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Classification of Physical Activity Intensity

 

  Of the numerous methods for monitoring exercise intensity, five have been somewhat standardized and are recommended for trainers to monitor their clients.  Choosing a method will depend on the exercise program and level of fitness, knowledge of test data (ie. heart rates, functional capacity), and experience.  The following are the primary methods of monitoring exercise intensity:
  • Heart Rate - Percentage of maximal heart rate & Percentage of heart-rate reserve.
  • Rating of perceived exertion (RPE)
  • The "talk test" method
  • METs

The Heart Rate method of monitoring intensity of exercise calculates the exercise heart rate as a percentage of maximal heart rate (more).

The Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) method.  A good way to understand how hard you are working is based upon how you feel.  This method of self evaluation to rate your workout intensity is called rating of perceived exertion (RPE).  Pair this technique with a heart-rate monitor, and you have a great method for evaluating workout intensity.

Understanding RPE will help you to understand how hard you are working, and to relay this information to your trainer if you are working with one.  Knowing how hard you think you are working will let you know whether you're on track with your programming.  There are typically intensity levels associated with RPE that can assist you or your trainer in setting goals for yourself (for instance, "When performing your circuit sets, you should be working around a level 6").

Here's a good example of a basic chart that can be used for RPE intensity:

The Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale

Cardio-respiratory Conditioning Level RPE Workout Intensity Similar to...
No Effort 0 Not exercising Sitting down and relaxing
Very little effort 1 Very easy Standing up
Warm-up or recovery effort 2 Somewhat easy Walking
Warm-up or recovery effort 3 Moderate Walking moderately
Aerobic effort 4 Somewhat hard Walking uphill moderately
Aerobic effort 5 Moderately hard Jogging slowly
Aerobic effort 6 Hard Jogging fast
Anaerobic effort 7 Hard Running moderately
Anaerobic effort 8 Very hard Running
Anaerobic effort 9 Very, very hard Sprinting
Anaerobic effort 10 Maximal Sprinting maximally
 
     
  The "Talk Test" method of monitoring exercise intensity is another means, like the RPE method, that is subjective.  It is quite useful in determining a "comfort zone" of aerobic intensity.  You should be able to breathe comfortably and rhythmically throughout all phases of a workout to ensure a safe and comfortable level of exercise, especially for those just beginning an exercise program.  Those that progress to higher functional capacities may find this method somewhat conservative, especially at intensities greater than 80% of functional capacity.

Intensity Measured by MET's.  Exercise intensity can be assessed by a graded exercise test (bicycle or treadmill).  Based on the time a person stays on the treadmill or bicycle ergometer, the maximal oxygen consumption (ie. aerobic or functional capacity) can be estimated and converted to a MET equivalent.  A MET is a multiple of resting oxygen consumption.  One MET equals a person's oxygen uptake at rest, which is equal to approximately 3.5 milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute (305mL/kg/min).  Intensity of exercise may be determined as a specified percentage of the persons maximal oxygen consumption or functional capacity, and then choosing activities that are known to require energy expenditure at the desired level.  For example, if a person has a 10 MET functional capacity and it is recommended that they exercise at 60% of functional capacity, then 60% of 10 METs equals 6 METs exercise intensity.  The following table is a list of Leisure Activities in METS:

Activity Mean Range
Archery 3.9 3-4
Backpacking - 5-11
Badminton 5.8 4-9+
Basketball (Game play) 8.3 7-12+
Basketball (Nongame play) - 3-9
Billiards 2.5 -
Bowling - 2-4
Boxing (in-ring) 13.3 -
Boxing (sparring) 8-3 -
Canoeing, rowing, and kayaking - 3-8
Conditioning exercise - 3-8+
Climbing hills 7.2 5-10+
Cricket 5.2 4-8
Croquet 3.5 -
Cycling (Pleasure or to work) - 3-8+
Cycling (10 mph) 7.0 -
Dancing (social, square, tap) - 3-8
Dancing (aerobic) - 6-9
Fencing - 6-10+
Field Hockey 8.0 -
Fishing (from bank) 3.7 2-4
Fishing (wading in stream) - 5-6
Football (touch) 7.9 6-10
Golf (power cart) - 2-3
Golf (walking with bag or pull cart) 5.1 4-7
Handball - 8-12+
Hiking (cross-country) - 3-7
Horseback riding (galloping) 8.2 -
Horseback riding (trotting) 6.6 -
Horseback riding (walking) 2.4 -
Horseshoe pitching - 2-3
Activity Mean Range
Hunting (small game, walking) - 3-7
Hunting (Big game, dragging) - 3-14
Judo 13.5 -
Mountain climbing - 5-10+
Music playing - 2-3
Paddleball, racquetball 9 8-12
Rope jumping (60-80 skips/min) 9 -
Rope jumping (120-140 skips/min) - 11-12
Running (12min per mile) 8.7 -
Running (11min per mile) 9.4 -
Running (10min per mile) 10.2 -
Running (9min per mile) 11.2 -
Running (8min per mile) 12.5 -
Running (7min per mile) 14.1 -
Running (6min per mile) 16.3 -
Sailing - 2.5
Scuba diving - 5-10
Shuffleboard - 2-3
Skating, ice and roller - 5-8
Skiing (snow, downhill) - 5-8
Skiing (snow, cross-country) - 6-12+
Skiing (water) - 5-7
Sledding, tobogganing - 4-8
Snowshoeing 9.9 7-14
Squash - 8-12+
Soccer - 5-12+
Stair climbing - 4-8
Swimming - 4-8+
Table tennis 4.1 3-5
Tennis 6.5 4-9+
Volleyball - 3-6
 
     
  Estimated correlation of exercise intensity methods  
 
  Relative Intensity Absolute Intensity in Healthy Adults, METs*
                    Age
Intensity O2 max, % Max Heart Rate, % RPE (20-39) (40-64) (65-79) (80+)
 Very light <20 <35 <1 <2.4 <2.0 <1.6 <1.0
 Light 20-39 35-54 1-2 2.4-4.7 2.0-3.9 1.6-3.1 1.1-1.9
 Moderate 40-59 55-69 2-3 4.8-7.1 4.0-5.9 3.2-4.7 2.0-2.9
 Hard 60-84 70-89 4-6 7.2-10.1 6.0-8.4 4.8-6.7 3.0-4.25
 Very hard >=85 >=90 7-9 >=10.2 >=8.5 >=6.8 >=4.25
 Maximum 100 100 10 12 10 8 5

 

 
     
 

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