How does intensity affect your workouts? How true is the ‘go hard or home’ mantra. We take a look at the importance of understanding both high and low intensity workouts.

Exercising at both low and high intensities doesn’t make you soft; it makes you smart.

“Different intensities are a must when it comes to getting results with your training,” says personal trainer Kim Beach.

“If you stay at the same intensity all the time with no variety, your body will get used to this type of training and your fitness will not improve. Getting results and improving your fitness level comes from stepping out of your comfort zone.”

You might think, ‘Hey, if I can survive 20 minutes of HIIT, I can survive an endurance run.’ But different training styles beget different results and you might find your low-intensity training session isn’t, ironically, a walk in the park.

“Intensity is only one small piece of the training puzzle and other variables such as weekly frequency, modality and amount of training must be considered and programmed correctly for optimal results,” says Lim. “If your goal is to run a marathon, you will need to incorporate lots of low- to- moderate-intensity training sustained over a longer duration in order to stimulate specific adaptations, but for broad goals such as weight loss, strength and fitness, it is nearly always best to employ various levels of intensity.”

For other specific, health-related goals, there are some proven benefits when it comes to choosing intensity. For instance, in isolation, the science says that vigorous high-intensity exercise increases aerobic fitness more effectively than moderate-intensity exercise, Yujin Lim, exercise physiologist from Optimal Health Exercise Physiology in Melbourne says.

However, humans and their workouts aren’t on paper and there are other factors that can turn flog-fests into false economy.

“Exercise between hard training sessions will allow your body to remain active while recovering,” says Lim. “Low-intensity, low-impact exercise with minimal spinal loading is best – such as light swimming or yoga.
“This kind of training is less demanding on your muscles, joints and nervous system, allowing your body to rest and recover from fatigue and soreness.”

NEXT >> The benefits of strength training – the key to building lean muscle.