Perceived Exertion and Cardio Exercise: Are you Working Too Hard?


Part IV of a Four Part Series on Cardiovascular Exercise Programming

The most common and most frequently completed cardiovascular exercise falls into the Moderate Duration, Moderate Intensity (MDMI) category, and is today’s topic.

Without knowing any better, this is the type of workout most runners run, most cyclists ride, and most gym going elliptical users complete. It’s pretty simple really:  get going;  go harder and harder until you feel some ‘discomfort;’  and then continue until it gets ‘stressful’, usually about 30 minutes.

It’s a great workout, and has it’s time and place, but is only one part of a comprehensive cardiovascular programming model needed for good heart health, and good heart fitness.

Indeed, to remain healthy, avoid injury, and get the most of your cardiovascular program, the other three workouts presented in the previous three weeks are also necessary:

  1. Last week we discussed metabolism and The Fat Burning Myth.
  2. Two weeks ago, being Valentines Day, we hit on the hottest of training zones with Zone 5 Interval Training.
  3. And the week before that we offered tips on your Long Duration, Low Intensity Cardio event.

Not included in these, of course, is strength, stability, and core resistance training.   It’s just cardio we’re talking about here, which is just one part of an overall fitness program … the other elements being resistance training,  proper nutrition, and flexibility.

So, if you’re guilty of just moderate duration, moderate intensity,  and you’re not happy with your results, you’re missing 3 parts of your cardio program, and 3 parts of your fitness program!

Well then,  Randy, how do we put the pieces together?

The challenge with Prescribed Cardiovascular Programming is threefold:

  1. Volume (time) needs to be defined and managed to make progress, and burn calories without over training;
  2. Intensity needs to be sufficiently high to train elevated Heart Rate Zones, yet brief and/or low enough to prevent catabolism (the unfortunate use of lean body mass as an energy source); and
  3. Volumes and Intensities need to be adjusted for fitness level, gender, and age

The best thing you can do is to work with a professional who knows the variables, as in Fitness Together’s  Prescribed Cardiovascular Programming Model. The second best thing to do is to read, understand, and follow the recommendations in my Heart Rate Zone Training to Look and Feel Fantastic report. Shoot me an email if you’d like a copy.

But if you merely want some simple guidelines for what a reasonable MDMI cardiovascular program should look like, here you are! We’ll even make it especially simple for you by entirely avoiding the heart rate zone training by using the notion of Perceived Exertion.

Step 1:

Plan for 4 days per week of cardiovascular exercise in addition to your 3 or 4 personal training sessions.

Step 2:

Use a Relative Perceived Exertion (RPE) to define Intensity as follows:


10 = The Hardest Thing you’ve ever done and you must stop exercising immediately;
9 = A very, very difficult level, but something you can continue to do for a few seconds;

8= A very difficult exercise level, but something you can continue to do for a few minutes; and

7 = A Somewhat Difficult exercise level, but something you could continue to do for an hour

Each Week, your total Cardiovascular Program should Include:

  1. One day per week you should complete a Shorter Duration, High Intensity effort of about 30 minutes.   See the earlier Blog on Zone 5 Interval Training for complete guidance, but…
    • 60% of the exercise should be Level 7,
    • 47-49%% of the time should be spent at Level 8 Intensity;
    • and 1-3% of the effort at Level 9.
    • These are ‘spikey’, very high intensity exercise bouts like 30 or 60 second all-out sprints or steep hill short hill climbs followed by a rest interval. They should be briefly painful, but not agonizing. Pain Good. Suffering Bad.
  2. Two Moderate Duration Moderate Intensity (MDMI) Cardio Events.  And here’s how:
    • Maintain, alternatively, Level 7 and Level 8 intensities for  35 and 55 minutes.
    • Total effort in the Level 8 range should be no more than 10% of the total exercise time.
    • Do not enter RPE 9
    • These are rolling hills kinds of things – gradual, slow increases in intensity with longer periods of time in Level 7 in between for ‘rest & recovery’
    • Duration should exceed 30 minutes, but be less than 60
    • Feels like work, but isn’t terribly uncomfortable until the end
  3. One Long Duration Low Intensity cardiovascular events each week: spend 45 to 90 minutes at Level 7
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One Response

  1. […] been resistance training 3 or 4 times weekly and completingg a well balanced program of 2 hours of cardio each week.  You’ve eliminated all of the junk from your diet, get sufficient protein intake, keep well […]

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