How to Increase the Intensity of Any Exercise

Three Parts:Increasing the Intensity of Specific ExercisesMaking Your Workouts HarderIncreasing Your Intensity Safely

Participating in regular physical activity is great for your health. There are many wonderful benefits to exercise including weight maintenance, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, reduced risk of high blood pressure, reduced risk of diabetes and improved mood balance.[1] Although only 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity is needed weekly, many studies show that increased time and intensity produces even greater benefits.[2]

Part 1
Increasing the Intensity of Specific Exercises

  1. Image titled Increase the Intensity of Any Exercise Step 1
    Increase the intensity of your walks. Walking on a regular basis is a great low-impact exercise. It comes with many of the same benefits as jogging or running but without the hit to your knees and hips.[3] Leisurely walking is great, but increase the intensity of your walks by:
    • Carry a 10–15 pound backpack while you walk. The extra weight makes your body work harder and increases the intensity of your walk.[4] Avoid ankle or wrist weights, as these can lead to injury — remember that by weighting the end of a long lever (your wrist or ankle) you are putting a great load on the pivot (the shoulder, elbow, hip or knee joints). If you wish to use them, only wear them for the first five minutes of your walk, then put them in a backpack.
    • Increasing the incline on your treadmill during your walk. Or, if you walk outside, find a route that has a significant amount of hills.[5] The hills will work your legs much harder than walking on a flat surface.
    • Walking on the sand if you live near a beach. It's difficult to push off in the sand and makes your feet and legs work significantly harder while you're walking.[6]
    • Racewalking. This is a type of very fast paced walking (about 6 to 8 mph or 9.6 to 12.9 km/h). You're working out on a level close to jogging or running.[7]
  2. Image titled Increase the Intensity of Any Exercise Step 2
    Do higher-intensity runs. Increasing the intensity of your regular runs or jogs can help you increase your overall speed and endurance.[8] Try the following to increase the intensity of your runs:
    • Run hills or stairs. Find a new, hilly route or increase the incline on the treadmill; however, an even better way to increase intensity is by running stairs. Find a stadium with bleachers or a park with stairs.[9]
    • Include intervals of sprints and moderate-paced runs. Alternating your pace back and forth increases your heart rate significantly and can also help increase speed long-term.[10]
    • Increase the distance of your run by 1/4 of a mile each week. The longer you go the better trained your cardiovascular system will be.[11]
    • If you only run three times a week, try incorporating another day or two of running. This will help give your body extra conditioning.[12]
  3. Image titled Increase the Intensity of Any Exercise Step 3
    Make swimming more difficult. Getting in the pool for exercise is a great way to be active. It's low-impact and high resistance.[13] You can up the intensity of your swim by:
    • Doing interval training. It's recommended to increase your speed every 50–100 meters until you reach your max effort. This can help increase your speed and performance.[14]
    • Also try timed sets. Complete a certain amount of laps or strokes in a shorter period of time to force yourself to go faster.
  4. Image titled Increase the Intensity of Any Exercise Step 4
    Increase the intensity of your cycling. Cycling is a great aerobic exercise. Plus, there are a lot of things you can do to increase the intensity. Try:
    • Taking a spin class. These classes are naturally high in intensity and cause you to work very hard.
    • Build your own intervals by cycling on hilly terrain, alternating between high and low speeds or using an indoor bike and increasing the resistance.
    • If you train outside, use slightly deflated tires which will make the bike slower and force you to work harder.[15]
    • Avoid cycling in the city where there is traffic, lights and stop signs. Train in an area where you can go at high speeds for long distances without having to stop.
  5. Image titled Increase the Intensity of Any Exercise Step 5
    Make weight lifting more difficult. Unlike aerobic exercises, weightlifting activities are used to build more muscle and strength; however, there are plenty of ways you can increase the intensity of these types of exercises as well. Try:
    • Alternate between upper and lower body parts between each set, or pause to do some jumping jacks.
    • An easy way to increase the intensity of a weightlifting routine is by doing more sets or adding more reps per set.[16]
    • Another way to increase the intensity of your exercises is by taking longer when you're lowering a weight (for example, when you're lowering your arms back to the starting position after a bicep curl). This helps draw out the exercise and how long your muscles are working.[17]

Part 2
Making Your Workouts Harder

  1. Image titled Increase the Intensity of Any Exercise Step 6
    Swap in one or two HIIT workouts. If you're interested in just choosing a higher intensity workout or incorporating more high-intensity exercises to your workout routine, consider doing one or two HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts a week.
    • HIIT is a specific type of training that focuses on working you up to very high intensities.[18]
    • Typical HIIT workouts are short in length and alternate between short bursts of very, very high-intensity exercises with short "rest" periods of moderate-intensity exercises.[19]
    • HIIT workouts burn more calories from fat and push your body into the anaerobic zone which helps you improve speed and endurance.[20]
    • HIIT workouts can be done with any exercise — running, cycling or swimming. For example, alternate between one minute full sprint with three minutes of a moderate jog. Repeat this cycle a few times or until you cannot continue.
  2. Image titled Increase the Intensity of Any Exercise Step 7
    Do cardio and strength training at the same time. Both cardio and strength training routines are made more difficult when you combine them. Both have unique training benefits and, when paired together, can increase the intensity of your workouts.
    • Cardio intensity can be boosted by adding exercises like lunges, push-ups or squats. And strength training routines can be made more difficult by adding in jumping jacks or knee raises in between sets.
    • Combining these two types of exercises helps increase metabolism and keeps your heart rate elevated during exercise and after the exercise has been completed.[21]
    • This can result in increased calorie burn and helps build more muscle mass.[22]
  3. Image titled Increase the Intensity of Any Exercise Step 8
    Add in explosive moves. A way to increase the intensity of both weightlifting and cardio routines is to include some explosive movements and work until "muscle failure."
    • Explosive movements are those like box jumps or Olympic lifts. These moves engage more of your muscle fibers, which can increase strength and endurance.[23]
    • Only add more explosive moves to one to two days of your workout routine. This helps prevent injury.
    • Work to "muscle failure." When you feel like you can't do another repetition or run a step further, force yourself to go a little further or do another rep at a lower intensity. This helps increase how hard your muscles work.[24]

Part 3
Increasing Your Intensity Safely

  1. Image titled Increase the Intensity of Any Exercise Step 9
    Talk to your doctor. Before starting any new workout or increasing the intensity or difficulty of your exercise routine, make sure you consult your doctor.
    • Your doctor will be able to tell you whether increasing intensity or difficulty is safe and appropriate for you.
    • Some higher-intensity exercises may not be appropriate for everyone at every fitness level. Discuss this with your physician.
    • It is normal to experience some discomfort or shortness of breath when increasing the intensity of your workout, but it's important you listen to your body and always keep your exercise intensity within a safe zone. Overdoing any activity can be harmful, and you need to be realistic and aware of your own limits.
  2. Image titled Increase the Intensity of Any Exercise Step 10
    Make up an exercise calendar. When you're trying to increase the intensity of your workout, there's most likely a goal behind this desire. You might want to run faster, lift more weight or cycle for a longer time. Make an exercise calendar to help you. Use a physical calendar you can write on or your smartphone or an app to help.
    • It's important to go slowly when first increasing the intensity and difficulty of your exercise. You can cause injury quickly if you do not proceed slowly and with caution.
    • Lay out a calendar for your exercise routine. Note what you're doing each week and how you're increasing the intensity by small increments each week.
    • Also note if you have an event, race or competition coming up. If you want to increase your pace over the course of six months before your next 10K race, it's important to plan your weekly workouts and how you're going to gradually increase the intensity.
  3. Image titled Increase the Intensity of Any Exercise Step 11
    Measure your heart rate and Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). When you're trying to increase the intensity of your workouts, you should get familiar with tracking your heart rate and perceived exertion so you can monitor your intensity during any workout.
    • RPE is a scale that allows you to assess your level of exertion while exercising — by paying attention to how you feel, you can make sure your workout is safe but challenging. The scale is as follows:[25]
      • 1: Very light exertion — Hardly any activity, but not sleeping
      • 2 – 3: Light activity — Easy to maintain your pace and you can breathe normally. You can easily carry on a conversation.
      • 4 – 6: Moderate activity — Noticeably more challenging. Breathing heavily, can only hold a short conversation.
      • 7 – 8: Vigorous activity — You can only speak about one sentence. Shortness of breath, and on the verge of uncomfortable.
      • 9: Very hard activity — Very challenging and difficult to keep up this intensity. Hard to breathe and you can only speak a word or two.
      • 10: Maximum effort activity — Feels almost impossible; you can only do the activity for a few seconds at this intensity and you cannot even get a word out.
    • Track your RPE during one of your typical workouts. For example, you estimate your morning jogs to be at a five or six. Aim to increase your exertion by one or two points — jog at a seven or eight on the scale.
    • You can also track your heart rate. Your target heart rate is based on your age and encompasses a range of heart rates that are safe and will give you the best results. You can find charts or calculators online to give you an idea of what your target heart rate should be during exercise.
    • Working on the upper end of your target heart rate range means you're working out at a moderate- to high-intensity.
  4. Image titled Increase the Intensity of Any Exercise Step 12
    Be familiar with symptoms of going too fast. Although increased intensity of physical activity is associated with many benefits, doing too much or going too hard can be dangerous.[26]
    • Some studies showed that continued high-intensity exercise may lead to more heart problems long-term.[27] It's beneficial to do high intensity exercises, but alternate them with low or moderate intensity activities as well.
    • If you notice any acute pain in your joints, muscles or chest after doing high intensity exercise, discontinue immediately.
    • If you're feeling sore or have muscle fatigue, make sure to take a day of rest before starting another workout.


  • It's best to do a combination of both moderate and high intensity physical activity. This gives you the most well-rounded exercise routine.

Sources and Citations

Show more... (24)

Article Info

Categories: Cardio Exercises