RPE Heart Rate (% Max) Description Talk Test


Level 1 < 80% Active recovery Able to have a chat
Level 2 80-89% Aerobic threshold Harder to breath but you can still talk if you concentrate
Level 3 90-94% Tempo Breathing is a challenge.  Talking is possible but only just
Level 4 95-99% Lactic threshold Breathing hard.  Conversation is nearly impossible
Level 5 >100 Aerobic capacity Can’t talk without gasping for air.  Just not possible for more than a few seconds

During a coaching session we invite triathletes to run an interval set at level 6 RPE pace.  Everyone nods knowingly before racing into the distance.  Either all participants know what level 6 RPE means or you are too polite to ask.  Judging by the state of some people after their level 6 RPE, I thought it might be good to give this some clarity.  For a few this might also mean training becomes a little easier.

In 1982 Gunnar Bourg designed a number of scales to help athletes, medics and others measure physical exertion.

‘The physical work we have to do or the exercise we should do to maintain good health always results in some degree of physical exertion.  During hard physical work, lasting several minutes, the demands on the heart, lungs, and working muscles are great.  Because the heart has to work hard, heart rate is a common measure of the degree of exertion.  However our own perceived exertion can also provide a good measure of physical exertion and intensity of exercise.’ (Bourg’s Perceived Exertion and Pain Scales 1998).

Bourg’s 20 point scale is normally reduced to a 5 (plus) point scale for ease of use. Research has been done to link RPE to your ability to talk while exercising.  They have shown a good correlation between RPE / HR / Ability to talk.  This ‘talk test’ makes it even easier to figure out your RPE as you head off around the track for the 4th time. At level 5 if you can’t speak; slow down.  If you are able to discuss the pros and cons of riding a fixed wheel; speed up … please.

Take note, it is your own feeling of effort and exertion that is important, not how it compares to other people. You are training your body not someone else’s.

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