Sports Medicine

, Volume 39, Issue 10, pp 857–888 | Cite as

Let Them Roam Free?

Physiological and Psychological Evidence for the Potential of Self-Selected Exercise Intensity in Public Health
  • Panteleimon Ekkekakis
Review Article


In recommending physical activity for public health, authors have advocated either an approach in which the participant is to follow a prescription developed by a professional or an approach based on the participants’ own preferences. This review explores the potential for convergence between these two approaches by examining: (i) whether the exercise intensity that participants select is within the range recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine for the development and maintenance of cardiorespiratory fitness and health; (ii) what is known about the determinants of self-selected intensity and the factors underlying interindividual differences; and (iii) the psychological consequences of imposing a level of intensity compared with allowing participants to select their preferred level. The results indicate that, among middle-aged or older, sedentary or obese participants, or those in cardiac rehabilitation, self-selected exercise intensities are, on average, within the recommended range. However, some individuals select levels well below the recommended range and others select near-maximal levels. Most individuals apparently select intensities proximal to their ventilatory or lactate threshold, presumably because higher intensities would reduce pleasure. The factors underlying the large interindividual differences in self-selected intensity remain poorly understood. Imposed intensities lead to declines in pleasure, even when they exceed the self-selected level by a small amount. These results demonstrate the compatibility of prescription-based and preference-based approaches. Public health practitioners can consider self-selected intensity as an appropriate option.


Physical Activity Exercise Intensity Cardiorespiratory Fitness Ventilatory Threshold Lactate Threshold 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. The authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of KinesiologyIowa State UniversityAmesUSA

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