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How hard should I work out?

A girl playing soccer.

Confused about how hard to work when you're working out (or going for a jog or doing any physical activity)? Here's some helpful info.

Levels of physical activity

Whenever you are doing something, you are active at one of three levels (also called your exercise intensity level). They are light, moderate (medium), or vigorous (the most intense). Here is some information about each of the levels:

Getting stronger

As you exercise more over time, you will get stronger. Activities that used to be vigorous for you may become moderate. Don't be afraid to challenge yourself! For example, after a few weeks, you might try to jog a little faster or a bit farther.


  • Walking slowly is an example of light activity.
  • You won't sweat or breathe hard (unless it's really hot out or you're not very fit).


  • Walking fast, dancing, or raking leaves are examples of moderate activity.
  • It is about halfway between sitting still and working as hard as you possibly can.
  • You might sweat. You could talk, but singing would be hard.


  • Jogging, jumping rope, hiking uphill, or swimming laps are examples of vigorous activity.
  • On a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the top, vigorous activity is around a 7 or an 8.
  • You will sweat, breathe hard, and not be able to talk easily or sing.

How hard should girls work during physical activity?

  • Girls should aim for 60 or more minutes of physical activity every day. Most of that time should be spent at either the moderate level or the vigorous level.
  • Girls should not always choose the moderate level. Aim to work out at the vigorous level at least three days a week.

Remember, everyone is different. For example, walking fast might be vigorous for you but just moderate for your friend. Do you need help figuring out how hard you are working out? Two ways to do that are checking your heart rate (your pulse) and the talk/sing test.

The talk/sing test

An easy way to measure your level of intensity is the talk/sing test. Usually:

  • If your activity is at a moderate level, you can talk, but not sing.
  • If your activity is at a vigorous level, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing to take a breath.

Checking your heart rate

You can use your heart rate (pulse) to check how hard you're working. Do these three steps:

  1. Use the calculator below to learn your target heart rate range. The calculator will give you the range that's right for you. Write down or remember your range.

Target Heart Rate Calculator

Enter your age
in years:

Calculate target
heart rate for

Moderate Vigorous exercise
  1. Have a stopwatch or clock with a second hand nearby when you are being active. You can do your check in the middle of your activity or at the end. (You want to count your heart rate within five seconds of stopping.) Find your pulse. An easy place to find your pulse is on your wrist in a straight line up from your thumb. Place the tips of your index and middle fingers where you feel the pulse on your wrist (as in the picture above). Press lightly. Count the number of beats for 30 seconds. Multiply that number by two. Start the count on a beat, which is counted as "zero."
  2. See if the number of beats you counted falls in the range the calculator gave you earlier.
    • If yes, good job!
    • If the number was lower, try to push yourself a little harder.
    • If the number was higher, your heart is working too hard. Slow down a little. After five minutes, take your heart rate again. Over the coming weeks, try to build up your strength by gradually pushing yourself a little harder.


Content last reviewed March 27, 2015
Page last updated June 24, 2015