The Importance of Rates of Exertion

The fitness world is filled with numbers. How many minutes are you working out? How many pounds have you lost? How many calories have you burned? How many steps have you walked? What is your heart rate? Measurement and goal setting are very common. 

As with any analysis, numbers give us information and can play an important role in our health and fitness decisions. One often overlooked figure that we might want to consider more regularly is the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). RPE measures the level of intensity exerted at any point during an exercise period and is widely used in training and competition. Anyone with a fitness goal should look to their RPE to help them monitor the intensity of their workout and increase or decrease their rates of exertion accordingly. 

When using a simple scale of 1-10, RPE looks like this:

1:  Very light level of activity

2-3:  Light level of activity

4-6:  Moderate level of activity

7-8:  Hard level of activity

9:  Very hard level of activity

10:  Extremely hared level of activity

RPE During Pregnancy


In pregnancy, RPE is measured differently. Usually we encourage people to push their limits and move at a moderate to hard level of intensity, where talking during their working out is difficult. However, a safe exercise program will have pregnant women exercising at a level where they can speak comfortably without having to take deep, laboured breaths.

RPE During the Post-Partum Period

When it comes to post-natal levels of intensity, as you progress through your recovery, you can begin to use the RPE to push yourself further. Are you still easily chatting while working out? Are your muscles still feeling good more than halfway into the class? Do you still have lots of energy towards the end of the class? If so, increase your intensity to move up the RPE scale. When you begin working at a moderate or hard level on the scale, talking becomes difficult and your primary focus moves to your workout. Increasing intensity and pushing yourself up the RPE scale  is how you’ll become fitter, stronger and more toned.


Here’s a test for the next time you are in a class or working out at home: If you are start with some cardio, like burpees, then move to a plank and you are still able to easily chat with your friend beside you, you have room to work harder, increase your RPE and see greater fitness results. 

One type of training that works on increasing your RPE is called High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). In FITMOM and FITWOMAN classes, we turn to HIIT to help guide our workouts and maximize your fitness goals. One of our favourite HIIT workouts is a tabata format, where you’ll push hard for twenty seconds, and then have a ten second rest (and repeat the sequence four to eight times). We always encourage women to workout safely and comfortably, with the understanding that progressively working harder improves results. 

Finally, the most important point when referring to your rate of exertion (or any other fitness number for that matter), is to workout to your own level of fitness and physical comfort. For many women who have recently had a baby, this level is usually quite different than their pre-motherhood level. Knowing how comfortable you are, but also how to push and motivate yourself to that next level of the scale will help you reach your fitness goals and provide you with greater satisfaction of the work you are doing. 

During your next workout, ask yourself this question: What level of activity am I working at? Is it possible for me to work any harder and move up the scale? If so, try it! You'll be happy with the results.