High intensity vs low intensity -When and why

At the time of writing I am a firm believer in short and intense exercises but I always have that nagging thought “am I correct ” well I wish to share with you my findings. I hope you enjoy and find the following helpful as we look into high intensity vs low intensity, Fast vs slow, short vs long …?

What is high intensity exercise ?

High intensity exercises are those which will leave you gasping for breath and unable to speak full sentences after you have finished. Usually they include high energy workouts with short rest periods to ensure your body if expending a large amount to energy over a short amount of time.

Examples of high intensity exercises

Now where to start – High intensity exercises are those which “Will” leave you gasping for air .

If you can still stand I would suggest you have another round in you.

Below are a small selection of those I love

Stair SprintsChild on stairs

Running up and down stairs – Run up – jog down. If you every watched the series “LOST” many years ago then you would have seen this being completed at a football stadium. However, most people do not have access to a stadium. Most people do however have access to a flight of stairs at home or ideally in an outside space where this is a supreme routine.


If you have ever performed a  “Crossfit” workout then you will be aware of this true full body exercise . Wallballs are a  test of mind over matter. Grab a medicine ball, squat and throw the ball in the air, catch it and repeat. If you head over the “crossfit” site they explain the routine very well. LINK


The easiest and best used high intensity kettlebell routine is the simple kettlebell swing. Either single or double handed these will be super efficient. Choose you Kettlebell ( see Kettlebells for beginners if you are new) and you are off .

A simple routine of 10 swings every minute with the remainder of the minute to rest – complete this for a duration of 10 minutes and tell me you are not exhausted.

5K run

As opposed to the low intensity 10K or half-marathon runs the 5k is short and should ideally be run as fast as possible. If you are not able to run a 5K then break up the run into short fast segments. Remember keep the rest breaks as short as possible and build upon each session.


A great sport usually run for a period of 30 minutes to 1 hour and consists of cycling as fast as possible over obstacles . However You have to get off your bike and run for periods of the race. It is performed over a short course at maximum pace. Add mud to the mix and you have a true intense form of off-road cycling that is decades older than mountain biking.


Crossfit WOD (workout of the day)

We head back into the world of “crossfit” for the workout of the day. Head over to Crossfit.com for the daily routine or WOD and you will find a short intense routine which will test and vary day by day .

Tabata workouts

Tabata involves working out hard for 20 Seconds, resting for 10 seconds and repeat for 8 rounds. However you can complete it with any exercise you wish .

I would suggest burpees, body weight squats, push ups for a great all-round burn.

What is low intensity exercise?

Low intensity exercises are those which you can perform and generally still be able to hold a conversation. The main examples would be distance running, Trial running, Cycle touring, walking, Swimming, beginners Yoga.

These are great beginner work outs of those interested in working out for general fitness or those who wish to exercise for stress relief.

To get the maximum benefit you should work out for 30 minutes + and build each workout on the time period you are able to sustain this effort for.

Examples of low intensity exercises

Below are some excellent low intensity exercises – Please note low intensity exercises are completed for a longer duration and will still tax you body, therefore a before and after warm up routine is always advisable.

Distance running

A run at a pace that you can talk to your partner is preferable . Examples  10k, Half marathon or even a marathon runs if you have a few hours to spare.

As a beginner I would suggest starting a running program prior to jumping in to a long run. This will prepare your legs for the workout and reduce soreness.

Trail running

One of my favorite forms of running which keeps me from the boredom is running trails. I find slow road running is also prefered by my Dog . I tend to find this form of running better for my knees but worse for my ankles due to the potential of finding that hidden pothole.

trail running

Cycle touring

 A great way to get outside particularly if you wish to explore a new area .Faster than walking and not as sweaty as running.

Nothing better than a cycle out with the family or friends for a meal or drink in the sun.


A steady walk in the country or better off the bus a stop before you need too. I fit a 30-minute walk into my lunch break which helps to clear the head and de stress my day .

I would recommend it to anybody


I’ve recently returned to swimming while teaching my children to love water – it is probably the most underrated exercise for rehabilitation and low impact cardio

Beginners yoga

I was first introduced to yoga via the computer console the “Wii”. I spent many hours posing and refining the downward dog, twisted dragon poses. A love for them started – excellent ways to stretch and de-stress after a particularly relentless high intensity workout

yoga stretch


We are talking a steady row of a few thousand kilometers not the 500m strip for time. Remember the key to low intensity is that you need to be able to talk.

Rowing is and will probably always be my go too warm up exercise.


Both intensities have their place which is why we have investigate the main differences between high intensity vs low intensity. However if you are looking for maximum benefit in the shortest time look no further than high intensity routines .

I would suggest as you start your journey with high intensity exercises that you do not forget the benefits of low intensity .Low Intensity for those days when you feel sore or even when you need some time to relax and have a little longer time to enjoy exercising.

Feel free to leave your comments below on your experiences with high intensity vs low intensity exercises and remember progression is key.

Author Profile

Owner and author at shortandintense.com , 25 years as a quality and health and safety professional with an in-depth knowledge of functional and corrective exercises. IHoS registered,lead auditor, personal trainer and human movement specialist.

6 thoughts on “High intensity vs low intensity -When and why”

  1. Awesome post. Honestly speaking, if I don’t do high intensity exercise, I feel dullness in my body. Low intensity exercise doesn’t actually make any difference to me. 

    After reading your post, I have realized the importance of both experience. Your analysis is interesting. Sometimes we know something and don’t give any value to it. Only after reading such content we feel the boost. 

    Thanks a lot for sharing this post, many will find it useful. 

    • Thankyou for the comment – I have learnt the benefits of using low intensity for those days when you feel sluggish but to use high intensity for maximum fitness gains 

  2. Thanks for this post but actually, I do engage in the two together mostly on weekends but I prefer the low intensity the most especially when I’m doing the trail running just like you or hiking, or going mountain climbing. It does seems much fun to me than to consume my energy all at once just for high intensity exercises. Though its inevitable for me anytime I want to get my head cleared.

    • Thank you Rodarrick – I live by the rules of progression is key – either high intensity of low as long as you are moving forwards you are increasing your fitness – All the best with your journey 

  3. Hey Brian,

    This is an unique and informative article I must say. I have come to know many things about high and low intensity exercises and the deference between them. I have also learned that high intensity exercises are helpful t those who want maximum benefit in the shortest time not for other persons. To be honest I am overweight and I want to loose some weight. So which kind of exercises will be better for me?

    Thank you for writing this helpful article.

    • Hi Mahin , 
      Thankyou for the comment – I would suggest heading over to bodyweight exercises for beginners are learn the basic of moving your body and once you have set the ground work I would jump into high intensity for maximum benefits in less time but always remember – low intensity is better than no intensity . I wish you great success in your journey 


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