How hard should you be working out? It all depends. I’ve had some clients upset if they aren’t totally drenched in sweat during a workout and out of breath. I’ve also had clients reluctant to step up the challenge a bit. So what is the appropriate exertion level? How do we measure our exertion level? Being able to communicate this effectively between the trainer and client is vital. Luckily there is a scale that we can use to help. It is called the Perceived Rate of Exertion scale. The scale ranges from 1 to 10 (some prefer a 1-20 scale). See Below.
Depending on your fitness level/experience and your health status, you should be working at different levels of exertion. Those with metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, diabetes, high BMI) should begin exercise at the 4 to 5 level of exertion. Beginners without metabolic syndrome can expect to do much of their exercise at the 7-8 level of exertion. For instance, if you are doing cardio you should be able to have a conversation (albeit a short one) during most of the workout. As you become more acclimated to the workout stress, you will find that you can exercise at greater intensity and still be able to have a brief conversation.
Reaching PRE of 9-10 should be limited to more advanced students and should be limited in its duration.
Some exercise programs utilize interval training programs that will have you vary your exertion level throughout the workout. For example, you may be running on the treadmill at a PRE of 8 for 5 minutes and then decrease the exertion to a PRE of 4-5 for 1 to 5 minutes. Doing this is a great way to increase calories burned and increase your volume of oxygen that your body can use (aka VO2 max).
Other programs will have you work at a particular tempo for a certain duration at a designated PRE. For example, your trainer may have you run for 30 consistent minutes at a PRE of 7 with no breaks or decrease in exertion.
Using PRE to describe workout intensity is particularly useful when you are utilizing different machines or working out without your trainer present. If you are following the scale by self-monitoring your breathing, you are most likely going to be working out at the appropriate heart rate as well. Again, if you suffer from metabolic syndrome, however, special considerations will need to be made and your heart rate should be more carefully measured throughout your workout.