Back in the old days, one of the most common way of determining your exercise intensity level is by calculating your maximum heart rate. The age old formula that is very popular until today is:

220 – Your Age = Max Heart Rate

For example, if you’re a 30 year old male or female, your estimated maximum heart rate is (220-30 = 190 beats per minute aka bpm). An intensive level of exercise would roughly be 70-90% of your maximum heart rate, while a moderate level would somewhere be between 40-60% and easy at below 40%.

There are other formulas to calculate your maximum heart rate such as the Tanaka and Karvonen/Heart Rate Reserve, but let’s not get into details. The point I am getting to is, this method of calculation is too generic and can’t effectively apply to everyone. For instance, a 30 year old well conditioned athlete may find it comfortable to jog at a heart rate of 140bpm. Whereas, a deconditioned 30 year old average Joe may find it difficult to maintain a consistent exercise pace, at a heart rate of 140bpm.


As a personal trainer, we train different type of people with different fitness level. So how do we determine if our client is exercising at the desired intensity?

Whenever I begin a cardiovascular program, I will always teach my client how to use the Rated Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale.

RPE SCALE of 1-10

0 – Nothing at all
1 – Very light  [standing]
2 – Light   [walking, strolling]
3 – Moderate (able to converse comfortably)  [easy jog]
4 – Somewhat heavy   [jog]
5 – Heavy (find it hard to converse)   [jog, run]
7 – Very heavy (unable to converse)  [run, sprint]
10 – Very, very heavy (HELP!)   [all out baby!!]

I will ask my client to give me their estimated exertion they perceive they are putting in during an exercise using the scale. One of the easiest way of confirming their RPE level is by simply talking to them. If they can strike a conversation with me comfortably, they are most likely within the scale of 2-3. If they are finding it a little uncomfortable talking to me, then they are likely within 4-6. If they can’t talk to me, then I’ll know that they are exercising at an intensive level.


The Rated Perceived Exertion scale is one of the easiest, simplest and fastest way of determining your intensity level. A couple of practice, and you should be able to estimate your exercise intensity level accurately. Different people will have different fitness level, so it is only wise to train at a level that is suitable for you.