Try harder

When I first moved to Boston, I joined a slow pitch softball team called Wild Things. Or Wild. Or something like that. 

I was at third base in one of my first games and made a sexy diving stop on a sharply hit ground ball. I almost surprised myself with my reflexes, and stood up only to here my teammates yelling at me. 

“Try harder!”

My face betrayed my indignation before the shortstop wandered over and explained that was the inside joke for when you couldn’t possibly have tried any harder. 

Irony. Or something.

As I’ve moved into the realms of personal training and coaching, we don’t often talk about effort. The goal for so many folks is to just get started and build consistency that’s it’s easy to forget about what happens when you do start exercising or going to the gym on a regular basis.

But once you do build that routine, the next question becomes:

How hard are you working? 

The Borg Scale (No, not like Victory Borge) is also known as the Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale and is a way of measuring physical activity intensity level. On the Borg scale, the measurement is from 6-20. They skip 1-5 because, apparently, try harder? (Actually, the skip the first five numbers for scientific reasons - I think).

It’s not uncommon to hear from a friend or a client that he or she is working out, and just not seeing results. On my Facebook page, I just started a “Be Stronger Challenge” and the goal is two-fold: if you don’t have a workout routine, develop one. If you are sedentary, then start moving. 

This is a one on the Borg Scale. Even though there is no one. 

This is a one on the Borg Scale. Even though there is no one. 

But the second piece is that if you are moving, walking, or doing steady state cardio, start paying attention to how you feel during the physical activity. According to the CDC “a high correlation exists between a person’s perceived exertion rating times 10 and the actual heart rate during physical activity; so a person’s exertion rating may provide a fairly good estimate of the actual heart rate during activity (Borg, 1998).

If your RPE is 12, which on the Borg scale is working hard, and you multiply that number by 10, then your heart rate is like 120 beats per minute. (That's why we skipped the first five numbers). Researchers have found that measuring your own effort is a quick and effective way to judge intensity. (Click if you want to read more about the Borg Scale).


For a person with a higher fitness level, walking the dog may feel like a 9, which on the Borg scale is the equivalent of very light. For someone who is overweight and has been sedentary, walking the dog for 20 minutes may be a 15 on the Borg scale (hard). What matters most is measuring your own feeling of effort and exertion, and not how it compares to other people’s.

Don’t underestimate that last piece. Evaluate your own feeling of exertion - not how your friend feels. But also be honest - if you are out walking, measure your effort. (Heart rate monitors can be useful for this, but the ones that measure on your wrist can be very inaccurate.)

If you want to see results - which for many is fat loss - the exercise needs to be, according to the CDC, 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity - which means brisk walks. If you are already doing that - the next challenge is to move towards 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. If you come to Spurling Fitness, you are going to strength train - and then you are going to push a sled, slam some ropes, or throw some medicine balls. We're going to get your heart rate up and push it a little more. 

The bottom line is that while it is important to get up and move and start doing something, it's equally important to begin paying attention to your effort. 

So, in the words of my Wild teammates, sometimes you may have to try harder. 

But make sure to have fun while you do it. 

This is a 15 on the Borg Scale.

This is a 15 on the Borg Scale.