When you’re performing an exercise, it may be necessary to exercise within a recommended range of intensity. And one way to measure intensity is by determining heart rate. However, this process isn’t always easy – and it often requires stopping or fumbling with equipment. And then the heart rate results need to be interrupted.
There’s an easier way. It’s quick and it’s simple – and it’s fairly accurate. It’s called perceived exertion.
Perceived exertion is a scale that measures feelings of effort, strain, discomfort and/or fatigue experienced during exercise. The most common is the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion, which ranges from 6 (no exertion at all) to 20 (maximum exertion). Because it’s so easy and effective, it’s commonly used by personal trainers when communicating with their clients.
Why isn’t the scale rated from 1 – 10? That’s a great question! It’s because, as a very general rule, you can multiply your level of exertion by 10 to determine your heart rate. In other words, if you’re exercising at a 14, then your heart rate is probably somewhere around 140 beats per minute. Again, this is very general.
Here’s the scale:
- 6: No exertion (i.e., sitting in a chair)
- 7: Extremely light (i.e., arm circles)
- 9: Very light
- 11: Light
- 13: Somewhat hard
- 15: Hard (heavy)
- 19: Extremely hard
- 20: Maximal exertion
A great example of perceived exertion in practice would performing high intensity interval training on a treadmill. For high intensity interval training, you may, for instance, alternate between perceived exertion levels of 13 and 18 or 19. It may be one minute at 13, followed by one minute at 18 or 19 and so on. It’s much easier to describe the exercise in terms of perceived exertion than a set pace in miles per hour, because what is hard for me may be easy for you or vice versa.
For me, alternating between a 13 and 18 or 19 means alternating the treadmill from 7.7 miles per hour to 11 mph at a 3 percent incline. For another person, it might mean alternating between 3 mph and 6 mph. Either way, you’ll be getting the benefits because both bodies will be working hard. And if a certain pace gets easier over time, you may need to increase the speed to stay at that perceived level of exertion.
As you can see, the Borg scale is really easy to understand and extremely helpful. Try putting it to work for you!