In January of last year, a study by the British Medical Journal compared more intense exercise versus longer bouts of exercise. Research demonstrated that a power walk offers more heart health benefits than a longer, slower walk. Participants in the study that walked or jogged faster had a lower risk of developing heart disease. The take home message then, is train harder.
So how can you increase your exercise intensity?
When performing cardio, the first and easiest answer is to increase speed. However, due to conditioning, injuries, or another pre-existing conditions, this may not be possible; at least not yet. One option is to hold a pair of dumbbells while you use a treadmill or stepper. This will engage the core, forearm, and shoulder muscles much more. On a treadmill, try walking backwards, sideways (shuffling) or on your toes. Doing so will challenge your body because it takes increased energy expenditure to move in different directions than you are used to.
Cardio outside? Add in high knees, butt kicks, skips or bounds to challenge your muscles and increase your heart rate. If your gym has a rowing machine, use it. Rowing engages the upper body more than traditional cardio methods, increasing calories burned.
You can increase your intensity during weight training as well to increase the amount of calories and fat your body burns. First, keep your rest time short between sets. Try to rest only 30-45 seconds between sets. This will keep your heart rate elevated throughout the workout.
Supersets are a phenomenal strategy to use. A superset is a pairing of two exercises for different body parts. You perform a set of the first exercise, then immediately perform a set of the second. The first body part trained gets to rest during the second exercise. You would complete all sets of a superset without rest, or at least very little. Great pairs are chest/back, biceps/triceps, or a lower body exercise with one for the upper body.
Finally, try lifting heavier weights. Those sets of 15 reps won’t burn many calories or get you toned (see The “toning” myth). Use a weight that causes you to fail between six and eight reps. This will increase the amount of muscle used, which then keeps your metabolism elevated for a longer period of time after your workout.