Five to ten years ago, high intensity exercise reigned supreme as the king (or queen- slay-) of workouts. Social media captions read, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” “no days off,” and “pain is gain.” When the pandemic forced everyone to slow down, there was a cultural shift toward treating our bodies and minds with more care. Where it was common practice to kill ourselves in the gym, many people are now seeking a balance between low and high intensity exercise. If you are ready to embrace a kinder approach to movement, this blog is for you. Keep reading to learn why low intensity exercise is the new high intensity in the gym and some of our favorite gentle workouts to add to your routine.
Before you think we are trying to tell you to ditch high intensity exercise completely, we aren’t! Rather we are saying that finding a balance between low and high intensity training promotes optimal recovery, health and longevity. If you are burnt out with the gym, struggling to sleep and/or constantly fighting muscle soreness, it may be time to hang up your HIIT workouts for a little while. If you’re not quite on board yet, check out some of the major benefits of low intensity exercise below.
It promotes fat burning.
All exercise aids in weight loss because it increases the total number of calories burned versus consumed. But as we talk about body recomposition, the type of exercise we perform plays a big role in the type of energy our bodies burn. When we perform aerobic exercise, for example, we use more fat for fuel because it is slow-burning and can sustain long periods of low intensity exercise. When we perform anaerobic exercise, however, our bodies rely on glycogen (stored glucose in the muscles) for fuel.
It accelerates recovery.
The fitter you become, the faster you tend to recover, even following strenuous exercise. That said, higher intensity exercise tends to put greater stress on our muscles and joints and can lead to more inflammation in our bodies. If you already struggle with inflammation and prolonged muscle soreness, it may be beneficial to prioritize low intensity movement over a crushing gym sesh.
It lays a strong foundation for HIIT.
Despite what the fitness memes on Instagram say, you can’t go hard all the time. At some point, you’re bound to burn out if all you do is high intensity exercise. On the other hand, you can move at a low intensity every day for the rest of your life and it lays a strong foundation for high intensity training. You may not think that you’re doing conditioning when you go on an easy walk, but trust us. Just thirty minutes of walking each day can increase your aerobic capacity over time, both in low and high intensity settings.
3 low intensity workouts we love right now.
Low intensity exercise doesn’t have to be boring! In fact, almost any workout can be scaled back with a few key adjustments to weight load, pace, and rep scheme. Take the Murph workout, for example. Murph is a CrossFit Hero WOD in honor of Lt. Michael Murphy, who died while serving in the United States Military. It is a notoriously challenging and intense workout, but it can be scaled for a lower intensity stimulus. A few common scales include nixing the weight vest, reducing the total reps, replacing the run with a low-impact machine, and moving at a slower pace. See? Low intensity doesn’t have to be boring! With that in mind, here are three of our favorite low intensity workouts:
Cindy is also a notorious CrossFit workout that is typically performed at a high intensity to achieve as many reps as possible in 20 minutes. However, it can be easily modified for a lighter stimulus. Try this low intensity version of Cindy on your next active recovery day.
Complete 2 rounds of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 air squats. Rest for :30 seconds. Repeat for 20 total minutes. Want a little more challenge? Increase the number of working rounds before you rest.
Biceps, Triceps and Delts, Oh My!
If you prefer pumping iron to sweating it out during HIIT training, this low intensity upper body workout adds balance to a heavy lifting schedule.
3 sets x 20 banded bicep curls. Choose a light resistance band and stand in the middle of the band. Hold the band with your hands placed just inside shoulder width. Keep your elbows in tight to your side and curl the band up to touch the front of your shoulder, then return to the starting position. Repeat for 20 reps. Rest 45 seconds in between sets.
4 sets x 15 dumbbell tricep extensions. Hold a moderately heavy dumbbell behind your head with your elbows tucked in tight by your ears. Extend the dumbbell up overhead and squeeze your triceps. With control, return the dumbbell back down behind your head to your maximum range of motion. Rest 1 min between sets.
3 sets x 15 dumbbell squeeze press. Start by lying on a bench and holding a single moderately heavy dumbbell with both hands. Push the dumbbell up from your chest so that your arms are fully extended, then lower it back to your chest at a 3-second tempo. Rest 45 seconds between sets.
Complete 4 sets of the movements below. Do not rest between movements. Rest 1 minute between sets.
10 dumbbell plank rows. Start in plank position, holding one dumbbell in each hand. Staying as centered as possible, row the dumbbell back so that the dumbbell is resting by your ribs, then return to the starting position. Repeat on the left side. Complete 5 reps per side, for 10 total reps.
5 narrow push-ups. Start from push-up position (either from your toes or knees), and place your hands in a triangle position inside shoulder width. Perform 5 push-ups.
5 regular push-ups. Move your hands to shoulder width, then perform 5 regular push-ups.
5 wide push-ups. Move your hands just outside shoulder width, then perform 5 wide push-ups.
Low Intensity Intervals
If you’re looking for a low intensity aerobic workout, but don’t want to suffer boredom while parked on a single machine, this workout is for you! The key to keeping this from turning into a HIIT workout is to monitor your pace! You should be able to hold a conversation through every interval.
5 sets x 5 minutes. Every 5 minutes, complete the exercises below:
1 minute air squats
1 minute row/bike/jog
1 minute sit ups
1 minute jump rope
1 minute recovery walk
When it comes to building a balanced fitness routine, it’s important to prioritize exercise of varying intensities. As you consider how you can add more low intensity exercise into your life, don’t forget to consider your diet, too. We made Red Leaf Pre-Workout with only 40 milligrams of caffeine per serving because we were tired of how many overstimulating, intense formulas were on the market. With Red Leaf, you know you are getting a balanced energy boost that gets the job done without leaving you with the jitters. Use the code redleaf at checkout to save 15% sitewide and learn more about why we made a lower-caffeine pre-workout on the blog.