How to Measure Intensity

How Do You Measure Intensity?

There are 2 ways to measure Intensity – the level of effort (Relative) and the amount of energy (Absolute). Here we’ll explain the difference between relative and absolute and what they mean to your next workout.

Relative Intensity

The level of effort required by a person to perform an activity. When using relative intensity, pay attention to how physical activity affects your heart rate and breathing.

The talk test is a simple way to measure relative intensity. In short, if you’re doing moderate-intensity activity you can talk, but cannot sing, during the activity. Similarly, during vigorous-intensity activity you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for air.

Absolute Intensity

The amount of energy used by the body per minute of activity. In other words, intensity is the amount of energy you use to do something. This table shows examples of the intensity differences of different activities:

Moderate Intensity


  • Brisk walking at 3 miles an hour or faster, but not race-walking
  • Water aerobics
  • Bicycling slower than 10 miles per hour
  • Tennis (doubles)
  • Ballroom dancing
  • General gardening

Vigorous Intensity


  • Race walking, jogging, or running
  • Swimming laps
  • Tennis (singles)
  • Aerobic dancing
  • Fast Bicycling at 10 miles per hour or faster
  • Jumping rope
  • Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing)
  • Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack

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