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Exercise: Measuring Your Effort


Exertion is your level of effort during exercise. It tells you how hard your heart is working. Your goal is to exercise at a level that's safe but helpful to your heart. You can measure effort in two ways:

Target heart rate is the number of heartbeats per minute to aim for during exercise. Ask your health care provider or cardiac rehab specialist how to calculate yours.The Borg RPE scale lets you gauge how hard you feel you're working. 

Using the BORG RPE Scale

The numbers on the Borg RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) scale reflect how much effort you feel you're making during exercise. Ask your provider or rehab team what level you should aim for.


How it feels


No exertion at all


Extremely light




Very light








Somewhat hard




Hard (heavy)




Very hard




Extremely hard


Maximum exertion

Borg, G. Borg's Perceived Exertion and Pain Scale. Champaign, IL. Human Kinetics; 1998

Close view of fingers pressing the pulse point on the opposite wrist

Check your heart rate

To check your heart rate, gently press 2 or 3 fingers  to the inner side of your wrist and count the number of heartbeats you feel in 10 seconds then multiply the number by 6. This is your heart rate.

Symptoms of overexertion

Stop exercising and tell your provider or rehab team member if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Tightness or pain in your chest, arm, or jaw (Call 911!)

  • Pain, discomfort, burning, tightness, heaviness, or pressure in your chest, shoulders, arm, neck, or jaw

  • Unusual shortness of breath

  • A racing or skipping heartbeat

  • Extreme tiredness

  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, or nausea

Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Akin, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith, RN, MSN, FNP, CCRC
Last Review Date: 6/1/2013
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.