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Working Out Too Hard….Or Too Easy? Finding the balance

From Austin Neis, Exercise Specialist, and Patrick Stovey, Clinical Exercise Physiologist, in the cardiac rehabilitation department at Crossing Rivers Health

Are you a current exerciser? If so, how do you know if you are working out at an appropriate intensity? Exercising at the correct intensity can help you get the most out of your physical activity - making sure you’re not pushing too hard or too little.

Your exercise intensity should generally be at a moderate, and at times, a vigorous level for maximum benefit. For weight loss, the more vigorous and longer your workout, the more calories you burn.

However, balance is the key. Overdoing your workout (working too hard for too long) can lead to soreness, injury and burnout.


Measure exercise intensity

There are two basic ways to measure your exercise intensity:

  1. Determining how you feel
  2. Measuring your heart rate

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) has shown to correlate with your heart rate. If you think you are working hard during your work out, your heart rate is probably elevated as well. Heart rate monitoring is another way to determine if you are working at an appropriate intensity.

Moderate intensity

Moderate intensity exercise is where most individuals should be. Indications that you are working out at a moderate intensity include:

  • Breathing faster, but not being out of breath
  • Developing a light sweat after about 10 minutes
  • The ability to carry on a conversation, but not able to sing

Vigorous activity

Vigorous activity feels challenging and should only be performed in short bouts. Characteristics of vigorous exercise include:

  • Deep/rapid breathing
  • Developing a sweat after only a few minutes of activity
  • Being able to say a few words without pausing for breath

Individuals should be cautious about pushing too hard. You should stop exercise and consult with your physician if:

  • You become lightheaded
  • Are more short of breath than normal
  • Develop tightness, pressure or discomfort in your chest, back, neck or arms

Calculating heart rate from Crossing Rivers Health Cardiac Rehab

Calculating heart rate

A person who is not on any cardiovascular medication and does not have a history of cardiovascular disease and would like to use their heart rate as a measure of exercise intensity can use the following guidelines:

Max heart rate

Use the calculation: 220 – your age.

For example, if you're 45 years old, subtract 45 from 220 to get a maximum heart rate of 175 bpm. This is the maximum number of times your heart should beat per minute during exercise.

For moderate-intensity exercise

175 bpm (maximum heart rate) x .60 (60% of maximum heart rate) = 105 bpm

This should be the target heart rate for a 45-year-old who wants to work at a moderate intensity.

For vigorous intensity exercise:

Use the calculation: 175 bpm (Maximum Heart Rate) x .80 (80% of maximum heart rate) = 140 bpm

  • This should be the target heart rate for a 45-year-old who wants to work at a vigorous intensity.

You'll get the most from your workouts if you're exercising at the proper exercise intensity for your health and fitness goals. If you're not feeling any exertion or your heart rate is too low, pick up the pace. If you're worried that you're pushing yourself too hard or your heart rate is too high, back off a bit.

If you have diabetes, have more than one risk factor for heart disease, or are a man over age 45 or a woman over age 55, talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program.