Energy levels and exercise intensity

Energy levels and appropriate exercise intensity

Ross Eathorne


Energy: the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity.

We get energy from food and expend it breathing, digesting, thinking and moving. The quality of our food and water determines how high our energy levels will be, our performance potential, immunity and how fast we bounce back from adversity.

Your posture and the way you move provide insight to your character and your energy levels. (Consider who exudes the more power – a soldier standing at attention versus that of a hunched over beggar.)

When it comes to allocating appropriate frequency intensity type and time of exercise to a client, we need to factor in current condition (injuries, recovery from last sessions) abilities (experience, skill levels) ambition (goals, purpose of training) and circumstances (time of training phase, are they late etc).

The more applications are open, the faster the energy is drained from your battery and less exposure to high intensity, high complexity and high pressure you can tolerate. In training we can learn to mitigate this, in sport I would not expect record performance and at work and home you will probably be more quickly irritated. Chronic over application (to use the smartphone terminology) will eventually mean your battery discharges faster and takes longer to recharge – this is not optimal performance and may lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypothyroid or other autoimmune diseases.

Unlike a smartphone we can not replace the battery so we must learn to adjust our inputs and outputs to keep our energy levels in the green. For this end we can use the HFP (Health, Fitness-Performance) energy level Barometer.

The HFP (Health-Fitness-Performance) Barometer

The HFP Barometer is a measure of energy we currently have or allocate to a subject. We will introduce those subjects in the next section but for now let’s keep it simple and summarise it to your overall energy level.

The lowest score is 0 which means no energy (death) and the highest score is 10. The Roman number for 10 is X, in gymnastics the highest mark you could get in the old scoring system was 10, receiving a 10 meant you were a champion, champions often separated themselves from other podium players because they had an intangible “X” factor – a fizz, an effervescence, they exuded exuberance, an abundance of energy that lifted the whole room. I think you get the idea 10 or “X” factor people can do anything.

You will notice the HFP Barometer above is coloured red at the bottom, amber in the middle and green at the top. These three colours  correlatewith traffic signals. Red means stop, your energy levels are critically low, close some applications down, restore some charge as you health is compromised. Amber means prepare to stop or prepare to go, but progress with caution. Green means the path is clear and you are good to go for it.

Further, we have referenced numbers 5 and 7 on the scale at the top of red and amber respectively to help provide a scoring content and to demarcate health, fitness and performance priority;

  1. Red is our health zone and is scored between 1-5 because the body is using energy to repair pain or disease, or recover from a bout of high stress. At this level we need to focus on our health.
  2. Amber is our fitness zone and is scored between 5-7 which means there is increased capacity to overcome and adapt to moderate levels of stress.
  3. Green is our performance zone and is scored between 7-10 and means to body-mind-spirit can react quickly to a large number of stimulus without minimal interruption of output or performance.

Of course your score is subjective and subject to manipulation by the obsessive exerciser (short-term) and further cross reference to heart rate can add accuracy to this score. We can however add some more factors to consider when asking yourself “what is my energy level?”

Typically I ask my clients “How is your body?” Or “how are your muscles”? When the answer comes back a very non-helpful “fine” I probe until I can ascertain how stressed they are, how ready they are for the scheduled programme and how much do I need to adapt it, or indeed scrap it for the day.

Probing questions pertaining to and not limited to:

  • Muscle soreness from last session
  • Any pain or injuries
  • Sleep levels
  • Hydration and food
  • jet lag
  • stress
  • hangover

We are aiming to distill all this information (and more) into a single score to ascertain what they can safely do for the day…

Energy scores and appropriate intensity.

  • 1-5 Red is nearly dead.
  • Intensity needs to be between 0-50% of maximal heart rate (HR).
  • Focus on restoration of flexibility, stability and posture.
  • 5-7 Amber is ok.
  • We can still enhance fitness at intensity of around 50-70% HR
  • Focus on moderate coordination movements, longer warm-ups, sub-maximal strength with upper range rest periods between sets and exercises, reduce volume by cutting sets.
  • Excellent technique over personal records should be emphasised.
  • 7-10 Green means excellence – go at it.
  • Performance is empowered at 70-100% of HR.
  • Focus on personal best performance with a high degree of stimulus tolerated with co-committed increase in ability enabled.

The bottom line is exercise intensity is inverse to stress levels:

  • Low stress  = high intensity and complexity performance.
  • High stress = low intensity, simple restoration and recovery.

(Modify exercise emphasis appropriately)

As we get older how much stress we can tolerate and how long it takes us to bounce back from takes longer before performance, fitness and health drops. A rule of thumb is that up to the age of 35 you can tolerate a lot of abuse, thereafter your start paying for it in aches and pains, performance levels and recovery time. As you get older more time will be needed in restoration flexibility, stability and movement mechanics.


To check that you are dialled into the energy scoring system give a 0-10 score to the following three scenarios and the recommended intensity and type of exercise.

  1. After having 8 hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep.
  2. The day after a 12 hour flight across multiple time zones.
  3. In intensive care in hospital (need respiration assistance) after an car accident.

Scenario 1 should be a 7 or above – 70-100% intensity, any type

Scenario 2 should be close to a 5. 50% intensity – moderate weight training or cardio with long rests.

Scenario 3 should be no higher than a 3. <30% intensity – breathing, meditation, sleeping.

Summary and practical application.

Burning the candle at both ends is when you daily activity is highly stressed and your stress release is high-intensity, high-stress exercise without adequate rest and recovery. The consequences of this chronic stress is exhaustion and can lead to chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and autoimmune disease.


On the other hand knowing your energy levels arms with an ability to match your stress level (health, fitness, performance) to your energy level. The matching of stress to energy levels then becomes your optimal level intensity that will return a training effect (bounce) for continued growth and performance.


Use the HFP barometer to a more informed choice of how much stress to place on your system through exercise, manage your performance expectation and time to recover.

In this section we have introduced the concept of energy levels and how they can relate to appropriate exercise selection and health-fitness and performance.

In the next section we use the Life Cycle assessment to further qualify where you prioritise your energy and help identify parts of your life that you can focus on to encourage health gains, enhance fitness and empower performance with.

Ross Eathorne has completed Ultramarathons in the Sahara and Atacama deserts, gymnastics, CrossFit, Rugby, and Dragonboating. He is available for Corporate Wellness programme, team training and personal coaching using a holistic approach.


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Ross Eathorne is one of Asia’s leading fitness and wellbeing coaches and is renowned for his holistic approach to wellness. Ross coaches private clients, groups, champions as well as trainers in his L.I.F.E programme, he is the author of three books with another book on the way, is a keynote speaker, a gym owner, and a champion himself.

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