Talk test can help monitor exercise exertion

People who are able to comfortably converse during exercise are likely working out at an acceptable intensity. This guideline, known as the “Talk Test,” has been shown to correctly gauge intensity and correspond to an effective range for exercise prescription.

New research, published in the September issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official scientific journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), provides further evidence that the Talk Test is a simple method to determine appropriate levels of exercise intensity and set markers to avoid overexertion.

Researchers studied the consistency of the Talk Test to determine if responses were similar among different modes of exercise. Sixteen healthy and moderately active participants performed two progressively harder tests, one on a treadmill and one on a cycle ergometer. All recited a standard paragraph, the Pledge of Allegiance, aloud during each stage of each exercise test. After completing the paragraph, participants were asked if they could speak comfortably. Those who answered “yes” were marked with “positive” Talk Tests. The first time participants who reported they could not speak comfortably, the researchers took this as a negative Talk Test. A third category of “equivocal” was assigned to participants who were uncertain about or could not indicate their level of comfort in speaking during a testing phase.

This process included measurement of the participants’ ventilatory threshold, the point where breathing begins to increase disproportionately to the increase in workload, and a marker of the sustainability of a particular exercise intensity. Heart rate and perceived exertion, established markers of exercise training intensity, also were monitored and compared to the results of the Talk Test. The results indicated the exercise intensity at the Talk Test was approximately the same as at the ventilatory threshold during both modes of exercise. When speech was no longer comfortable, exercise intensity was consistently above the ventilatory threshold.

"The Talk Test is a practical way for people to monitor their intensity during exercise,” said Carl Foster, Ph.D., FACSM, one of the lead researchers of the study and ACSM president-elect. “There’s no equipment or training needed to understand your ability to speak based on how hard you’re working. Because this study has shown this method to be very consistent, people can use this in their everyday lives, in gyms or working out at home, to meet their health and fitness goals while reducing the risk of injuries or other complications that can happen with overexertion.”

The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 20,000 International, National, and Regional members are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.

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