How to Get the Most Out of Your Exercise Routine
UW Health Services
Are you looking for an easy way to assess your exercise efforts? Look no further than the walls of most health clubs, fitness centers or rehabilitation facilities where the writing is truly on the wall. Here you will find an easy to use numeric scale that helps you rate your efforts based on your opinion, or perception. The Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale is a numeric rating system that helps exercisers use their mind and body to rate their level of exercise.
According to UW Health clinical exercise physiologist Daniel Wanta, the scale provides an effective and easy-to-understand guideline for people looking to measure their activity level.
"We know that being physically active is very beneficial, but we've also learned that measurements like target heart rate zone aren’t always easy to understand or very motivating to most people." Wanta adds, "Instead we use and recommend the RPE scale to help you evaluate your level of exertion and progress."
The RPE scale reflects how your mind and body interact during exercise. It is subjective and based entirely on your opinion of how hard you feel you are working. It helps you rate and measure feelings of effort, strain, discomfort or fatigue. The scale can be used during resistance training but is most useful for any aerobic or continuous exercise such as walking, jogging, swimming, biking or cross-country skiing, for a medium or long duration of time.
How Hard Am I Working?
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You can begin to use the scale simply by asking yourself "How hard do I think I am working?" Wanta says, "There is no right or wrong answer. Focus on cues from your body such as how hard you are breathing, if (or how much) you are sweating, and any feelings of strength or fatigue in your arms and legs." From there, you can "grade" your efforts.
The RPE Scale
- Level 6: Wanta says to think of this level as how you feel when you are sitting or at rest.
- Level 7–11: Warming Up: Consider this "light" exercise beginning with slower paced movement that eases you into moving fluidly. As your body begins to loosen up and feel comfortable with the activity you will naturally gradually increase the pace and intensity of movement. Your RPE will gradually move upward through the 7-11 range. The working muscles will warm up, you will feel yourself beginning to breathe modestly harder, and you commonly will start to sweat.
- Level 12-14: Somewhat hard but sustainable; This is how you would feel when you are walking or working out with a friend; it should be within a moderate range that feels very sustainable.
- Level 15–19: Hard to Very Hard; Wanta says very few new exercisers can sustain activity at this level for an extended period of time. Experienced exercisers and athletes in training routinely aerobically exercise at this level.
- Level 20: Maximal Exertion
"The great thing about the scale," says Wanta, "is that it moves with you. As you get more fit, the same amount of work will feel easier and the scale can help you self-regulate to a higher level of intensity." He explains, "To stay in your desired level of intensity (12-14 for most people) you might have to pedal harder or run faster. The general rule of thumb is to stay at a level where you can talk to a friend, but could not sing."
If you are able to sustain your level of intensity, and want to improve your fitness level, you can think about adding a few minutes to your activity or adding an extra session during the week.
Benefits of Being Physically Active
The RPE scale can help you improve your fitness level by helping you become more self-aware of the intensity of your efforts. But Wanta says, "Whether you use the scale or not, there are still many benefits to becoming physically active." These include:
- More energy throughout the day
- Improved self image as fitness improves
- Better sleep
- Possible weight loss
- Better blood glucose control
- Reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and many other medical ailments
- Better blood pressure control
- Improved mood state
If you are new to exercise, or have any health concerns or risks, talk with your doctor to develop a routine that is safe for you.