How can I increase the intensity of my workouts?

Edward Phillips
Physical Therapy
The following tips can help make your exercises more intense:
  • If you're in good shape: Try salting your exercise sessions with more vigorous activities like jogging, hiking or biking uphill, or singles tennis, squash, or basketball. Downhill skiing, trimming the lawn with a push-reel mower, chopping wood, and even fishing a stream in waders count, too. Check the President's Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition for additional examples of vigorous exercise.
  • If you're not fit: Talk to your doctor first. Mapping out a plan to slowly work up to vigorous activities will help you avoid muscle or joint injuries and rare but serious heart problems. One good way to start is alternating walking and jogging for 20 minutes. Week by week, increase the amount of time spent jogging and decrease the time spent walking. For example:
Week 1: Walk for four minutes, jog for one minute, walk for four minutes, jog for one minute, and so on until you reach 20 minutes total.

Week 2: Walk for three minutes, jog for one-and-a-half minutes, walk for three minutes, jog for one-and-a-half minutes, and so on until you reach 20 minutes total.

Week 3: Walk for two-and-a-half minutes, jog for one-and-a-half minutes, walk for two-and-a-half minutes, jog for one-and-a-half minutes, and so on until you reach 20 minutes total.
You can increase the intensity of workouts by increasing the load lifted, decreasing rest periods in between sessions, running on an incline, performing something new you’re not familiar with, performing on an unstable surface, or working out at altitude. All of these things will make exercise more complicated or challenging and will increase the intensity of your workout.
Dr. Vonda Wright, MD
Orthopedic Surgery
For those of you already working out, you can increase your performance by increasing the intensity of your workout from 60 -- 70 percent to 70 -- 80 percent of your maximum heart rate (MaxHR). Once you are able to move through your workout comfortably at this intensity, you can continue improving by adding time or distance. For instance, you can increase your aerobic period from 30 to 45 minutes or increase the intensity of your 30-minute workout to 70 -- 80 percent of MaxHR. If long distance running (marathon or a half-marathon) is your goal, you should build your endurance base in the 60 -- 70 percent MaxHR zone. This means that while your shorter midweek runs can be 70 -- 80 percent intense, those long weekend runs should slow down to 60 -- 70 percent intensity.
Fitness After 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age

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Fitness After 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age

It's one of the undeniable facts of life. After we reach a certain age, our bodies change. No matter how fit we may have been at 20, we're very different people after 40. But growing older doesn't...

Training intensity is defined  as "an individual's level of effort, compared with their maximal effort" (National Academy of Sports Medicine) Training goals and an individual's current fitness level are the starting points for determining intensity in a workout.

Acute variables of training can be used to modify intensity and mix up the workout. In a resistance workout, the following elements that can be adjusted to change intensity:
-repetitions (how many complete movements of an exercise)
-sets (group of consecutive repetitions)
-tempo (speed of movement)
-volume (how much weight/resistance)
-rest period (down time in between sets)
-frequency (how often)
-duration (how long)
-exercise selection

Other approaches include interval training, circuit training and metabolic training to increase intensity.  These approaches increase heart rate to a higher level (80-85%) for short periods of time and work multiple muscle groups.  So there are a number of options available for increasing intensity in a workout.

Depending on the type of workout you are performing, there are a number of ways to increase the intensity.  Let’s say your workout involves resistance training.  One way to increase the intensity is to reduce the time between sets.  Suppose you are doing sets of 8-10 repetitions with a rest period of 60 seconds between sets.  Reduce the rest to 30-45 seconds.  Performing supersets is another method.  A superset is performed doing one exercise followed by performing an exercise on the opposing muscle group of the first exercise.  Take the bench press for example.  Perform one set of bench presses followed performing a set of bent over rows for the upper back.  For increasing the intensity of a cardio workout, interval training is the way to go.  For example, instead of training at a steady rate say 65-75% Heart Rate (Zone 1), periodically bump up the heart rate to 80-85% (Zone 2) and hold it there for a period of time followed by a return to zone 1.  The length of time you hold zone 2 will depend on your current fitness level.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

Interval exercises will help to increase your intensity. Try doing jumping jacks for 30 seconds with all of your energy. Then rest for 30 seconds, and repeat. The "stop-and-go" intervals will quickly help you break a sweat and burn off fat quickly.


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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.