You already know that regular strength and cardiovascular exercises can boost your overall health and improve your flexibility, joint function and your mood. But if you’re not sure how hard you should be working out to get the most benefit and least risk of injury, take these self-assessment tests.

The Talking Test

Experts have long recommended the “talk test” for a cardio workout: If you can talk but not sing during an activity, you’re probably working at moderate intensity – enough to improve fitness, but not to the point of risking injury.

If you are very physically fit, you may need to train at a higher intensity – where talking is difficult – to improve athletic performance, according to a new study published in the Journal of Sports Science. But for most people the talk test works just fine, says Carl Foster, PhD, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

“For the non-athlete, there is almost no time when you would not want to be talking comfortably,” says Foster. Plus, moderately intense exercise is more efficient than strenuous exercise at burning fat, and because it is more pleasant, you are more likely to stick with it long term, he adds.

The Strength Test

For strength training exercises complete each exercise with light weights. Go slowly, using a “two-up, four down” count for each repetition. Then ask yourself these questions.

1. Were you able to complete two sets of 10 repetitions in good form?

Yes. Good, keep it up.
No. Reduce the weight to an amount that you can lift 10 times in good form; rest for one or two minutes, then do a second set.

2. After completing 10 repetitions, do you need to rest because the weight is too heavy to complete more repetitions in good form?
Yes. You’re working at the proper intensity. Don’t increase the weight.
No. If you can do only a few more repetitions (not another set of 10 without a break), then at your next workout you should do the first set of repetitions with your current weight and your second set with the next weight up. For example, if you're currently using 1-pound dumbbells, use 2- or 3-pound dumbbells for your second set.

But if you could you have done all 20 repetitions without a break, use heavier dumbbells for both sets of repetitions at your next session,


The Two-Hour Pain Rule

If you have more joint pain two hours after exercising than before you started, you’ve overdone it. Ease up at your next workout.