Fitness Articles

How to Measure for Exercise Intensity without a Heart Rate Monitor

Fitness News Flash

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.

Action Sparked
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.

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
Page 1 of 1  
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!

Member Comments

  • This was a good reminder when I am working out
  • Great article, Thanks!
  • Be an inspiration to those around you by making the most of each day.
  • This is an interesting article. Thanks so much!!
  • Subce I have shortness of breath after a few yards of plain walking, not a good test of intensity!
  • Thanks for sharing.
  • 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.
  • The "Talk Test" is good for me since I am on a beta blocker which slows down my heart rate.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • I recently bought a heart rate monitor (HRM) to gauge the intensity of my workouts but found that the talk test is still a far more reliable indicator of how hard I'm working out. The HRM will tell me my heart rate is near resting when I KNOW I am working hard and then say it's high when I've already brought down the intensity. Yes, there's a bit of a delay in the sensor but it's not entirely that.
  • I think it's great that some people can do this. I can't. I have asthma, and if I did this, I wouldn't be able to exercise at all. I'm going to learn how to check my pulse again. I sort of forgot the basic rules. I think it's really important that athletic people learn how to do that. It's an important part of physical education. It should have more of an emphasis here. It really isn't that hard. We all learn how to do that in Health and PE, so why is it so downplayed here, on SP? Things seem kind of dumbed down on this site. I don't mean to complain, but this is a legitimate concern.

    The reason people need to learn how to check their pulse is so they don't over-do it, and cause themselves to have a heart attack. That can happen.
  • I have heard recently we are supposed to do high intensity interval training for the best workouts, but according to this that is not good? Now I am confused :(
  • I guess my mental scale of exercise intensity is out of whack! I feel like if I can talk, it's light exercise; if I can't talk but can breathe, it's medium; and if I'm gasping for air and feel like I'm about to pass out, then it's high-intensity. I usually aim for medium on this scale. I guess I've really been doing higher-intensity exercise than I thought!
  • What exactly is the basis behind the counsel to "take it down a notch?" I'm wondering if there are true dangers in exercising at a higher heartrate than "talking heartrate". Frankly, this seems ridiculous. If I could talk during my workouts, I would come home feeling like I hadn't worked out at all. But, I'm willing to change my mind, if given proper research backing up these assertions.

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.