Monitoring the intensity of your activity is important for several reasons, but most importantly because it lets you know whether you are working too hard or not hard enough. Working too hard can lead to over-training resulting in injuries, decline in performance, lack of sleep and even mood changes. Not working hard enough, on the other hand, makes it harder for you to improve your fitness and achieve your health goals.
How do you measure intensity? There are several ways, including the talk test, rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale, and heart rate monitoring. While all can be useful, today we’re focusing on the RPE scale which is a free, easy, and effective way to measure your intensity.
The RPE scale asks you to rate how hard you’re working, on a scale from 0 to 10, using the categories below.
10: Max Effort: Feels almost impossible to keep going. Completely out of breath and unable to talk. Cannot maintain for more than a very short time.
9: Very Hard Effort: Very difficult to maintain exercise intensity. Can barely breath and speak only a few words
7-8: Vigorous Effort: Borderline uncomfortable. Short of breath, can speak a sentence.
4-6: Moderate Effort: Breathing heavily but can hold a short conversation. Still somewhat comfortable but becoming noticeably more challenging.
2-3: Light Effort: Feels like you can continue for hours. Easy to breathe and carry on a conversation
1: Very Light Effort: Hardly any exertion, but more than sleeping, watching TV, etc.
By becoming familiar with the RPE scale, you can continually assess your exercise intensity and find a level of exertion that is comfortable for you. For most people staying around 4-6 on the scale (moderate effort) is a safe and effective zone. During high intensity workouts such as interval training, short bursts of very hard or vigorous effort can be interspersed with light effort.
In short, the benefits of using the RPE scale are that it’s free and easier than wearing a heart rate monitor. You can even assess RPE without stopping to check your heart rate. Yet it still gives you an accurate representation of the intensity of your activity.
Still have questions about intensity, or want to learn more about other methods of measuring the intensity of activity?