If you’re planning to get fit, or maybe even want to train to do a charity bike ride, consider how you are going to monitor the intensity of your workouts. The Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is the easiest way to measure exercise intensity – and it’s free! In the table below I have added in the heart rate percentages as well. The RPE table used here is a simplification of the Borg Perceived Scale of Exertion.
Aerobic Training Zones: Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), and Related Heart Rate Percentages
|Zone 1 (Low intensity)||1 to 2||Light||I'm so comfortable I could do this all day!||Strengthens your heart. Contributes to reducing body fat, cholesterol, and blood pressure.||50% to 60% of maximum heart rate|
|Zone 2 (Weight Control)||3 to 4||Moderate||I can feel that I am exercising, but I feel good and can easily carry on a conversation||Strengthens your heart and your mitochondria (the powerhouses of your cells). Contributes to reducing body fat, cholesterol, and blood pressure. 65% of calories burned in this zone are calories from fat.||60% to 70% of maximum heart rate|
|Zone 3 (Aerobic)||5 to 6||Intense, but not exhausting||I am a bit breathless now, and I don't want to talk||Great zone for weight loss, strengthening muscle, and general fitness. Burns 50% carbs and 50% fat.||70% to 80% of maximum heart rate|
|Zone 4 (Anaerobic)||6 to 8||Intense and exhausting||Breathing is labored, and talking is not an option unless in cases of emergency. Most people should only do this in short spurts, 2 to 3 days per week||Improves both endurance and fitness. Cannot be sustained for long enough to be significant for weight loss.||80% to 90% of maximum heart rate|
|Zone 5 (Maximum)||9 to 10||As Intense as is Physically Possible for You||In this zone, you can only focus on the activity, such as cycling or running as fast as possible. Talking is out of the question. Loud grunts might be possible (think power lifting competitions).||Can only be done in short bursts, around 1 to 2 minutes. It is used to improve athletic performance, but comes with a high risk for injury. Mainly used as a training tool only by competitive athletes.||90% to 100% of maximum heart rate|
Using the above scale, an exertion level from 1 to 3 will keep you in the low middle of your aerobic training zone, and would be a good place for a beginner to start with aerobic exercising such as cycling. As you progress, you can start exercising in higher levels of perceived exertion.
Generally speaking, Level 4 of RPE is enough to get average cyclists fitter. You should only use higher levels that that if you are planning to do competitive cycling, or want to achieve peak levels of fitness for other reasons.
If you want to have higher levels of precision than just your self-perception, consider using equipment such as a heart rate monitor, a fitness tracker, or a smart watch, such as the top-rated Garmin Vivoactive HR.
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