September 4, 2015

The routine: three 40-minute cardio workouts a week consisting of 20 minutes on the elliptical and 20 minutes on the recumbent bike, two 30-minute weight-lifting sessions (same order: squats, lunges, bicep curls, triceps extensions, overhead press, calf raises, and abs), and, some weeks, a pilates or yoga class.

This description may be a gross exaggeration, but there’s probably a little truth in it somewhere. With our full schedules and hectic days, it can be easier to follow the same path through the gym several days or weeks in a row. While this pattern can preserve some physical and mental energy in the short run, it can be a detriment to any progress in the long run. Doing the same workouts every week will bore your body and nothing will change. Upping the intensity will make every workout worth completing. Pushing it hard every few workouts will keep your muscles challenged and changes will happen.

Several methods can help determine the intensity of a workout: heart rate, rate of perceived exertion, and the talk test. While it is good to track your heart rate, the sensors on the cardio machines are often inaccurate and it really is not necessary to spend money on a heart rate monitor. Rate of perceived exertion is, let’s face it, hard to remember and a little nonsensical since we tend to overestimate our efforts. And we won’t discuss the looks you might receive from the runner next to you when you test how well you can speak.

It’s easy to know if you are having an intense workout: it’s hard during and you’re tired after. You might be sore the next day. Having at least one or two workouts like this a week will help you reach your fitness goals. Not just faster, but at all.

Not every workout needs to be high intensity. Sometimes getting in any kind of workout is a victory, in which case you should congratulate yourself for getting there. And sometimes it’s really important to have a rest day to either take the day off or do an easy cardio session. But when you need to make every minute count, here are some suggestions for increasing the intensity:

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Up the intensity and enjoy!

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