Heart Health in Motion: Tracking Intensity

Before you get started with your new Inspiration to Fitness program, it is important to learn how to track your exercise intensity. You want to be sure that you are exercising hard enough to see results, but not so hard that you are putting yourself at risk of injury.

There are three ways to measure exercise intensity, and it is important to use all of them together.

1. Target Heart Rate

2. Rate of Perceived Exertion

3. Talk Test

target heart rate
Target Heart Rate

Exercising within your target heart rate zone is one of the best ways to maximize the benefits of your workout. To find your zone, use this link from ACE Fitness. Input your age and they will tell you the zone that you should be aiming for. To check your heart rate during a workout, you can either wear a heart rate monitor or check your pulse at the carotid or radial artery every 5 to 10 minutes. If your heart rate is below the target, pick up your intensity. If your heart rate is too high, scale it back a little.

How to check your pulse

Left: carotid pulse // Right: radial pulse

The target heart rate zone is a useful tool, but there is room for error. The formula has around a 10% margin of error, so it’s best to use in conjunction with the other two measuring tools.

working out
Rate of Perceived Exertion

The rate of perceived exertion scale is basically a measure of how you are feeling during your workout. Whether you walk, run, swim, bike, or do an aerobics class, your exercise intensity should be within a certain range of comfort. Become familiar with the RPE scale to get the most out of your workouts.

There are two scales to measure RPE, either a 0-10 scale or 6-20. For this program, we will be using the 0-10 scale.

0 Nothing at all

0.5 Extremely weak (just noticeable)

1 Very weak

2 Weak (light)

3 Moderate


5 Strong (heavy)


7 Very Strong



10 Extremely strong (almost max)

For our exercise program, the warmup and cool down portions will have you around an RPE of 3 and the main portion of the workout will have you between a 5-6. These numbers should correlate to the target heart rate zone that you will be aiming for.

microphone talk test
Talk Test

The final measurement comes in the form of a talk test. The talk test is just what it sounds like. You are testing how easy or difficult it is for you to talk during your workout. When you are in your target heart rate zone and your RPE of 5-6, you should be able to carry on a conversation. If you are gasping for breath and unable to complete a few sentences, you need to slow down. This is another way of measuring exercise intensity by the way you feel.

Combining all three measuring techniques will give you the biggest bang for your buck in your workouts.

This week, I want you to get familiar with all three. Here is your homework:

1. Find your target heart rate zone and write it down.

2. Test out the RPE scale to find out how your body feels at different levels of a workout.

3. Practice reciting a favorite poem or song lyric at different points of your workout so that you can get familiar with the talk test.

And now for your first workout assignment!

This week we will begin with cardiovascular exercise to get into the groove of working out 6 days a week. Next week we will add in the strength-training and foam rolling portions of our program.

Choose your favorite aerobic activity (walking, jogging, biking, aerobics, swimming). Make sure to pick something that you will look forward to doing!

On your six activity days (that should already be scheduled into your calendar), I want you to do this:
-5 minute warmup at an RPE of 3

-10 minute workout at a moderate pace RPE 5-6

-5 minute cooldown at an RPE of 3

-finish with static stretching, making sure to hit the major muscle groups of the legs as well as the back and chest.

Include the following stretches:

Tricep Stretch: Stretch one arm overhead, and grab the elbow with your other hand. Pull down gently and hold for 30-60 seconds. Repeat with opposite arm.

Hip Flexor Stretch: Lunge your right leg forward, keeping your left knee on the ground. Placing your hands on your right knee, push your hips forward. Hold for 30-60 seconds, and repeat with opposite leg.

Hamstring Stretch: With legs apart, stretch towards left foot as far as is comfortable. If you can grab your foot, do so. If not, don’t force it. Hold stretch with knee straight for 30-60 seconds, then repeat on opposite leg.

Glute Stretch: Lying on your back, cross your right foot over your left thigh. Grab your left leg behind the thigh or calf and pull backwards. Hold for 30-60 seconds without straining your neck. Repeat on opposite leg.

Cobra Stretch: Lie face down on a mat or towel. Placing hands under your shoulders, push up by extending your arms while pressing your hips into the mat. Hold for 30-60 seconds.

Crossover Stretch: Lying on your back, bring the right leg over the left while keeping your shoulders flat on the ground. Hold for 30-60 seconds, then repeat with opposite leg.

So what are you waiting for? Let’s get moving!


A huge thanks to Mikki Reilly of Fitness Transform for the wonderful stretching photos!

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  • Jennifer@The Foodery June 22, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    Thanks for posting this info on target heart rate, it’s very helpful!