Search Loading
{{searchMessage}}
{{article.title}}

How Do I Measure Exercise Intensity?

Knowing how hard the body is working during a workout is key— here are some of the easiest ways to determine if a workout is too easy, too hard, or just right.
How Do I Measure Exercise Intensity?
93

Nice share!

Like us on Facebook while you're at it.

Don't have to tell me twice! I'm already a Greatist fan.

That's an awesome pin you chose.

Find more like it by following us on Pinterest!

Don't have to tell me twice! I already follow Greatist.

Exercise intensity doesn’t come in “one size fits all”— it can even be as individual as choosing the best way to eat an Oreo (never ever take the cookie apart, of course). Perceived intensity is different for everyone, but studies suggest the higher the heart rate during physical activity, the higher the intensity [1].

Ticker Time — The Need-to-Know

Heart-rate training (which can be done in a variety of ways) can determine if the aerobic activity is too light, too hard, or just right (just like Goldilocks). To determine exercise intensity manually, a little math is necessary to figure out the ideal target heart rate. Knowing this number will help determine if the body is working  at the correct speed for specific workout goals. Keeping that number in mind, find the carotid (neck) or radial (wrist) artery with the index and middle finger, count the pulse for six seconds, and multiply by 10 to figure out the heart rate (or beats per minute). And for the techies among us, there’s always a gadget (or an app) for that. Heart rate monitors are devices that make contact with the skin, read, and then display the heart rate. There is also the RPE (Rated Perceived Exertion) to measure intensity, where intensity is based on a scale of zero to ten [2], with ten being all out maximum effort, six being moderate intensity, and zero signifying a potato sitting on a couch somewhere.

But other research suggests an easier way to measure intensity may also be just as accurate— and all it takes is a little bit of talking [3]. One study had healthy, moderately active people exercise while attached to monitors measuring heart rate and intensity. Then they were asked to perform a “talk test” by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at specific points in the exercise. At moderate intensity, the subjects were able to speak at a comfortable rate, and when exercise intensity went above and below moderate, the ability to talk was well matched to the heart rate monitor readings [4]. It turns out there is a close correlation between the talk test and the heart rate measurements, suggesting it's an effective tool to monitor exertion and measure exercise intensity [4] [5].

But talkers take note— while the talk test is easy and effective, it’s not one size fits all, and the chatter may need to change depending on fitness level or fitness goals. New research adds a twist to all this talking. For the newbie gym-goer, the standard talk test remains a good idea. But for those who have more ambitious fitness objectives (like, say, are going for their 3rd Olympic medal), being able to carry on a casual conversation may mean exercise is not intense enough [6].

Look Who’s Talking Now — Your Action Plan

The talk test works because talking comfortably means breathe frequency, which is related to heart rate, is under control [7]. Even though the talk test is subjective, being able to talk comfortably and therefore breathe comfortably indicates low to moderate intensity [7] (The latest American College of Sports Medicine exercise recommendations say that aiming for 30 minutes a day of simple, moderate-intensity exercise is the way to go to improve general health [8]). If the words don’t flow as easily (where a breath is required after every word), the workout crosses over into the vigorous range [9]. And on the flip side, if singing show tunes is involved, the workout may be too easy, and the heart isn’t working hard enough [10].

Hitting the target heart rate is important to any aerobic activity, and with the talk test there is no need to revisit seventh grade math (hey, calculating heart rate can be tricky!) and no need to spend any money. All it requires are vocal cords and the ability to talk, talk, talk, by reciting a few verses from a favorite rhyme, saying, or song. Choose timed intervals throughout the exercise and start talking, paying attention to how easily the words come out. The best part is there are no failing grades with this test!

Send Me the Ingredients! Powered by Popcart

Like Us On Facebook

Works Cited +

  1. VO2max: what do we know, and what do we still need to know Levine, B.D. Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, TX 75231. The Journal of Physiology, 2008 Jan 1;586(1):25-34. Epub 2007 Nov 15.
  2. Prescribing exercise intensity for healthy adults using perceived exertion Dishman, R.K. Department of Exercise Science, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 1994 Sep;26(9):1087-94.
  3. Consistency of the talk test for exercise prescription Persinger R., Foster C., Gibson M., et al. Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, La Crosse, WI, USA. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2004 Sep;36(9):1632-6.
  4. Consistency of the talk test for exercise prescription Persinger R., Foster C., Gibson M., et al. Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, La Crosse, WI, USA. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2004 Sep;36(9):1632-6.
  5. The talk test as a marker of exercise training intensity Foster, C., Porcari, J.P., Anderson, J., et al. Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of Wisconsin La Crosse, La Crosse, WI, USA. Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention. 2008 Jan-Feb;28(1):24-30.
  6. The Talk Test and its relationship with the ventilatory and lactate thresholds.  Quinn, T.J, Coons. Robert Kertzer Exercise Physiology Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire. Journal of Sports Sciences, 2011 Aug;29(11):1175-82. Jul 21.
  7. The talk test as a marker of exercise training intensity Foster, C., Porcari, J.P., Anderson, J., et al. Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of Wisconsin La Crosse, La Crosse, WI, USA. Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention. 2008 Jan-Feb;28(1):24-30.
  8. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: guidance for prescribing exercise. Garber, C.E, Blissmer, B, Deschenes, M.R, et al. Medical and  Science in Sports Exercise, 2011 Jul;43(7):1334-59.
  9. Translation of exercise testing to exercise prescription using the talk test Jeans, E.A., Foster, C., Porcari, J.P., et al. Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, La Crosse, Wisconsin, USA. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011 Mar;25(3):590-6.
  10. Effect of intensity of aerobic training on VO2max Gormley SE., Swain DP., High R., et al. The Wellness Institute and Research Center, Department of Exercise Science, Sport, Physical Education, and Recreation, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, USA. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2008 Jul;40(7):1336-43.

DON'T WORRY, BE HEALTHY.
LIKE US ON FACEBOOK!

×