Finding the Right Intensity: Cardio


Cardio is a staple of any exercise program. Consistently exercising for 150-300 minutes of moderately intense or 75-150 minutes of vigorously intense exercise per week can greatly decrease your risk for a plethora of diseases and conditions, improve cognitive function, improve your endurance, and helps with weight management. So, how do you know if you are training at the right intensity level? I suggest using a combination of heart rate training and perceived exertion (effort level).

The Mayo Clinic recommends training at 50-70% of your maximum heart rate for moderate exercise and 70-85% of your maximum heart rate for vigorous exercise. To find an estimation of your maximum heart rate, use the equation 220 – age (i.e. 220 – 30 = 190). Then apply the percentages of the designated intensity level that you wish to pursue (i.e. 190 x 0.5 to 190 x 0.7 = 95 bpm to 133 bpm for moderately intense exercise).

Considering that the above equation is based just on age and not fitness level, I would test the results you get with an effort level scale. As shown in the table below, for moderate exercise use a range of 5-7/10 and for vigorous intense exercise use a range of 7-8.5/10. Slightly increase your heart rate range if the effort level is too easy or slightly decrease it if it feels too difficult.


Article by James Collins BA, ACSM CPT, RRCA Run Coach