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Perceived Exertion: Definition & Rate

Instructor: Sharon Linde
Perceived exertion, though subjective, has been shown to have strong correlations with several objective physical metrics. This lesson defines perceived exertion and shows how to use an athlete's perceptions in order to fine tune their workout and workout load.

Definition of Perceived Exertion

Let's say you are a coach looking for new ways to improve your clients' workouts. What information could you track? You can certainly use heart monitors, or other objective measurements, but did you know there's a very useful subjective one as well?

Perceived exertion is the answer to the question, 'How hard was that workout you just did?' In other words, perceived exertion is the subjective feel of how difficult a particular workout was to that athlete on that day.

This area of research was pioneered by Dr. Gunnar Borg, a Swedish psychologist, with the publishing of 'Psychophysical Bases of Perceived Exertion' in 1982. How does this help you? Let's take a look.

Rating Perceived Exertion

Dr. Borg's original scale was a rating system from 0-20, although he later modified it to a 0-10. Others have taken the exact same concept but only used as few as 5 different intensity levels. The most common scale these days is probably the 1-10 scale, because it is more intuitive that most others.

The scale goes like this:

  1. - Very light
  2. - Light
  3. - Moderate exertion
  4. - Somewhat heavy
  5. - Heavy exertion
  6. - Very heavy
  7. - Very, very heavy

Perceived efforts can vary dramatically from athlete to athlete, and it's possible, even likely, that the same athlete could rate the same workout completed at the same pace differently on one day than another.

Wondering how something so changeable could be useful? Let's find out.

Making Use of Perceived Rate

Perceived exertion is a tool that is best used in conjunction with more objective tools, like heart rate monitors, pacing charts, or power meters. This is because the perceived exertion gives you a different view of the same workout. The clock and power meters might indicate a steady improvement in fitness, while perceived exertion might indicate an athlete that is approaching an over-trained state. Using the two types of data together give you a more complete picture of the athlete's fitness and helps you design more appropriate workouts to meet objectives.

The first thing to do is to add the perceived exertion rating to your existing data. After you have enough data you will be able to use it to answer questions you have related to the athlete's fitness and planned workouts.

Example of Perceived Exertion

Uses of perceived exertion can help a person adjust their workout to be more or less intense. For example, someone running on the treadmill might rate their run as a 2, with only light breathing. She may want to up the speed a bit to for a more challenging workout, continuing to gauge how her body feels to modify her exertions.

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