Exercise for Beginners: Intensity vs. Consistency?

I am often asked what is more important for a successful exercise program: intensity or consistency?  First let’s get clear on the definition of each term.  Consistency means the frequency of participation (how often you are doing your program).  Intensity refers to the percentage of work you are doing relative to your maximal effort (if you can squat 200 pounds, a 100 pound squat would be at 50% intensity, if you can run 20 mph, 10 mph would be 50% intensity).

The short answer is consistency; the whole answer is that eventually doing the same modality of exercise consistently at the same intensity will fail to yield further results in 3-4 weeks if the intensity is not modified.  The reality of the situation is that if you are doing nothing, something will be better.  I encourage anyone who has not exercised consistently in a year or more to start out with an activity that is easy enough on the body that you can do it 4 times a week without overexerting yourself.  For some this may be a 20 minute walk 4 times per week for others it may be shooting hoops in the back yard.  It does not matter; just move your body consistently.

Once you have established the discipline to stick with a program for a month it is time to increase the intensity.  You can increase the intensity any way you like, by going faster or further, but not both.  If you did not include any resistance training in your initial 4 week program, now is the time.  Again start slow, maybe 2-3 days per week (in addition to your chosen 4 days of cardiovascular activity) of bodyweight exercises (squats, lunges, push ups, etc…)   The resistance training will increase your lean muscle mass which utilizes fat as a fuel source throughout the day.

Though this is only the tip of the iceberg that is exercise prescription, and very general advice, it is a place to start your journey to a healthier you! 

Best of luck and train intelligently!

TJ Pierce
BS Exercise Science

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