While maximum heart rate formulas are a convenient and easy way to determine your maximum heart rate, they lack reliability and accuracy. Heart rate tests, while more accurate, are not as convenient and may require supervision. Another caveat with using heart rate to gauge your exercise intensity is you need a way to measure it while you are working out.
Measuring your heart rate can be done the old fashioned way by finding your carotid (neck) or radial (wrist) artery and taking your pulse for six seconds and multiplying by 10. This, however, is quite cumbersome, perhaps even dangerous, to do while running on a treadmill. The next best thing is to invest in a heart rate monitor. Heart rate monitors on the market range from the very basic to high-tech super-gadget. They can be as basic as just showing you your heart rate, to as elaborate as giving you a complete workout summary which may include total exercise time, time in heart rate zone, maximum heart rate, calories burned, etc.
But what if a heart rate monitor isn’t in the budget and you still want to make the most of your exercise program? There are other methods to gauge your intensity level. Two common ones are rate of perceived exertion and the talk test. The standard is the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion, which ranges from 0-20. Also available is a simpler chart that ranges from 0-10 where 0-2 is no exertion to light exertion, 3-6 is moderate to hard, 7-9 is really hard and 10 is all out effort. On the scale from 1-10, the recommended intensity level is between 5 and 8.
The talk test is another good indicator of measuring exercise intensity and can be used in conjunction with rate of perceived exertion. When exercising, you should barely be able to carry on a conversation yet still be able to breathe comfortably. If you can sing while you exercise, then your intensity is most likely too easy and should be taken up a notch.
However you decide to monitor your exercise intensity, don’t get too caught up in the methods, the numbers, the debate or the controversy. Find an exercise you enjoy, one that you will stick with, and exercise at a pace that works for you.