Using The Talk Test for Exercise Intensity

April 29th, 2020

This blog covers the “Talk Test” and how it can be used to dial in exercise intensity. Read ahead to find out more.

A couple of months back, I posted this article which outlined the WHO’s guidelines for physical activity. It described the amount of moderate and vigorous exercise that a person should be getting on a week-to-week basis to avoid the pitfalls of inactivity. According to them, these pitfalls include increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and all-cause mortality.

The recommendations for folks between 18 to 65 years of age are to get 150 minutes of moderate, or 70 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. I provided a link to some examples of exercises which would typically fall into either category, but since then I have come across an easier way to identify and individualize exertion using a simpler method called the “Talk Test”.

Using this test, we can get a fairly good idea of how hard we are exerting ourselves regardless of what it is we are doing. This method is more often used in a qualitative way, where we look simply at our ability, or inability to talk while doing something as being an indicator of how hard we are working. Here’s how it works:

You’re getting moderate aerobic activity if you can talk but can’t sing while doing an activity. You’re getting vigorous aerobic activity if you can only say a few words while doing your activity. You are exercising too hard if you can’t talk while doing your activity. You may not be exercising hard enough if you can sing while doing your activity.

I’m still trying to work out what it means if you can’t sing no matter what… Only kidding!

As it turns out we can actually get a little quantitative with this as well, but it requires a little bit of mental math. For this method we have to start by establishing a baseline. To do this you simply count as high as you can with a single breath. You’ll want to use the Mississippi, one-thousand, alligator, etc. between numbers to standardize your counting.

Now that we have that number, we can periodically check in by seeing how high we can count in a single breath while exercising or in between sets. According to research, if your pre-exercise count was less than 25 then you are considered to be working out at least moderately if you can count up to 40% of your resting total. For example, let’s say you were able to count to 20 before you started working out, according to this method if you can only count to 8 or less while exercising then you are in the moderate to vigorous zone.

For those who are able to achieve pre-test counts of 25 or more, you apparently need to be closer to the 30% mark before hitting the moderate to vigorous threshold. So lets say you hit 25 breaths in the pre-test, that would mean that you’d be in the zone at around a count of 7 during exercise.

Pretty neat, eh?

I hope that by assessing your activity in this way that you start to realize a couple of things. One, that you may already be hitting the recommended activity guidelines with your day-to-day activities. If that isn’t the case, perhaps it will reveal some opportunities to do so.

Until next time, BE WELL