Benefits of Low-Intensity Exercise – Permission To Go Slow

Road Cycling

As a coach, one of the hardest things to do is persuade clients to embrace low-intensity exercise. In technical terms, this is called Zone 1 & Zone 2 training. 

For those unfamiliar with training zones, Zone 1 & Zone 2 training is training at a relatively easy intensity. Using the Bjorg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale (below), you must train at an intensity no higher than 4 out of 10. Or at a pace where you can maintain a conversation!

In our time-crunched world and the ‘go-hard – go home’ message the fitness industry has constantly promoted, low-intensity training has dropped off the radar, and its importance is not recognised enough. 

Working at higher intensities has its place, but our potential to reach a higher fitness level and recovery ability to recover is compromised without a firm foundation of aerobic fitness.

Low-intensity training is particularly important if you’re just getting into your training, have a low activity level or have been recovering from injury or illness.

Let’s look at some of the benefits of lower-intensity exercise.

Mitochondria Development & Efficiency

Mitochondria are often referred to as the ‘powerhouses’ of the cells within the body. They help convert the food we consume into energy that the cell can then use. As we lose fitness, our number of mitochondria reduces, and the remaining ones lose their efficiency. Their life has been said to last only a couple of weeks. Zone 2 training increases the number of mitochondria and improves the efficiency of existing ones.

Metabolic Health

Low-intensity work is key to developing your metabolic health. With a firm foundation in place, it will be easier for your body to maintain and manage the not-so-insignificant things such as your insulin levels, blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels. 

Aerobic Fitness

Many people assume they have a ‘base’ of fitness. However, on the back of the pandemic, we’ve noticed a general decrease in people’s base level of fitness. With people working from home and having sedentary occupations,  it’s common to see people with less than 2,000 steps per day rather than the advised 6,000 per day for good health.
If you’re looking to develop your aerobic fitness or train for endurance, then up to 80% of your time should be spent at Zone 2!


An all too often overlooked aspect of recovery from injury is the need to continue to move. By performing Zone 2 exercise, we get excellent quality, nutrient-dense blood pumped around the body to where it’s needed most: the injury site. All you, and we as coaches, must do is ensure that this is using a mode of exercise that doesn’t provoke the injury further. Getting pain-free exercise and maintaining your fitness & strength is the quickest road to recovery.

How do I know I’m training in Zone 2?

There are several ways we can ensure we’re training in Zone 2

Rating of Perceived Exertion

Keeping your exertion below a 4/10 on the RPE scale is an excellent way to keep you in Zone 2 and benefit from staying in this purely aerobic state (not getting out of breath).

Nose Breathing

You can work out if you are in the correct training zone by monitoring your breathing. Simply put, if you need to breathe through your mouth, you’re working above Zone 2 and engaging your anaerobic energy systems. Aim to breathe solely through your nose in your low-intensity sessions for maximum effect… and yes, you may find it frustrating having to slow down. 

The Talk Test

The Talk Test is a solid test to use. If you can maintain a good conversation without gasping or struggling for breath, then again, it’s a good gauge that you’re exercising at the right level and in Zone 2

Wearable Tech

There are, of course, other methods, such as Heart Rate monitoring, but the above are great, simple methods that we can all use.
Modern wearable devices such as Garmin. Polar, Fitbit and Apple all have functions that test your fitness and work out your training zones without you even knowing! This is done by various calculations on age, height, weight, activity levels and heart rate.


So, prolonged, slow exercise has indeed got a vital role to play in our exercise routine. If you want to achieve optimal fitness and increase your chance of increased longevity and an increased health span, developing a good aerobic base from Zone 2 training is a crucial component of your program. 

Ady Watts The Personal Training Gym logo

Join our mailing list

Get your free Simple Guide To Great Results

Get our weekly "Being Human" newsletter

On Demand

Good habits rely on flexibility and convenience. Having all of our sessions available via our On Demand library gives you the ability to access great training anytime, anyplace.


Whether you live too far away to visit frequently or prefer the comfort of training at home, our LIVE training program will deliver great results. No matter what you’re looking to achieve, we’ve proven results using this method of training.


Located north and south of the Wye, our two well appointed Hereford gyms, give members from the county and further afield easy access to our services. Both also providing shower and changing facilities and the chance to grab a post workout tea or coffee!