Question: I’m confused about how to judge riding intensity if I don’t use a heart rate monitor or power meter. Can you give me some advice? — Allen B.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: With a little practice, it’s possible to gauge workout intensity with RPE (rating of perceived exertion). And once you get the hang of it, your RPE numbers should fairly closely track intensity readings that you might get from an HRM or power meter.
Traditional RPE techniques, such as the Borg scale, use ratings from 6 to 20. I prefer a simpler method using a scale of 1 to 10. A rating of 1 is no activity at all (you’re slouched on the couch) while 10 is flat-out, as hard as you can go on the bike.
Using this scale:
- 5 is moderate activity such as walking fast or spinning along a flat road.
- A rating of 6 is experienced as “brisk effort.”
- At 7, you begin to breathe steadily and rhythmically. Conversation is more difficult.
- At 8 your breathing intensifies.
- When you’re gasping, you’ve reached 9. Fit riders time trial between 8 and 9.
Once you’ve got the feel for RPE, you can use these numbers to plan workout intensities and describe them in whatever training records you keep.