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Associations between Borg’s rating of perceived exertion and physiological measures of exercise intensity

Abstract

Borg’s rating of perceived exertion (RPE) is a widely used psycho-physical tool to assess subjective perception of effort during exercise. We evaluated the association between Borg’s RPE and physiological exercise parameters in a very large population. In this cohort study, 2,560 Caucasian men and women [median age 28 (IQR 17–44) years] completed incremental exercise tests on treadmills or cycle ergometers. Heart rate, blood lactate concentration, and RPE (Borg scale 6–20) were simultaneously measured at the end of each work load. Rating of perceived exertion was strongly correlated with heart rate (r = 0.74, p < 0.001) and blood lactate (r = 0.83, p < 0.001). The mean values for lactate threshold (LT) and individual anaerobic threshold corresponded to an RPE of 10.8 ± 1.8 and 13.6 ± 1.8, respectively. Fixed lactate thresholds of 3 and 4 mmol/L corresponded to RPEs of 12.8 ± 2.1 and 14.1 ± 2.0. Gender, age, coronary artery disease (CAD), physical activity status and exercise testing modality did not influence this association significantly (all p > 0.05). Borg’s RPE seems to be an affordable, practical and valid tool for monitoring and prescribing exercise intensity, independent of gender, age, exercise modality, physical activity level and CAD status. Exercising at an RPE of 11–13 (“low”) is recommended for less trained individuals, and an RPE of 13–15 may be recommended when more intense but still aerobic training is desired.

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Abbreviations

ATH:

Athlete

BL:

Blood lactate concentration

HR:

Heart rate

HRmaxpred:

Maximal predicted heart rate

LS:

Leisure sports and sedentary people

LT:

Lactate threshold

MLSS:

Maximal lactate steady state

RPE:

Rating of perceived exertion

TC:

Total cohort

VO2peak:

Peak oxygen consumption

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank the staff of the Department of Prevention and Sports Medicine, Klinikum rechts der Isar der Technische Universitaet Muenchen. The corresponding author affirms that he has listed everyone who contributed significantly to the work. The corresponding author, Johannes Scherr, state that the authors had access to all the study data, take responsibility for the accuracy of the analysis, and had authority over manuscript preparation and the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

Conflict of interest

None of the authors of this paper had any personal or financial conflicts of interest.

Author information

Correspondence to Johannes Scherr.

Additional information

Communicated by David C. Poole.

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Scherr, J., Wolfarth, B., Christle, J.W. et al. Associations between Borg’s rating of perceived exertion and physiological measures of exercise intensity. Eur J Appl Physiol 113, 147–155 (2013) doi:10.1007/s00421-012-2421-x

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Keywords

  • Exercise intensity
  • Lactate threshold
  • Rating of perceived exertion
  • Prevention