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Frequency vs Intensity: Which Is More Important In Exercise?

A workout program is organized in terms of frequency, duration and intensity. To be more specific, the two main variables in exercise program design are frequency and intensity. On one hand, frequency refers to how often you perform something usually in a one-week period. This is either the total number of workouts or a specific movement like the bench press. In simpler words, it measures how often you complete your workouts. On the other hand, intensity refers to the level of difficulty of the workout or the amount of weights you are lifting in each particular exercise. Intensity measures how hard your body is working during each of those training sessions. The need to focus on each of these factors vary greatly depending on whether you are doing a cardio exercise or doing weight training. However, it must be noted that each of these elements are important in order to ensure that you can maximize your exercise routine, while making sure you get the full experience and health benefits.

Frequency of Exercise

As stated above, the term frequency refers to how often a specific workout activity should be completed. Frequency is usually recorded and assigned as a number of workouts per week. For example, for those who are still starting in weight training workout programs, they are usually recommended to lift weights at least three days every week. It is important to record both your overall and specific activity workout frequencies such as that how often you lift weights and how often you do cardio. With that, overall exercise frequency usually denotes the total number of workouts of all types of activities you have achieved for the week.

The significance of workout frequency lies in the idea that it greatly impacts the extent of your fitness results. Most experts recommend doing 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week in order to improve and maintain heart health. According to studies, you will still be able to reap the benefits to your cardiovascular health from doing these workouts no matter how you break up this total workout time. For example, you can either perform 30 minutes of moderate activity for five days per week or perform 50 minutes of moderate activity for three days per week. In addition to that, fitness and sport experts usually recommend doing two days of weight training workouts every week your muscles need at least 48 hours of rest in between to recover.

Intensity of Exercise

As stated above, intensity of your workout refers to how hard your body is working. It is measured with heart rate and perceived level of exertion during cardio exercises. If you do not have any access to a heart-rate monitor or you just do not want to measure your heart rate during exercise, perceived rate of exertion is an alternative way in order to measure intensity. However, it must be noted that perceived rate of exertion is subjective because you will be the one to give the score based on how you feel. The scale ranges from six to 20, with six meaning no exertion at all and 20 meaning maximal exertion. Other than this, you can also measure intensity with heart rate. The harder your workout, the faster your heart has to beat in order to adequately deliver oxygen and nutrients to your working tissues.

In weight training, intensity refers to the amount of weight you are lifting for each particular exercise. Intensity, in this case, is usually measured in percentage of your one-repetition maximum. The highest amount of weight you can complete in one repetition is known as the one-rep max. This is important because the intensity at which you lift significantly impacts your training on whether you develop strength or you build power. According to studies, it is usually recommended to use 85% or greater of your one-rep max or using a heavier weight when training for strength. If you want to develop muscular size, then you can perform each exercise at 67% to 85% of your one-rep max.

Finding The Balance Between The Two

Ultimately, in order to have a successful exercise routine, you must find the balance between frequency and intensity. Finding balance begins with goals. With that, you must have an idea in your head as to what you want out of engaging in such exercise programs. Are you looking for strength gain? Do you want to increase muscle mass? Are you an advanced lifter seeking to get to a higher level? All of these questions must be answered so that you can find balance in your workout routine.

After that, you must assess your level of fitness. If you do not know how to assess your fitness level, then look for a fitness instructor who can do it. They usually can give a proper fitness assessment that is as generalized as possible, and aimed at ascertaining your overall fitness level. But if you are an advanced fitness enthusiast, you perhaps have already hit a plateau in your progress, then you can do a fitness assessment that can target your specific goals.

The main factor for a proper assessment is something that will give you a baseline for your fitness level and an idea of how much frequency and intensity you need to put into your training program.

Knowing your goals and fitness level will allow you to choose the right program for you and also let you adjust the frequency and intensity of each workout. For example, if you are still new to doing workouts, you can start at a lower frequency and lower intensity. This is also the case if you are trying to rehabilitate from an injury. But if you are those who are already advanced in doing fitness workouts, you will need to increase both frequency and intensity.

According to studies, most people usually fall somewhere in between frequency and intensity. With that, the number of training days in a week, combined with their spacing apart, has a lot to do with the likelihood of your success in achieving your goals. This is important because the body requires a certain time to repair the tissue that has been used. There are micro-tears throughout the tissue when you exercise a muscle. This forces the body to rebuild that muscle and become stronger.

In addition to that, in terms of increasing muscle size, it must be remembered that more reps and lower weight will develop muscles differently than lower reps and higher weight will. And it is important to note a misconception that lifting heavier weights will cause you to bulk muscle like a bodybuilder. However, this is not true in all cases. It must be remembered that in order to increase muscle size you must consume the right amount of calories in the right macro categories in order to supplement muscle bulking. Moreover, you must also learn how to adjust your intensity and frequency in order to effectively bulk your muscle.


In the end, both frequency and intensity of your workout is important because they both significantly impact the overall results of your workout routine. Moreover, adjustment to both of these factors should be depending on your fitness goals.

If you are having a hard time understanding how both of these work, you can hire a personal trainer for they can guide you on the beginning of your fitness journey. Once you get the hang of your routine and once you understand more clearly how such factors work, you can begin to do your routines on your own if you are comfortable.

Indeed, dialing in the right frequency and intensity can be a difficult challenge, but do not be disheartened, with a little help from here and there, you will surely get the fit exercise program made for your body and fitness goals.

1. Issa Training. 2018. How to Choose the Right Frequency and Volume for Workouts. Retreived from: Retrieved on 16 September 2020.
2. Nunley, K. Chron. 2017. Difference Between Frequency & Intensity in Exercising. Retrieved from: Retrieved on 16 September 2020.
3. Patrick, R. Bodybuilding. 2019. Gain More Muscle By Training Less: The Trick Is In The Frequency & Volume!. Retrieved from: Retrieved on 16 September 2020.
4. The Globe And Mail. 2014. The benefits of exercise: Does workout intensity matter?. Retrieved from: Retreived on 16 September 2020.

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