How to Measure Your Exercise Intensity

Have you ever wondered how to measure your exercise intensity? It’s essential because exercising at the correct intensity can help you get the most out of your workout. And it turns out there are a few ways to measure workout intensity that keeps tabs on how hard you’re going as you exercise.

Understanding how to monitor your exercise intensity is essential regardless of your fitness level. Monitoring workout intensity can help you stay safe and get the most out of your routine.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. You can break this up into 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise 5 days per week. You can also do 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise 3 days per week, or a combination of both. If you’re seeking more gym safety tips, I strongly encourage you to check out 6 Workout Safety Tips at the Gym.

Keep in mind: Dozens of external monitoring devices (i.e., heart rate monitors, etc.) track this information. They make it easy to access the data throughout your workout and beyond. As always, before beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.

Assess Your Heart Rate

Heart rate assessment is most effective when you use a heart rate monitor, such as an iWatch or FitBit, to gauge how fast your heart beats at different stages of your workout. You can also measure this on your own immediately after you finish a workout. In general, the higher your heart rate during physical activity, the higher the exercise intensity.

To use this method, you first have to determine your maximum heart rate — the upper limit of what your cardiovascular system can handle during physical activity.

You can calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. For example, if you’re 45 years old, subtract 45 from 220 to get a maximum heart rate of 175. This is the average maximum number of times your heart should beat per minute during exercise. If you’re curious, Active has a great heart rate calculator.

Once you know your maximum heart rate, you can calculate your desired target heart rate zone — the level at which your heart is being exercised and conditioned but not overworked.

The American Heart Association generally recommends a target heart rate for moderate exercise intensity should be 50% to about 70% of your maximum heart rate. It should be 70% to about 85% of your maximum heart rate for vigorous exercise intensity. If you’re not fit or just beginning an exercise program, aim for the lower end of your target heart rate zone. Then, gradually build up the intensity. If you’re healthy and want to exercise at a vigorous intensity, opt for the higher end of the zone.

The Talk Test

Have you ever heard of the “Talk Test”? It’s when you know that you’re doing moderate-intense exercises when you can talk but not sing. When you’re doing vigorously intense workouts, you will not be able to say more than a few words between breaths.

Range of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

RPE is a scale of 1-10, with “one” describing a rest level exertion, such as sitting and relaxing. A “10” describes exhaustive level exertion, such as sprinting uphill all out. If you can carry on a continuous conversation, you’re probably at an RPE intensity level of 1-2. If you’re able to converse but have to take a breath every sentence or so, you are probably exerting at an RPE intensity level of 2-3, which is light to moderate exertion. And so on…

Most physical fitness trainers state that your ideal workout goal should probably be at 5 RPE, which is somewhat hard to heavy exertion. You shouldn’t be able to carry on a conversation but answer questions in short sentences. If you’re unable to answer a question with a one-word answer, such as “yes” or “no,” then you’re working too hard. You never want to get to a point where you’re winded or breathless (that’s an RPE intensity between 8-10).

One More Thing…

Did these measurements for exercise intensity help you? Was there something that I missed? I’d love to hear your thoughts at Also, please be sure to subscribe to the Heart & Soul Blog Newsletter to receive more great tips straight to your inbox each week.

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