How to Measure for Exercise Intensity without a Heart Rate Monitor

The Talk Test has been a generally accepted method of measuring (aerobic) exercise intensity for a long time now, although fitness experts have questioned whether or not the test is accurate across populations and different types of exercise. The test is self-administered to help exercisers determine whether or not they are exercising at the appropriate intensity level (think target heart rate) or when they need to take it down a notch.

Basically, if you can carry on a light conversation while exercising, then you are in a good intensity range. Once your speech starts to break, slow, or cause discomfort, you’re working too hard.

Researchers at the American College of Sports Medicine found that people who can talk comfortably during exercise are likely to be working at the appropriate intensity, and that this test is a good way to predict intensity levels, even corresponding to exercise prescriptions (like the target heart rate) from doctors or trainers.

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Not everyone completely understands the target heart rate method. Not to mention, not all machines (or people!) have heart rate monitors, and sometimes you just don't want to stop, count, and time a heart rate check during exercise. The Talk Test has been confirmed as a simple and accurate method of gauging intensity that doesn’t require any equipment or learning. Try your own Talk Test during your next workout (and compare it to your normal heart rate count if you’re skeptical). You may be able to replace your heart rate monitoring with this simple test during all of your workouts, or at least when counting your pulse is inconvenient.
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Member Comments

He who believes is strong; he who doubts is weak. Strong convictions precede great actions. - Louisa May Alcott ~ 1/27/18 Report
Thanks!!! I can pick it up a little Report
Good article. Report
Thanks Report
Thank you!

I bought a fitbit2 over Thanksgiving but have yet to use it. I have been debating if I really need it. I can use my phone to tracker the miles I walk outdoors so it's only for heart rate and calories. I'm hesitant to track calories burned with a HRM again because then the workouts I enjoy become nothing but a means to an end. And tracking heart rate wasn't good for me in the past because some days I just tire more easily than others but my polar HRMs in past never took that into account. I want exercise to be natural and something I look forward to doing. If I'm using the FitBit2 then it's mostly or only a means to my weight loss goals. I want my health, happiness, and lifestyle to improve greatly with weight loss being the wonderful benefit of living healthfully. Thank you for this information! Report
This was a good reminder when I am working out Report
Great article, Thanks! Report
Be an inspiration to those around you by making the most of each day. Report
This is an interesting article. Thanks so much!! Report
Subce I have shortness of breath after a few yards of plain walking, not a good test of intensity! Report
Thanks for sharing. Report
This is a yes and no for me. There are brief periods during my HIIT cardio I can't talk at all. I do wear a heart rate monitor so that I don't go over 95% of my mhr. These periods are only 60 to 90 seconds where I really push it, challenging yourself is how you get fitter. Since starting HIIT 3x a week my resting heart rate has dropped 20 points, my blood pressure is also in it's low normal range. My Doctor is happy. Report
The "Talk Test" is good for me since I am on a beta blocker which slows down my heart rate. Report
This never made sense to me. I can "talk comfortably" when I'm strolling at 1 mile per hour and I'm not getting any kind of intensity at that point. Shoot, I can talk comfortably standing still! I agree, learn how to take your pulse or get a heart monitor or both. Report
I learned how to keep up with my heart rate while I was in middle school but I believe the "Talk Test" will be easier for me to do with two toddlers in the house. I want to be able to work-out without worrying about over working my body. My children takes so much of my energy that it is hard for me to do all the exercises in the time I was allowing myself. Report


About The Author

Nicole Nichols
Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.
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