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How to Rate Exercise IntensityHow to Rate Exercise Intensity


Rate Exercise Intensity

Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week for improved health. It is easy to count minutes, but how do you determine your intensity? Using the rate of perceived exertion scale or the simple talk test will help ensure you reach moderate intensity without the need for high-tech gadgets.

Rate of Perceived Exertion

The Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion assesses intensity through a rating of how hard you are working (Rate of Perceived Exertion — RPE). With this scale, you assign a number to how you feel during exercise based on fatigue, breathing rate, effort, and discomfort.

Scale of 6 to 20: 6 is a rating of rest and 20 is a rating of very, very hard. A rating of 12 to 14 is considered moderate intensity.

Use the RPE scale at different points throughout your workout to determine if you need to push harder or ease up. Remember that you should rate yourself based on how you feel, not on how hard you think you should be working, nor by comparing yourself to others. Depending on fitness level, for the same activity, one person’s 2 can be another person’s 6.

Talk Test

Research confirms that the talk test is a good method for judging your exercise intensity.

  • Low intensity: You can easily carry on a conversation during exercise without having to pause to catch your breath.
  • Moderate intensity: You can talk, but you are breathing more heavily and you need to take occasional breaks to catch your breath. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe this as being able to talk, but not sing, during your workout.
  • Vigorous intensity: You can speak no more than a few words during your workout due to rapid breathing and an elevated heart rate.


Lori Rice, M.S., is a nutritional scientist and author with a passion for healthy cooking, exercise physiology, and food photography.
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