Training Intensity – Borg Scale

The principles of training can be defined by “SOAR”, (Specificity, Overload, Adaptation Recovery).

Specificity: the training to be performed must be specific to the sport/activity.

Overload: muscles strengthen when they operate beyond their normal range of movement.

Adaptation: the body and brain adapts to the training undertaken; this occurs during periods of recovery.

Recovery: is a period of rest during but mainly after the training. It is during periods of rest and recovery that the muscle fibres repair. Recovery is probably the most ignored element of training!

Each training session should be focussed on improving at least one of the components of fitness which are: endurance, speed, strength, flexibility or coordination. Each of these will have specific exercises depending upon the sport or discipline being trained for. The common elements that dictate improving a component of fitness are known as the FIT factors (Frequency, Intensity, Time)

Frequency: how many times to perform the exercise (number of repetitions)

Intensity: the effort or pace for the exercise

Time: how long to perform the exercise for

When training for speed and/or endurance running it can be difficult for the individual to understand the intensity level best suited to a particular session. Many coaches recommend a particular training pace to their athletes; this is fine if on a 1:1 basis but more difficult with a mixed group of athletes. These training paces are usually based on a race distance pace e.g. 1k, 3k, 5k, 10k. However, many endurance runners do not know or understand mid-distance race paces and vice-versa for mid-distance athletes.

An alternative pacing guide that can be considered is Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). This was developed by a Swedish psychologist Gunnar Borg back in the early 1980’s. Borg introduced a scale to provide an idea of the intensity level for the activity such that the information can be used to adjust the intensity of the exercise to reach the desired individual range. The factors considered for perceived exertion will include: effort, strain, discomfort, fatigue as experienced during training.

It relies on an honest personal appraisal of ones feeling of exertion hence it is a subjective assessment incorporating much information from the brain and body: heart rate, breathing rate, perspiration, muscles, joints etc.; in other words only the athlete really knows how hard or intensely they are working. This personal feeling of effort and exertion is the important factor and not how it compares to other people. The original scale Borg introduced was a 15 point scale ranging from 6 – 20 as indicated below:

The Borg 20 Point Scale

RPE Description RPE Description
6 14
7 Very, very light 15 Hard
8 16
9 Very light 17 Very hard
10 18
11 Fairly light 19 Very, very hard
12 20
13 Somewhat hard

However a much simpler and easier to understand 0 – 10 scale has be since been introduced and one understandable interpretation of this is as below:

The Borg 10 Point Scale

RPE Description What you’d think Breathing Talking % max HR
0 Doing nothing Resting Relaxed Normal <60
1 Very easy Really easy Normal Normal <60
2 Easy Easy Normal Normal <60
3 Moderate Moderate Comfortable Easy 60
4 Quite hard Sort of hard Noticeable Ok if necessary 70
5 Hard Feeling this Deep – steady Conversation stops 75
6 Really hard Hurting Deep – rapid Maximum few words 80
8 Very strong Coach is killing us! Very deep, very rapid Incoherent 90
9 Near maximum Can we stop! Very deep, very rapid No 95
10 Absolute maximum OMG! Breathlessness Impossible 100