HomeNewsThe Talk Test

    The Talk Test

    Published on


    To continue reading…

    Register for free to get limited access to the best reporting available.
    Free accounts can read one story a month without paying. Register for free

    Or subscribe to get unlimited access to the best reporting available. Subscribe

    To learn about group subscriptions, click here.

    Intensity is a key variable that determines the effectiveness of a training session. Rowers express  intensity in watts, 500-meter splits, stroke rate, heart rate, or simply how hard the effort feels during a given task. 

    Rate of perceived exertion, or RPE, is subjective, and though it seems rather primitive compared to the metrics we can collect from our devices, RPE can give you insight about how well your training is going, especially when paired with data points and the fact that the first time you rowed a certain workout it seemed harder than the second. 

    For easy reference, the 10-point RPE scale can be translated into a talk test. As you take harder strokes, breathing rate increases and talking gets harder. Rowing is considered easy when you can conduct a conversation. But when you’re pushing the edge and breathing hard, it’s a sign you’re above the lactate threshold. 

    Here’s how to apply the talk test. On a scale of one to 10, a zero to one is light effort. Two to four is an active recovery pace. Four to five is a steady aerobic pace. At these levels, you’re able to talk freely, breathing through your nose and then comfortably through your mouth. When you get to six, it’s more of a tempo pace, and your sentences become shorter and breathing more difficult. Seven to eight is a challenging pace during which you can utter only short phrases. Time trials or races can hit eight to nine, and words become sparse. Level 10 is a maximum effort or all-out sprint that renders you speechless except for a command like “Up!”

    Marlene Royle is the author of Tip of the Blade: Notes on Rowing. She specializes in training masters rowers, and her coaching service, Roylerow Performance Training Programs, provides the support you need to improve your competitive edge. For information, email Marlene at or visit

    More like this