Working Hard or Hardly Working?

When performing cardiovascular exercise, it is important to workout at the right intensity. Exercising below the recommended intensity level may not yield the intended results, while exercising above the recommended intensity can lead to injury. There are three main ways you can monitor your workout to ensure you are working at the right intensity level.

1. Talk Test — The simplest way to determine how hard you are working is to evaluate how easy it is for you to hold a conversation. When you are performing cardiovascular exercise you should be able to say a few words at a time without gasping for air. If you are not able to talk at all, chances are you are working out too intensely. If you are able to hold a full conversation with ease, you probably could increase your intensity.

2. Rating Of Perceived Exertion (RPE) — RPE utilizes a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being nothing at all and 10 being a very, very strong effort. When using the RPE scale, it is important to think about how you feel overall. How does your heart feel; Is it beating out of your chest or barely pumping? How do your lungs feel; Are you completely winded or can you breath with ease? How do your legs feel; Are they burning and on fire or is there no sensation at all? Once you determine your overall feeling, you need to assign a number from 0-10. Remember, the rating of your exertion should be independent of the pace you think you are walking. It depends solely on the feelings caused by the exertion. The recommended RPE range for most people is between 3 (moderate) and 5 (strong).

RPE Scale

  • 0 nothing at all
  • 0.5 very, very weak
  • 1 very weak
  • 2 weak
  • 3 moderate
  • 4 somewhat strong
  • 5 strong
  • 6-7 very strong
  • 8-10 very, very strong

3. Heart Rate Training Zones — The most accurate way to determine exercise intensity is to take your heart rate. This can be done with the use of a heart rate monitor or by taking your pulse during exercise. It is recommended to workout at 50-85 percent of your maximum heart rate. The guide below will help you determine your level.

How to Take Your Heart Rate

Place the tips of the index and second fingers of one hand on the inside wrist of the other hand. Position the fingers just below the base of the thumb. Apply slight pressure until you feel your pulse. Take your pulse for a full minute and record the number, which is your resting heart rate.

When manually monitoring your heart rate during exercise, take your heart rate for 6 seconds and then multiply by 10. For example, if your heart rate for 6 seconds is 15 then your beats per minute is 150.

Estimate Your Maximal Heart Rate (MHR)

MHR = 220 - your age

Find Your Resting Heart Rate (RHR)

Resting Heart Rate is your heart's beats per minute when you're at rest. To determine a true resting heart rate, you should take your pulse at the same time every day over the course of five days and take the average of the five rates. The best time to take your heart rate is in the morning, after a good night’s sleep, or before you get out of bed.

RHR = ________ beats per minute (bpm)

Find Your Heart Rate Reserve (HRR)

HRR = MHR-RHR

Find Your Training Intensity (TI)

You should be training within 50-85 percent of your maximum heart rate. If you are just starting, stay closer to 50 percent. As you become more fit, you should exercise near the 85 percent target.

TI = HRR x TI + RHR

55% TI = _________ x .55 + ________ = ________ bpm

85% TI = _________ x .85 + ________ = ________ bpm

For example, Jill is 20 years old and has a resting heart rate of 65. Her MHR is 200 and her HRR is 135. Using the TI formula, Jill's heart rate should be between 140 (55 percent) and 180 bpm (85 percent) during a cardiovascular workout.