Fitness Articles

Reference Guide to Exercise Intensity

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

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How to Use Your Target Heart Rate Information
Once you have used either formula above to calculate your Target Heart Rate range (in beats per minute), you must try to keep your heart rate within your range during your cardio activity.

Periodically check your heart rate throughout your workout to gauge your intensity level. There are two ways to do this:
  1. Take your pulse after you’ve been exercising for at least five minutes. An easy way to check your pulse without interrupting your workout too much is to take a quick 6-second count and then multiply that number by 10 to get your heart rate in beats per minute. If your pulse is within your training heart rate zone, you’re right on track! If you notice you are lower than the minimum, increase your speed, incline and/or intensity and count again. If you notice you are very high, decrease your intensity in some way.
     
  2. Wear a heart rate monitor. This is the easiest way to monitor your intensity because it does all the work for you—all you have to do is look at a digital watch to see your current heart rate in beats per minute and/or percentages (i.e. 65%).
Additional Tips for Using Target Heart Rate
  • Your target heart rate (THR) range is an estimate, and it may not be the right exercise intensity for you. It’s based on a formula and not everyone fits into the average. Your THR may change over time as you become more fit too, so consider reevaluating your range every few months.
  • Some medications (such as beta-blockers) can affect your heart rate during exercise. An exerciser taking beta-blockers may be working at a high intensity but might never reach her target heart rate. Therefore, people on this or similar medications should not use the THR method (see RPE and Talk Test methods below).
  • Talk to your doctor to determine the best exercise intensity for you.
Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)


Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) may be the most versatile method to measure exercise intensity for all age groups. Using this method is simple, because all you have to do is estimate how hard you feel like you’re exerting yourself during exercise. RPE is a good measure of intensity because it is individualized—it’s based on your current fitness level and overall perception of exercise. The scale ranges from 1 to 10, allowing you to rate how you feel physically and mentally at a given intensity level.


An RPE between 5 and 7 is recommended for most adults. This means that at the height of your workout, you should feel you are working “somewhat hard” to “hard.”
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About The Author

Jen Mueller Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is a certified personal trainer, certified health coach and advanced health & fitness specialist. See all of Jen's articles.

Member Comments

  • WENDYSIAN
    @BELDAME
    I can't stop laughing at your comment lolol
    Its really tickled me that. Fair play, what you say is very true mind! - 5/8/2015 2:12:55 PM
  • NJMSTAR
    I think the the standard formula for determining MHR is very inaccurate for many people. I bought a heart rate monitor thinking I must not be working hard enough because I never saw improvement in my fitness level. According to the formula I should be in defib at rates over 160, but I found that I was frequently in the low to mid 160's and felt fine. When I slow down to the 75 to 80% range it feels like nothing more than a casual stroll. Although I am in better shape than many my age (60), I would hardly be considered an athlete, just a slightly overweight housewife. - 4/11/2015 10:05:09 AM
  • "And what if you are walking 17 mph but it is all hills (up and down)"

    That's some pretty fast walking!!!

    My doctor told me to forget the calculations and heart monitor devices and let your body tell you (as long as you are pushing yourself).

    and basically, you know when you are pushing yourself when " you can answer a question, but not comfortably carry on a conversation."

    the most important thing here is I got my doctor's advice. - 2/24/2015 4:44:27 PM
  • "Using this method, the goal is to work at a level where you can answer a question, but not comfortably carry on a conversation."
    This should be printed on little laminated cards and affixed to every piece of exercise equipment at the gym, for the benefit of the chatty fatty workout buddies.
    Quit your yapping and get to work!! - 2/24/2015 8:54:15 AM
  • very informative and things I needed to know before I over do my exercises. - 2/7/2015 12:17:13 PM
  • Although I have read this article previously, there were many things I had forgotten. A great deal of useful information. - 7/7/2013 3:06:52 PM
  • I enjoyed this article so much and a lot tof the information I did not know. Thank you - 5/28/2013 8:07:53 AM
  • This article is very useful to me as I am on Beta blockers and I have actually been using the Perceived rate of exertion without knowing. I have come to know when I have to back off, usuallt if I start wheezing or whatever. Very useful article. Thank you. Oh, and I still have been able to improve my cardio capacity using this method! - 12/29/2012 1:49:01 PM
  • KANDIKAKE
    This article was very helpful - 11/8/2012 2:28:09 PM
  • Great article. I learned something new again. - 10/28/2012 5:13:58 PM
  • DOINITRIGHT2012
    great article. - 9/1/2012 5:07:19 PM
  • Great article. Thanks! - 7/27/2012 12:55:49 PM
  • HPSANDDOLLAR
    I learned something. - 6/10/2012 9:22:48 AM
  • And what if you are walking 17 mph but it is all hills (up and down) -- and fairly steep ones at that? I guess I have to use the perceived exertion scale. I am just not going to be doing any calculations on my heart rate. - 5/13/2012 6:12:12 PM
  • Frankly I find the math of all of this very hard to take there has to be an easier way. I do have a heart rate monitor but every time i wear it i react to it. No matter how much I clean it. I am reluctant to buy another one because it will likely happen aagain. Pat in Maine.
    I love most of the articles I read but the complcations using metric and standard just confuse the old head. - 4/30/2012 7:55:28 AM

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