Measuring intensity

Why does intensity matter? Simply, in order for our fitness to improve we need to push beyond the norm…our individual norm… I believe one way of doing this is to push ourselves out of our comfort zone to achieve maximal results (and feel pretty awesome too). Measuring how intensely you work out is a great way of seeing/tracking progress.

Heart rate monitors

Heart rate monitors are great for this, they measure the number of beats per minute and if you wear it consistently then you will see that over time you can push yourself further as you gain fitness, you can also see that it takes less and less time to recover (get your heart rate to return to normal) after periods of high intensity. They require you to input a few body metrics such as age and weight as well as a maximum heart rate but usually offer some sort of fitness testing option to help you work out what that is. By knowing the maximum heart rate, the monitor can accurately calculate the % heart rate and heart rate zones.

What is the RPE scale?

Another (fantastic!) way of measuring workout intensity (without the need for any tech!) is by using the Borg RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) scale, a simple scale of 1 – 10. It’s free and super simple and something I like to use with my clients, not just those that are new to exercise. It basically allows you to rate how tired you are based on how you feel and your ability to speak.

For example, jogging at a ‘medium’ intensity may rate as about a 6 on the scale, meaning that you are finding it challenging but you could keep it up for 20+ minutes, whereas if you include a bit of an incline into that jog and you could hit a 7 meaning you can speak only in short sentences and you are finding it very challenging and then you decide to include some sprints and you could be looking at more of an 8 (one word answers only) or 9 meaning you’re pretty much flat out. This is a great way for me as a trainer to see how you’re doing and knowing how to adjust the workout in order to serve you better (contrary to popular belief, most personal trainers don’t just want to beast their clients – we do care how you’re feeling and should be willing and able to adapt your workout on a daily basis to best fit you; we all have off days, and days that we need to go a little easier, as well as those days that we just need that extra push!)


RPE Scale (Rate of Perceived Exertion)
Rating Intensity level Description
1 Very, very light activity Slightly more than complete rest
2-3 Very light to light Easy to breathe, could maintain for hours, easily carry on a conversation
4-5 Moderate to somewhat hard Could maintain for a long time, short conversations possible
6-7 Hard Becoming short of breath, can only speak in short sentences at a time
8-9 Vigorous Very difficult to maintain, can only speak single words at a time
10 Maximal Cannot continue, out of breath, cannot speak

So there you go, 2 ways of measuring how hard you’re actually working out… give the methods a try and see what differences you see in your workout! Let me know how you get on.