Learn How to Exercise at the Right Level of Intensity

Learn How to Exercise at the Right Level of Intensity


One of the most significant factors in achieving maximum fat loss is learning how to exercise at the right intensity level. Most of us who belong to a gym are familiar with those who sweat and strenuously exercise until their veins look like they are about to pop. This intensity level may be dangerous. One client told me a story of a terribly overweight man who seemed to live at the gym. “No matter which morning I went in for my workout, there he was, straining to lift massive amounts of weight on every machine he used, apparently for a couple of hours each day. One day he just disappeared and I never saw him again. When I asked one of the trainers what had happened to him, he told me that the man had given himself a hernia. I felt sorry for him because he was trying so hard. But I could have predicted what happened because he didn’t know how to work at a level of intensity that he could handle.” With any type of exercise, it is the quality of effort that counts rather than the quantity. Everyone has heard the expression “give it 100 percent.” But the truth is that you can only give 100 percent for a very short period of time without becoming totally exhausted and compromising the effectiveness of your workout. The strongest effort that you can maintain consistently is closer to 80 percent of your maximum.


The 3 Week Diet

Our goal in this exercise program is not maximum effort but doing each type of exercise at a level of intensity, based on your gender, which will guarantee the greatest amount of fat loss and increased metabolic efficiency in the shortest amount of time. Because somewhat different hormonal responses occur during fat storage and fat metabolism in each gender, men and women tend to respond best to different exercise intensities. According to a study published by the IDEA Health and Fitness Source, women lose more fat by exercising at low to moderate levels of intensity while men seem to lose more fat by exercising at moderate to high levels of intensity. The reason is that women sustain a lower respiratory exchange rate (RER) than men during exercise at lower intensities. RER is the numeric index that indicates the amount of carbohydrates and fat used during exercise based on the ratio between the amount of carbon dioxide you produce in relationship to the amount of oxygen you consume. The lower the RER, the more fat being burned as fuel.


A recent article in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise supports this finding further by reporting that women have a lower RER than men during prolonged exercise in a fasted state—in other words, before meals. While both genders will get the most out of their exercise if they do it on an empty stomach, this is especially so for women. If a woman eats some kind of carbohydrate, such as a power bar or a protein drink, before exercising, she will tend to use that as fuel. On an empty stomach, she will use greater amounts of internal fat and stored carbohydrates as a metabolic fuel source. This study also showed that women who are still menstruating are at their fat-burning height in the week following their cycle.

The Rate of Perceived Exertion:
Instinctive Intensity Training

The simplest and most effective way to monitor your intensity level so that you get the most out of your workout is by using my Instinctive Intensity Training (IIT) Scale based on the rate of perceived exertion. Once you have checked with your doctor to make sure that there are no restrictions on your ability to exercise, go to your gym, warm up carefully, then see what you would consider to be your maximum effort. If you are overfat and are at risk (see the PAR-Q Questionnaire in chapter 13), you may choose to perform this maximum effort test as part of a pulmonary stress test in the presence of your physician or a cardiologist. Your insurance may pay for this test with the appropriate diagnosis and CPT code. Once you’ve identified what your maximum effort feels like, use the following scale to find the appropriate IIT zone for your workout:


IIT Level                                                         Percentage of Maximum Effort                                     Perception
4                                                                                             40                                                                           Warm-up 
6                                                                                             60                                                                           Mild 
7                                                                                             70                                                                          Moderate 
8                                                                                             80                                                                           Strong 
9                                                                                             90                                                                           Very strong 
10                                                                                         100                                                                          Maximum 

The concept behind the IIT scale is that no one can tell you exactly how many pounds you need to use or how vigorously you need to exercise. How you perceive whether an exercise is low, moderate, or high intensity is a subjective experience based on your general level of fitness. A level of effort that seems easy for one person might present a challenge to another person, especially if he or she is deconditioned, is overweight, or hasn’t exercised for a while.

To find your appropriate IIT level, you must learn to listen to your body. That means paying attention to a broad spectrum of physical sensations, including fatigue levels, muscle or leg pain, physical stress, and shortness of breath. For each type of exercise I am asking you to do, you need to estimate how hard you need to work to achieve the desired level of intensity.


Research has shown that your perception of the amount of effort you feel you are putting into an activity is likely to agree with the actual physical measurements of that effort—that is, if you feel you are exercising moderately, measurements of things such as how fast your heart is beating would probably confirm that you are exercising at a moderate level. For example, during moderate activity you can sense that you are challenging yourself but are not yet near your limit.

The cardiovascular and interval training exercises in my program are designed to be performed at a gender-specific intensity level that will enable you to achieve your metabolic and fat-burning goals.