Despite the benefits of high intensity exercise, it may decrease exercise adherence, but why?

Whether you are a competitive athlete training to increase performance, someone looking to lose weight and improve body composition, or someone just trying to improve vitality and longevity, physical activity has been shown to help achieve these goals.


In this post I am going to share some general exercise guidelines regarding time and intensity, show you a simple field test to help you understand training intensity, and share some research on how training at a high intensity could be hurting your adherence to your exercise program. If you can understand these concepts, it will help you select the proper exercise program and help you regulate your intensity to trouble shoot some problems you may encounter down the road.

How Much Exercise and What Type

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services:

Recommendations for Basic Fitness Recommendations for Advanced Fitness
Exercise recommendations for substantial health benefits For additional and more extensive health and performance benefits
150 minutes a week of moderate intensity training 300 minutes a week of moderate intensity training
Or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity Or 150 minutes a week of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity
Or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Aerobic activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes, and preferably, it should be spread throughout the week. Or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities that are moderate or high intensity and involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.

This boils down to 30-60 minutes a day of moderate exercise, OR 10-30 minutes a day of vigorous (high intensity) exercise and resistance training.

 However, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services:

  • approximately 40% of adults in the United States report no regular physical activity
  • 49.2% Percent of adults 18 years of age and over who met the Physical Activity Guidelines for aerobic physical activity
  • 20.8% Percent of adults 18 years of age and over who met the Physical Activity Guidelines for both aerobic physical and muscle-strengthening activity

The Benefits of High Intensity

What recently seems to be growing more popular is the idea of incorporating shorter, more vigorous workouts that are  capable of producing the same, if not better, results.

In my years of experience in the performance world and now part of the fitness industry, individuals who begin an exercise program tend to have high expectations.  If these are not met within a short period of time, it can lead to disappointment and dropout.

High-intensity proponents have attempted to show that exercising VIGOROUSLY can increase the amount of calories burned both during and after exercise and lead to faster weight loss, muscle building, improvements in body composition, and the accrual of health and fitness benefits in less time.


The Drawbacks of High Intensity 

According to the research, exercise intensity that exceeds the point of transition from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism is accompanied by a steep decline in affective valence. In other words, it made the idea of exposure to this sensation less attractive in the future.

A steep decline in mood and an increasing urgency to cease activity was an accurate predictor of each individual’s threshold points.

In laboratory testing this effect consistently coincided with data that lactate and ventilatory thresholds had been reached. Reaching and exceeding the threshold point of metabolism known as lactate threshold has been shown to decrease pleasure during exercise. Typically the sensations of burning muscles, shortness of breath, sweating, the urge to stop activity  immediately, metallic taste in your mouth, etc.

Not surprising that as exercise got more difficult people wanted to stop, but why is this relevant to you?

According to Ekkekakis et al, this marker may be useful in aiding exercisers, trainers, and coaches to recognize the transition to anaerobic metabolism and, thus, more effectively self-monitor and self-regulate the intensity of their efforts all while balancing out the training process in hopes of improving adherence and showing improvements.


Examples of each type of workout

Steady state training (aerobic)

5 rounds @ performed at a sustainable pace
400m row
100m overhead plate carry
15 cal dyne
20 alternating battle rope slams
30sec bent hollow holds

Resistance training + High Intensity Interval Anaerobic training

A1. goblet squat @3010; 3×8-10; 30s rest
A2. ring row @3010; 3×6-8; 30s rest
B1. Russian step ups 3×6-8/leg; 30s rest
B2. pushups 3×3-5; 30s rest
6-8 sets @ hard effort
50m heavy sled push
2min passive rest or rest walk

What you Should Take Away from this Information

If you begin an exercise program that is consistently worsening your mood and increasing the likelihood you will avoid it, then it is VERY likely at some point you will.

In my experience, the best training program, no matter what your goals may be, is one that you can dowill do, and consistently choose to do!

Developing a systematic, multi-year plan may allow you to stick to the program long enough and stay injury free so that you can get to your desired fitness levels.

Coaches and trainers should continue to educate themselves and explore each individual’s goals and limitations. Identify each person’s threshold and respect that intensity is a relative term when it comes to exercise. There should be systems in place to scale and modify exercise when needed. Coaches should understand anaerobic metabolism and modes of training and differentiate them from aerobic training. It is their job to be a facilitator to help clients find the ideal combinations for their goals and lifestyles.

If clients are educated on the effects and the purpose of different modes of exercise, they have a better chance of adhering to a fitness program in order to achieve their goals.



Ekkekakis P1, Hall EE, Petruzzello SJ. Practical markers of the transition from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism during exercise: rationale and a case for affect-based exercise prescription. Prev Med. 2004 Feb;38(2):149-59.
Ekkekakis P1, Parfitt G, Petruzzello SJ. The pleasure and displeasure people feel when they exercise at different intensities: decennial update and progress towards a tripartite rationale for exercise intensity prescription.  Sports Med. 2011 Aug 1;41(8):641-71. doi: 10.2165/11590680-000000000-00000.
Ekkekakis P1, Hall EE, Petruzzello SJ. The relationship between exercise intensity and affective responses demystified: to crack the 40-year-old nut, replace the 40-year-old nutcracker! Ann Behav Med. 2008 Apr;35(2):136-49. doi: 10.1007/s12160-008-9025-z. Epub 2008 Mar 28.






Posted on July 19, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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