No pain, no gain!” is a phrase we’ve all heard countless times. While it may be motivational for some, it can also be potentially harmful for others. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t push ourselves, instead we need to learn our limits, so we can train smart and get the most out of whatever exercise we like to do. One way to monitor how hard you’re working (and therefore stay within your limits) is to rate or measure your intensity. This can be done in a number of ways, including your heart rate maximum (HRmax), your heart rate reserve (HRR), and your rating of perceived exertion (RPE).

  • HRmax is usually estimated as 220 minus your age
  • HRR this is calculated as your heart rate maximum, minus your resting heart rate (this accounts for your resting heart rate, so is more individualised than simply your estimated heart rate max)
  • RPE is a self-rated scale of 0-10 (0 being “no exertion at all” and 10 being “maximal exertion”)

Monitoring your intensity during exercise is a great way to track your progress, and ensure you don’t over-do it. For example: When you may start out being able to deadlift a 15kg kettlebell, and your heart rate gets to 70% of your heart rate max – known as “vigorous” intensity. As you progress, your heart rate gets to 60% of your max while at the same 15kg deadlift – this shows the same exercise is now only “moderate” intensity for you. This means you’ve progressed! As a general guideline, we’d recommend you train at a “moderate” to “vigorous” intensity (see below). If you’re new or returning to exercise after a break, starting at “light” intensity may be best, and progressing from there.

Intensity table (TABLE 1)

If you’re injured, or have a medical condition, it is best to speak with your GP, physiotherapist, or accredited exercise physiologist, prior to commencing or returning to exercise.

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