Shape Magazine asked Attune Kinetics these questions and parts of these answers were featured in the September 2012 issue.
Is moderate or intense exercise better for you?
All intensities of exercise have their place. The intensity that is best for you to exercise at is dependent on your current fitness level, goals, time you have to train, injuries and previous exercise experience. It is extremely important to get the intensity right to ensure you are not over or under-doing your training in order to get the results you are after and also to avoid injury.
If you are just starting out it is advisable to work out with a heart rate monitor so that you can exercise according to specified heart rate zones. Notice how you feel when training at the right intensity and soon you will be able to judge without the heart rate monitor if you are in the right zone (MAYO Clinic, ACSM).
Please see the Heart Rate Guidelines below:
220-age=Maximum Heart Rate
- Light exercise intensity: 40 to 50 percent of your maximum heart rate
- Moderate exercise intensity: 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate
- Vigorous exercise intensity: 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate
A great way to see if you’re in the right zone when training without a heart rate monitor is the ‘Talk Test’. If you can talk while exercising then you are exercising at a moderate intensity, if not then you are training at high intensity (this method obviously only works well when training with at least one other person) (ACSM Fit Society Issue, 2008).
There has been a tendency to do more interval training where one alternates burst of high intensity exercise with lower intensity training. It is said that high intensity burst alternated with a low intensity allows you to burn more calories and improve your aerobic capacity and even your speed. These benefits would be dependent on the rest periods between the more intense intervals (Mayo Clinic).
Different intensity workouts tax different energy systems making it important to vary your workouts or tailor them to your goals. When doing long slow training you use more fat as fuel whereas shorter intense workouts use more carbohydrates. Remember when you are training at a low intensity though you are burning less total calories even though you are using fat as an energy source.
High intensity burns lots of calories quickly but is not safe for everyone. You need to have a good base level of fitness and be healthy enough to push yourself to the limit so that you don’t injury yourself and also so that you can train frequently during the week without burning out.
Low-moderate intensity sessions allow one to exercise more frequently. This is perfect for those clients that are just starting out and trying to get into a regular routine. Rather do less more often so that you enjoy it and get into the habit of training than doing 2 really intense sessions a week and nothing in-between. I sometimes encourage clients to get into the habit of coming home from work and doing 10-20min of cardio just to get them in the habit of exercising. It also makes you feel more energised (rather than completely draining you) and they tend to feel better and eat more healthily when in this routine. As they get fitter they can even keep the sessions the same length but do interval training to up the intensity. This way they feel they still have time to do everything else that needs to be done in life.
Elite Athelete’s Opinion
At a recent running workshop in Cape Town (June 2012) two Running World Champions explained how their exercise sessions revolve predominately around long slow sessions to build a good base level of aerobic fitness giving them a good foundation to compete in events that are 5000m up to ultra marathon distance. They do include speed sessions but strongly recommend that this aerobic base is firmly in place first.