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How Hard Do I Work?

Measure how hard you are working when you exercise to ensure you exercise at the right level.

Know how to measure the intensity of your exercise.

  • Use the Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale.
  • Use the talk test.
  • Check your heart rate.

Intensity level tells how hard you are working when you exercise. Measure your intensity level to ensure you exercise at the right level.  

There are 3 ways to measure your intensity level:

  1. Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
  2. Talk Test
  3. Heart Rate

Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale is a tool to measure the intensity of your exercise.

RPE is a scale from 6 to 20. You choose a number to describe the amount of effort, strain and/ or discomfort that is felt during exercise.  

  • A score of 6 is resting with no effort at all. 
  • A score of 20 is the most amount of effort you could imagine doing (maximal effort).  

Exercise at a RPE between 11 (fairly light effort, strain and/ or discomfort) and 14 (between somewhat hard and hard effort, strain and/ or discomfort) for moderate intensity exercise.  

  • Use the RPE scale to help judge if you are working too hard during exercise. If you rated your RPE 15 (hard effort) or higher, slow down your exercise.
  • Use the RPE scale to know if you could exercise harder. If you rated your RPE at 10 or lower, try to walk a little faster.  

Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale

The table below shows the RPE scale from 11 to 14. For moderate intensity exercise, the goal is to do exercise between 11 and 14.

RPE ScoreAmount of Effort
11Fairly light
12
13Somewhat hard
14
15Hard

Borg, G. (1970) Perceived Exertion as an indicator of somatic stress. Scandinavian Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine, 2 (2), p. 92-98

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Talk Test

The talk test is a tool to measure the intensity of your exercise.

Do the Talk Test while you exercise. Talk with your exercise partner and notice your breathing.

During moderate intensity exercise, you breathe faster but you can speak without gasping for breaths between words. You should be able to talk with ease but not sing. 

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Heart Rate

Your heart rate is a good measure of your intensity level. Measure your heart rate by feeling and counting your pulse. You can also use a heart rate monitor.  

Facts about your pulse

Your pulse rate is the same as your heart rate.

  • Your pulse rate should go up during exercise because your heart beats faster and harder.
  • Your pulse rate may not be the same as someone else's.
  • Some medicines can impact your heart rate.

Taking your pulse

Checking pulse rate using wrist
To feel your pulse, put 2 or 3 fingers on your skin at your wrist below the base of your thumb
Checking pulse rate using neck
You can also feel your pulse by putting 2 or 3 fingers on the side of your neck in the hollow area beside your Adam's apple.

To see how your body responds to exercise, measure your pulse rate before and right after exercise (before you cool down).

Note: It is important to count the number of beats you feel for 10 seconds as your heart rate drops quickly after exercise.

  1. To feel your pulse, put 2 or 3 fingers:
    1. on your skin at your wrist below the base of your thumb, OR
    2. on the side of your neck in the hollow area beside your Adam's apple. 
    Be careful you do not press too hard; there is a risk you can get lightheaded.
  2. Move your fingers until you feel your pulse. 
  3. Use a timer (stop watch) and count the number of beats you feel for 10 seconds. For example at rest, you may feel 12 beats in a 10 second count. 12 beats in 10 seconds is 72 beats per minute. 

Ask your doctor or exercise team for the right heart rate for your exercise.  Adjust your effort level to make sure you exercise with the right heart rate.

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