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Perceived Exertion – A natural way to measure Bio Feedback


Perception is the process of attaining awareness or understanding of sensory information within the body. Muscle soreness, increased breath, and lethargic feelings are some of the sensory information related to exercise. Exertion is defined as the expenditure of energy from skeletal muscle and can be measured by the rate of oxygen use, body heat, heart rate, and power. The way you perceive each exertion during or after exercise is a form a bio feedback that can help you understand your limits to intensity, training volume and level of fatigue during training.


Certain questions should be answered while exercising in order to use perceived exertion as a guide to your exercise intensity. You need to ask yourself – Does the hill look hard? Does this hill feel hard? Do my legs feel sore while running or cycling? – You are most likely experiencing a high perceived exertion if the hill looked hard, felt hard, and legs felt sore. Other forms of bio feedback can be looked at, and compared to perceived exertion, such as your breath and heart rate. Was your breath easy or labored while climbing the hill? Did it feel easy to raise your heart rate or was it work to keep your heart rate elevated at a certain race pace zone?  Learning how to read the feedback your body gives along with how you perceive it, will help you determine your individual limits for daily training intensity, durations and limits for training volume over each training period.


Perceived exertion is best used when comparing it to other forms of bio feedback such as your heart rate, your breath, power output or your pace. There are going to be days where you are rested and your perceived exertion feels low working hard at your race pace or threshold heart rate. There are also going to be days where your perceived exertion feels high when working hard at your race pace or threshold heart rates. The days of low perceived exertion feelings usually come within the beginning of a training period and/or after a week of rest. After a week of rest you may experience a low perceived exertion for the entire duration of your first few workouts or possibly the entire first week. Experiencing a low perceived exertion is a really good sign of a well functioning and rested system.


A low perceived exertion is the goal when racing. A good program will help you feel a low perceived exertion at the beginning of a race, especially your targeted races. A low perceived exertion at the beginning of a race will allow you to focus on other things such as technique and strategy. It is understandable to experience a high perceived exertion towards the end of any race, especially the ultra distance events. The increase in perceived exertion towards the end of high intensity exercise sessions, such as a race, has a close relationship to the loss of glycogen within the muscle. The rate of carbohydrate absorption is going to be less than what you will need to expend during a race. Basically, no matter how much you eat, you will continue to experience a negative balance within your energy supply, unless you rest and recover. So the negative balance in energy supply and demand will eventually lead to an increase in perceived exertion. Replacing blood sugars with carbohydrate drinks, and solid foods, during a race, will help delay an increase in perceived exertion feelings towards the end of longer events, especially the ultra endurance events.


Pushing past your feelings of perceived exertion and ignoring the signs of fatigue is a very common mistake made by many. Feeling a higher than normal perceived exertion while training is somewhat the goal but it is also the goal to recognize fatigue, with bio feedback such as perceived exertion, reduce your training intensity and volume and recover to experience low perceived exertion feelings again. Learn to listen to your body, work smarter, not harder, and make more gains while having more fun!


Mike Schultz CSCS

Highland Training LLC


Phone: 814.289.6620 | Email: schultz@highlandtraining.net