Setting the pace

tortoise and hare

“Slow and steady wins the race said the tortoise about his pace…” Determining the appropriate pace, or intensity, when performing a workout or activity can be a challenge for some. It is important to listen to your body and determine your perceived exertion, which is how hard you feel your body is working, when exercising. If the body is worked too hard, overexertion sets in leaving one feeling over fatigued and can potentially lead to injury. If the body is not worked or challenged enough, no “gains” are met. The following can be used as a helpful guideline when setting the pace of an activity or workout. Establishing the pace can be as simple as grading an activity as either 1) easy, 2) somewhat hard, or 3) hard. How much effort are you exerting into the task? This can be applied to all exercises. For example, selecting the appropriate amount of weight used in a resistance exercise or determining what speed to select on an elliptical. Unless your goal is to lift the maximum amount you possibly can on one repetition, then working out at a maximum all out “hard” level is not appropriate. Ideally, you want to remain in the “somewhat hard” or moderate intensity level when exercising. Another helpful and objective tool in establishing what is “easy, somewhat hard, and hard” numerically is the Borg Ratings of Perceived Exertion Scale. This scale was designed for average, healthy adults. The body’s responses to activity, including increased breathing rate/work of breathing, sweating, muscles “talking” to you, and increased heart rate are not just subjective sensations but can actually provide a fairly accurate estimate of heart rate when applied to “Borg Ratings of Perceived Exertion Scale.” The scale begins at a number 6, labeled as “no exertion at all” and ends at 20, labeled as “maximal exertion.” When using the “Borg Ratings of Perceived Exertion Scale” listed below, the “somewhat hard” would place you at a numerical level 13, or heart rate equivalent to 130 beats per minute. Note, this calculation is only an approximation of heart rate, and the actual heart rate can vary quite a bit depending on age and physical condition. The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion is also the preferred method to assess intensity of exercise in individuals who take medications that affect heart rate or pulse. Should an exercise cause more exertion than a “somewhat hard” or “13” level, you should stop, rest and resume once recovered with the goal to remain at the “somewhat hard/13” or moderate intensity level to achieve maximum benefits.
For more information related to the Borg Ratings of Perceived Exertion Scale, please refer to: Perceived Exertion. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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