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What is Exercise Intensity

Exercise intensity refers to the difficulty of the exercise being performed. For example, spin classes are typically very high intensity exercise classes because you are working very hard. However, any type of exercise can be done at a high intensity, from swimming to jump rope to weight lifting. The key to ramping up you exercise intensity is to either up the work load by increasing weight/resistance, or by shortening your rest periods. When training for fat loss, a combination of both is a great way to go! HIIT, or high intensity interval training, is a great way to get an excellent sweat in while keeping your workouts short.

Side note: High intensity does not necessarily mean high impact. You can do low impact exercises, like swimming, at a very high intensity!

What is Exercise Duration

Exercise duration refers to the length of your workouts. Many people believe that you need to spend 2 hours per day 6 days per week in the gym to see results. This just isn’t true if you are increasing your exercise


Let’s use an example. Say you go into the gym and walk on the treadmill at 2% incline for 45 minutes 5 days per week. Instead, try walking on the treadmill at 8% incline for 1 minute, followed by walking on the treadmill at 2% incline for 1 minute. Alternate between these two for 20-30 minutes 4-5 times per week. This means that instead of spending 3.75 hours in the gym every week, you would spend 1-2.5 hours in the gym per week while actually maximizing your fat burn.

The Afterburn Effect (EPOC)

So why exactly can you spend less time in the gym and get better results when trying to lose fat? It is called the afterburn effect, or EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). When you run on the treadmill for 30 minutes at a steady pace, one you get off the treadmill you are done burning calories. However, if you increase your exercise intensity by using intervals, then you can continue to burn calories for 10-72 hours after you have finished exercising. What actually happens is that your body has to work a lot harder to replenish all of the oxygen and body functions that you cranked up during your kick butt session. So go for the gold and get more done in less time!

Fat Loss

How do you lose fat? What does exercise intensity and duration have to do with it?

You lose fat by creating a situation where you are burning more energy than you take in. Burning the energy in the most efficient way comes from upping your exercise INTENSITY. Being aware of how much energy you are putting into your body also matters, but that is a topic for another day.

Have you ever been on a cardio machine? If so, you notice that when you are exercising at a low intensity, say walking on no incline, you burn maybe 200 calories/hour. Then, when you increase speed and incline, which is increasing intensity, the calories burned per hour goes up. This means that instead of burning 200 calories/hour, you could be burning 200 calories in 20 minutes. I don’t know about you, but I would rather work harder for 20 minutes and get it done!

Prioritizing Intensity Over Duration

Let’s do a quick recap. By prioritizing exercise intensity over exercise duration when training for fat loss, you are essentially getting more done in less time. You are being more efficient in your fat burning and the rest of your day! Spending less time, though more intense time, exercising will also set you up for fat loss success because it is easier to make the time to exercise for 20 minutes 5 days/week than it is to make time to exercise for 60 minutes 5-6 days/week. This means you will stick with it!

Now, what are some great ways to prioritize intensity over duration? Many times we fall into the lower intensity, longer sessions because that is all we know how to do. Here are some great ways to up the intensity, lower the duration, and burn some serious fat!


If you are a gym goer that loves to use the machines like the elliptical, rower, stepper, treadmill, or bike, then this is for you. Instead of setting the machine on low resistance and slogging away for 45-60 minutes, utilize intervals which will also make it more fun! Set the resistance and speed low for 1 minute, then set the resistance and speed higher for 1 minute. Now, there should be an appreciable difference in the resistance and speed. Increase resistance or level by at least 5 and increase speed so that its challenging! Do this for 15-30 minutes.


Maybe you like to workout outside or you like to utilize your bodyweight at home. Perform a circuit that consists of 8-10 difference exercises. Perform 30-60 seconds of each exercise back to back to make one round. Rest 1 minute between rounds and perform 3-5 rounds! These exercises can be ones like jumping jacks, push-ups, pull-ups, sit ups, lunges, squats, jump squats, burpees, etc.


Usually, people perform 3 sets of 10-15 reps with 60-90 seconds of rest in between when they are lifting weights. This is a great protocol, but when you want to burn that fat efficiently, there is a more efficient way! Pick 5-8 exercises per workout. Perform 4 sets of 30 seconds work, 30 seconds rest per exercise. Say you are doing bench press. Pick a weight that you can do 12-15 reps with. Then perform 30 seconds of bench press, rest 30 seconds, and repeat for 4 rounds. Do this for 5-8 exercises per workout.

Wrapping It Up

In this article, we broke down why you should prioritize exercise intensity over exercise duration when training for fat loss. We also looked at several different ways that this can be done through different types of exercise. Just remember the quality of the workout matters more than the quantity of the workout. Get in and get it done!