The three factors of exercise (modality, intensity and duration) can be combined into six primary categories of exercise (Plowman & Smith, 2011), as highlighted in table 1 below:

Table 1: Six primary categories of exercise

Category of Exercise


Short-term, Light to Moderate Sub-maximal Aerobic Exercise

Exercises of this type are continuous and rhythmical in nature, and utilise aerobic energy.  They are performed at a constant workload for 10-15 minutes at approximately 30-69% of maximal work capacity.

Long-term, Moderate to Heavy Sub-maximal Aerobic Exercise

Exercises of this type are also continuous and rhythmical in nature.  Although predominantly aerobic, anaerobic energy utilisation may be involved.  The duration is generally between 30 minutes and 4 hours at constant workload intensities ranging from 55% to 89% of maximum.

Incremental Aerobic Exercise to Maximum

Exercises of this type start at light loads and continue by a predetermined sequence of progressively increasing workloads to an intensity that the exerciser cannot sustain or increase further; this point becomes the maximum (i.e. 100%).  The early stages are generally light and aerobic, but as the exercise bout continues, anaerobic energy involvement becomes significant.  Each workload/work rate is called a stage, and each stage may last from 1 to 10 minutes, although 3 minutes is most common.  Incremental exercise bouts typically last between 5 and 30 minutes for the total duration.

Static Exercise

Exercises of this type involve muscle contractions that produce an increase in muscle tension and energy expenditure but do not result in meaningful movement.  Static contractions are measured as some percentage of the muscle’s maximal voluntary contraction (MVC), the maximal force that the muscle can exert.  The intent is for the workload to remain constant, but fatigue sometimes makes that impossible.  The duration is inversely related to the percentage of maximal voluntary contraction (%MVC) that is being held but generally ranges from 2 to 10 minutes.

Dynamic Resistance Exercise

Exercises of this type utilise muscle contractions that exert sufficient force to overcome the presented resistance so that movement occurs, as in weight lifting.  Energy is supplied by both aerobic and anaerobic processes, but anaerobic is dominant.  The workload is constant and is based on some percentage of the maximal weight the individual can lift (1-RM) or a resistance that can be lifted for a specified number of times.  The number of repetitions, not time, is the measure of duration.

Very-short-term, High-intensity Anaerobic Exercise

Exercises of this type last from a few seconds to approximately three minutes and they depend on high power anaerobic energy and are often supra-maximal.

Source: Plowman & Smith, 2011


Plowman, S.A. & Smith, D.L. (2011) Exercise Physiology for Health, Fitness, and Performance. 3rd ed. London: Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins.


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