2 easy ways to rate your exercise intensity

Have you ever walked into the gym and saw a person on the treadmill, elliptical or stairmaster who was talking on their cell phone while casually moving on the equipment?  Not only is that person probably annoying the majority of the other gym-goers, but they are also not getting an effective workout.  While they are not completely wasting their time – casually moving is better than sitting on the couch, they are not doing enough work to better their health or lose weight.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends 60 to 90 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a day or 30 to 45 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise a day for weight loss.  For weight maintenance, the ACSM recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week.  For health benefits, the ACSM recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on all or most days of the week.

So what is the difference between moderate and vigorous activity?

Moderate activity is when your breathing and heart rate are noticeably higher, but you can still carry on a conversation.  You just may not really want to have a deep discussion like that person on their cell phone casually walking on the treadmill.

Vigorous activity is when your heart rate and breathing have increased as to where you can not have a conversation, but you can say a few words consecutively without taking a breath.

There are two easy ways to rate how hard you are working.

1. The Talk Test

Can you easily talk while you are exercising?  If so, you are not working hard enough!

You should be able to talk, putting together a few words without having to take a breath.

If you are having trouble getting out words, you are working too hard.  Slow down, take out arm movements, and/or make your movements smaller.

If you can say a long sentence without taking a breath, you need to pick up the pace.  Either go faster, make your movements bigger or add in arm movements to increase your intensity.

As a general rule, moderate intensity exercisers should be able to speak 4-5 words without taking a break to breathe, while vigorous intensity can speak 2-3 words consecutively without breaking for a breath.

2. The 1-10 Scale (also known as the Borg Scale or Rate of Perceived Exertion/RPE)

Be honest and rate your work effort on a scale of 1 to 10.

1 is you are lying on the couch watching tv.  No effort, just resting.

2 is a light effort, you can carry on a conversation easily

3 is a moderate level, you can talk but it is a bit of an effort to do so

4 is somewhat hard, it takes some effort to talk, but you can get out 2-3 words without taking a breath.

5 is hard, you definitely don’t want to talk, but you can get out 1-2 words without taking a breath.

7 is very hard, one word talking max.

10 is you are being chased by a man with an axe and you are putting forth all your effort to run as fast as you can.  You can’t talk, you must put forth all effort into breathing and running!

Moderate intensity is between a 3 to 4, while vigorous activity rates between 4 to 7.

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