Perceived Exertion

by Tim Wolverson

I’ve performed a number of different exercises over the years. What has surprised me is the amount of perceived exertion involved in each of the exercises to achieve the same calorie burn.

I first noticed this when I started attending a gym regularly. I used to love rowing and it would be the first piece of equipment I would start my work out with. One day, the rowing machine wasn’t available so I decided to try the cross-training machine. I couldn’t believe how much easier it felt to burn the same number of calories when compared with rowing. If the calorie read-outs on both machines are to be taken as reliable, then my perceived exertion whilst cross-training was less than that of rowing. I remember there being a half-peeled sticker near the cross trainer’s readout too, which stated the very same thing by the manufacturers: that the perceived exertion on that cross trainer could make you feel as though you were doing less for the same calorie burn.

I alternated between rowing and cross-training over a month or so and that feeling did not alter. In burning 500Kcals for example, cross-training always felt much easier to do than rowing, whatever intensity I worked at.

I’ve put together a short list of the exercises I have done over the years. Regular exercises, not one-offs.  I’ve put them in order of my sense of perceived exertion.

I’ve imagined having to burn ~350Kcals in each exercise and how that would feel doing each at a reasonable intensity. So in my case, cycling feels easier than cross-training does; the Spartacus workout kills me.

  • Cycling
  • Cross-training
  • Rowing
  • Running – decent pace 8.5min/miles
  • Circuit weight lifting – Super-sets – Power Circuits (All the big heavy lifts one after the other – minimal rest) – weight 55Kg
  • Spartacus Workout (High Intensity Circuit Workout) with 2x15Kg dumb bells

If you’ve ever encountered this, I would like to hear your experiences. Additionally, I would love to know where Zumba and Boxing fall within the list. Remember, it’s about the amount of perceived effort you feel whilst torching 350Kcals doing that exercise.