IMG_5072It is important to exercise at the right level of difficulty.  You do not get as much health benefit from exercise if you do not challenge your body enough.  On the other hand, you risk injury and possibly medical complications if you push yourself too hard.  You can use the charts below as one way to determine how hard you should workout.

Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale (RPE)

Exercise in the 3 to 5 range.

0 No effort at all
1 Very light
2 Light
3 Moderate
4 Difficult
5 Heavy
7 Very heavy
10 Maximum effort

Rating of Perceived Breathlessness Scale (RPB)

Some people may be limited more by shortness of breath than overall fatigue. You can use this scale to determine how hard you should work based on how much shortness of breath you have. You should exercise in the 2 to 3 range.

0 No breathlessness at all
1 Very slight breathlessness
2 Slight breathlessness
3 Moderate breathlessness
4 Difficulty Breathing
5 Severe breathlessness
9 Very severe breathlessness
10 Maximum breathlessness


Talk Test

You should be able to talk but not sing.

To benefit from exercise you need to work hard enough that you are breathing harder than when you are resting.

If you become very short of breath and find it difficult to say more than a few words you are working too hard. There is no advantage to training at such a high intensity that you are gasping for air. In fact, exercising at such a high intensity can be dangerous for some individuals.

Target Heart Rate

Target heart rate is one way to determine the best level of intensity for aerobic exercise for you.  Target heart rate uses your resting heart rate, your maximum heart rate and a percentage of the difference between these two numbers to calculate a target number.  Generally the heart rate goes up as the intensity of exercise increases.  Training at a target heart rate of 40% to 80% is effective for improving and maintaining your cardiovascular health.

Many people can not use their target heart rate:

Individuals with pacemakers or implanted defibrillators generally should not use target heart rate.  Check with your doctor about how your implanted device affects your heart rate and exercise response.

Many heart conditions including clogged arteries (heart disease), irregular heart beat (arrhythmias), and heart failure affect how your heart responds to exercise.  Also, most people with these conditions are on medications that alter the heart’s response to exercise.

Medications for high blood pressure, irregular heart beat (arrhythmias), and heart failure slow your heart’s response to exercise. Generally the heart speeds up more slowly and is limited in its maximum rate in response to exercise. Click here for a list of common medications that have an effect on your heart’s response to exercise.

If you do not have any of these conditions and are not on any of the medications listed then you may be able to use your target heart rate as one way to determine your exercise intensity.