when you should be near your max effort during work intervals — you shouldn’t be able to say more than one or two words at a time (if any at all). “If I can have a conversation with you and you’re not taking a break to gasp for air, that probably means that you’re not at the appropriate intensity,” King says.

2. Heart Rate

Unlike the talk test, tracking your intensity via heart rate will take a bit of math and/or equipment, but the benefit of using this method is that it offers concrete, objective information that’s specific to your abilities and fitness level.

Not to mention, the numbers make it easy to determine whether you need to slow down or speed up: “If your heart rate is too high, decrease intensity,” Bracko says. By extension, if your heart rate is too low, it’s time to boost your effort level.

Again, this method will be most helpful during cardio and HIIT workouts, although one downside is that it can take some time for your technology to catch up to your heart rate, especially if you’re constantly switching up your intensity. However, heart rate monitors can give you valuable information, King says, so don’t let that deter you from using them.

Before you use a heart rate monitor, you need to calculate your maximum heart rate. There are many ways to do this, but the easiest method is to subtract your age from 220. Then you just multiply that number by whichever intensity you’re aiming for (see below) to determine what your heart rate should be.


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