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Monitoring exercise intensity

How hard should it feel?

To ensure you are getting the best out of your exercise sessions it is essential that you listen to your body and monitor the exercise intensity. To improve fitness, you need to be working at a high enough intensity to overload and progress.

There are various validated tools you can use to monitor intensity. It would be advisable to use a variety of these rather than relying on one method to measure your exertion.

Three tools include Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), Talk Test, and Heart Rate Monitoring. All three are used for monitoring cardiovascular exercise, with the RPE scale most commonly selected for monitoring resistance exercise.

Rate of Perceived Exertion – RPE

The rate of perceived exertion scale is a tool which enables you to assess your exercise intensity, whilst correlating to your given effort and how it makes you feel. The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion scale is 6 – 20, however, you may prefer the 1 -10 category ratio scale, both of which are displayed below.

Borg scale 6-20 Perceived exertion Category ratio 1-10 % Effort
6 No exertion at all 0 20%
7 Extremely light 30%
8 1 40%
9 Very light 50%
10 55%
11 Light 60%
12 3 65%
13 Somewhat hard 70%
14 5 75%
15 Hard (heavy) 80%
16 7 85%
17 Very hard 90%
18 95%
19 Extremely hard 10 100%
20 Maximal exertion Exhaustion

How Does It Feel? Can you Talk?

It is good practice throughout your exercise session to ask yourself how the intensity feels.

Are you working hard enough to improve your fitness?

Moderate intensity would be measured around 5 out of 10 using the 1-10 scale. You generally should still be able to talk, you will feel warmer and slightly sweaty, but it is not uncomfortable.

Vigorous intensity would be measured above 6 out of 10, using the 1 – 10 scale. You will not be able to hold a conversation and may be feeling uncomfortable during this high-intensity zone.