Exercising at a target intensity, whether low, medium or high intensity, can help you get the most out of your workout. There are two methods of measuring your workout intensity: measuring your heart rate or judging how you feel, although measuring your heart rate is more accurate. Calculate your maximum heart rate, choose an intensity level, and measure your pulse to see if you’re in your target heart rate zone.
Subtract your age from the number 220 to get your maximum heart rate. If you are 25, for example, your max heart rate is 195. This represents the maximum number of times your heart can beat per minute safely during exercise. Your target heart rate is based on exercise intensity. Moderate intensity is defined as 50 percent to 70 percent of your max heart rate, and high intensity is 70 to 85 percent of your max heart rate. Anything below 50 percent of your max heart rate is considered low intensity.
Choose the intensity at which you’d like to work out. Using the previous example of a 25-year-old, if you’d like to remain on the lower end of the moderate scale, multiply your max heart rate (195) by 0.50, which gives you a target heart rate of 97 beats per minute. This is a good target if you’re a beginner. If you’d like to maintain the upper end of moderate intensity, multiply your max heart rate by 0.70. Advanced individuals may choose the high-intensity range.
Pay attention to how you feel during exertion to estimate your exercise intensity. Perceived exertion — how hard you believe you are exercising — correlates well with heart rate, according to the Mayo Clinic. Or use the “talk test”: At low intensity, you can hold a conversation without gasping for breath. When you exercise at moderate intensity, you can converse but are unable to sing. At high intensity, you can typically only speak a couple of words at a time.