How hard do I need to work out?
With cardiovascular training you need to monitor the intensity of your effort. This is important so that you receive the benefits of training along with burning calories. One of the best ways to monitor intensity is to use a combination of checking your heart rate and using the rating of perceived exertion scale (RPE).
This is a fancy way of saying that you should listen to your body. The RPE scale helps with this. How is it feeling during cardiovascular workouts? How hard do you think you are working?
Look for physical cues such as:
- Your breathing rate and how breathless you feel
- How your muscles and joints feel
- The level of fatigue you are feeling
- The overall feeling of the stress on your body
Are you be able to converse with short sentences or are you so short of breath that you can’t talk? Conversely, can you talk or sing continuously while you are exercising? These cues will tell you whether you should slow down or speed it up a bit.
Using the RPE scale is easy and practical. When you’re first starting out with exercise it’s a great tool, even more than monitoring your heart rate, to help you work hard enough but not too hard.
The RPE scale starts at six – which is no exertion at all, and ends at 20, which is the maximal effort, or exhaustion. When warming up, you should slowly increase on the RPE scale, going from a nine to an 11. During this time you should feel your heart rate increasing, your breathing rate increasing and your muscles and joints warmed up and ready for exercise (should take 5-10 minutes).
During exercise you should feel like you are exerting yourself moderately, 12 – 14 on the scale. If you exercise at a 15 – 17 you are at a vigorous intensity which is not recommended when first starting out. As your body responds to exercise over time (several weeks) you will need to increase your intensity to reach the same RPE. For example when you first begin your exercise program you may feel you are at a 13 when walking at a 2.5 mph pace; but after a few weeks you will need to speed up to reach that level 13.
This RPE chart gives you a visual tool; print it out and keep it handy for exercise.
To be safe and effective with cardiovascular exercise it is important to listen and respond to your body. By doing this you will be able to exercise regularly, recover properly and decrease chances of injury and overtraining.