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What is High Intensity Exercise?

Work Harder, Burn More Calories


Updated June 13, 2014

Froggy jumps for cardio
Paige Waehner
When it comes to cardio exercise, one of the most important elements is the intensity of your workout. While most guidelines recommend moderate intensity exercise most days of the week, working at a high intensity can help you burn more calories and save time with shorter workouts.

So, how do you know if you're working at a high or vigorous intensity level? There's no precise definition, but there are ways to monitor how hard you're working:

Examples of High Intensity Activities

Some activities are naturally more intense than others, especially exercises that involve impact, such as:

How Often to do High Intensity Exercise

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines suggest doing 5 days of moderate intensity exercise each week or vigorous/high intensity exercise for about 20 minutes, 3 days a week, but how much you do is based on your fitness level and goals. It's good to work at a variety of intensity levels to tap into different energy systems and work your body in different ways. Too much high intensity exercise could lead to burn out or overuse injuries, so you don't want to do this kind of exercise every day.

If you're a beginner, starting with interval training is a great way to get your body used to higher intensity exercise in short, manageable bites. There are ways to work hard while keeping things low impact if jumping isn't comfortable for you. Learn more about how to add intensity to your workouts and get the most out of your workout time.


US Department of Human Health and Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Accessed Jan 5, 2010.

Jakicic JM, Clark K, Coleman E, et al. American College of Sports Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Appropriate intervention strategies for weight loss and prevention of weight regain for adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Dec;33(12):2145-56.

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