Perceived Exertion & Heart Rates — How to use them

This doctor’s Perceived Exertion Scale

Scale of 1-10.
1 laying in bed or propped up
2 sitting up
3 standing
4 standing & / or jiggling
5 walking
6 brisk walk/slow jog – point of breaking a sweat, could keep doing this for hours; equivalent of 60% of max heart rate
7 sweating, still able to have a conversation; 70% of max heart rate
8 breathing faster through mouth, sweating more; 80% of max heart rate
9 not able to sustain for long time, breathing hard, conversation has to wait; 90 % max heart rate
10 hard as you can go, balls to the wall, takes concentration on working it…this is your personal maximum heart rate

Keep perceived exertion in mind…

I’m a fan of the heart rate monitor when I am working out. I like numbers. I use a polar heart rate monitor even though I don’t care to wear a chest strap. I have just found it is the most reliable and it is easy to use. If you work out at a gym, it will often “talk” to the motorized gym equipment like the treadmill, elliptical, stepper, stationary bike, etc.

Here is how I use my heart rate monitor. First, I rate my perceived exertion at the level of exercise I am doing – & see what my heart rate is. This lets me know my own heart rate zones for different levels of perceived exertion so I know how vigorous any activity is for me. Then, I look at what my heart rate is when I am going 10/10 & note that as my personal maximum heart rate. Then, I can figure out my approximate heart rate which correlates with each level of perceived exertion. Now, I can see how I am doing.

What I find is that as my fitness improves, I can do more for the same heart rate response. For example, I can walk 3.6 mph at a 4 degree incline on my treadmill and I am at a level 6 that correlates with a heartrate in the 120’s. Previously, when I first started my current exercise program, that same setting on my treadmill felt more like an 8 on perceived exertion and my heart rate was in the 160’s.

Also, as the fitness level improves, the time it takes for your heart rate to come back down gets shorter. In other words, your recovery time gets shorter. Instead of 10 minutes to cool down, it only takes 1 minute.

Finally, when you know what your resting heart rate is, you can objectively see if your body is under more stress (ie. fighting a brutal cold) & adjust your workout accordingly. So, given my resting heart rate is in the 50’s, if I have a cold & my resting heart rate is in the 70’s or 80’s, I know I may not want to exert myself too much. In fact, I can just gently walk slowly & see my heart rate will rise quickly. OR I can just do some stretches or some gentle yoga and make sure I am getting my fluids and taking care of myself in other ways.

We are all scientists when it comes to our own bodies. It helps to learn of more ways to understand what it is telling us. I suggest keeping a log of your observations. In this case, write the date & time, write down your activity (including duration and settings) and your perceived exertion and heart rate. I include my average heart rate and my maximum heart rate also. Then I include some notes about how I was feeling. I always finish with a positive note & then I review what I will do next time. Numbers make it easier to follow your progress. It’s so fun to look back on all of the successes!

In a future blog, I will discuss how to use this information to organize your workout plan – how to evaluate your workout and how much time you will invest into working out.

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