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Reference Guide to Exercise Intensity

An In-Depth Look at Heart Rate, RPE and the Talk Test


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  • Also want to add, when I started exercising by doing workouts regularly when I was about 45 (after spending years just taking care of my family and not thinking about myself), I took a class at the gym and pushed hard, as I was used to as a teen and 20-something athlete, and I got light-headed and had to sit down. I was determined to keep pushing that hard and that was what I needed to do to get back into shape. The wise instructor advised me to get a heart rate monitor and told me about HR targets for working out. Just like this article. And it has been very helpful to me and I have kept an eye on my heart rate while working out ever since.
  • I didn't read through all the comments because there are a lot - but the ones I read mentioned the target rate being too high. For me it is too low. I am 58 and a runner. My age puts me into a lower HR by the calculations - I have a resting HR of 63 and I am 58. 85 % is 147 and I can hit that pretty early into a regular workout. 100% would be 160 and I easily hit the 160s in long slow runs. I took my high end target from what my heart rate is at the end of a 5k race when I go all out for the last 500 meters and it is 210, so I consider that my 100% HR. In my workouts, I like to maintain in the 180s for at least 30 minutes
  • Thanks. Thsi article reminds me of how to calculate heart rate at various stages. Also motivates me - another piece of data - and will help me to get the most out of my walking.
  • JMB369
    This was a really helpful article.mI have bradycardia, which is a slow heartbeat. My resting heart beat is about 48 bpm, so moderate intensity fir me is about 100-110! I like the idea of checking this against PRE and the talk test, as I walk with a friend 2-3 times a week. This week I am starting the 69-day walk program, so I'll be using these guidelines.
  • Very helpful and easy to understand article. Thanks for posting it.
  • Extremely help , simple guide to make sure you are getting the most out of exercise
  • A very insightful article. I run and cycle and actually train in the 70-80% area. I have been doing this for a couple of years now and I find it works well for me. Thanks for the information.
  • Thank you so much for this article! I have been wondering about it, but haven't had time to look it up. Whenever I start exercising again I can't use the recommended heart rates. But after I've been back exercising consistently for a month, then I can start using it.
  • SHAHAI16
    I usually do the talk test or PRE, heart rate calculations don't seem to work for me. If I used the guidelines for that I'd never get in a good workout. My resting pulse is normal-to-high (78 last I checked) but I periodically check on the monitors on the gym machines (which admittedly I know are inaccurate) and my heart rate gets really high, like around 180 if I'm pushing myself, 150-160 if just walking on the treadmill at an incline. I have no idea why my heart rate gets so high, when I was in the military my workouts would push it past my "max" heart rate.
  • I do the exertion thing, I cannot hold a conversation though so I guess I am working too hard. I am out of breath most of the time while I am walking and especially when I get to go to the gym and use the elliptical or stair climber. I just know I have lost 21 pounds in about 4 months and still have close to 30 to go.
  • I can't use the target heart rate method either. I doubt my heart would handle it very well. I run out of breath long before I get there. I will do what I can do, and hope it is enough. I need to lose the weight, but am not willing to die trying.
  • Definitely cannot use the target heart rate method - my minimum would throw me into A-Fib if it got that high. I do use perceived rate of exertion and the talk test which both seem to work for me! Research all suggestions then listen to your body!!
  • Does this work for people who have a pacemaker/defibrillator? I don 't believe my heart rate is allowed to go over 80.
    The chart on page 4 has an error. The order should be---
    8. Very hard
    9. Extremely hard
    10. Maximum exertion
  • I know some people like the definite quantification of having heart rate numbers, but individuals vary in this as in all other bodily measures. A friend's husband was getting extremely frustrated that he was not getting his heart rate up in his "target zone". He finally brought it up with his doctor, who told him that a lifetime of athletic activity had adapted his heart to have a larger than average stroke volume, which meant that his heart was very strong and efficient, pumping more blood per beat, and didn't need to be in the "target zone" to support vigorous activity. Numbers can be a guideline, but they are not the end-all and be-all.

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