Traditional “Talk Test” Sets the Bar Too Low for Fit Individuals

The “Talk Test,” whether or not you can speak aloud without gasping for air as you exercise, has become a standard for gauging if you are working out at the right intensity to improve your fitness and health. Conventional advice has said, if you can, you are working out at the right intensity.

Information published in the New York Times from a study from the University of New Hampshire suggests that for the physically fit and active, this measure is short changing our abilities and stunting our progress.

Why? Original research resulting in the “Talk Test” used participants that were either physically unfit or sedentary. The research tested only men and women who were regular exercisers and already possessed above-average fitness.

Researchers in the study looked at maximum heart rate and oxygen-carrying capacity, or VO2 max as well as the lactate threshold, the point at which the muscles tend to give out. Multiple studies have proven that to increase your endurance, strength and speed, you need to occasionally work out at an intensity that hovers just below your lactate threshold.

The fit participants were put on a treadmill on increasing intensity and every few minutes they recited the Pledge of Allegiance as well as reported on the facility of their breath. The test progressed in intensity until a final gasped “can’t talk.”

What the researchers found in these fit test cases was that they ran into a considerable amount of difficulty talking just as they approached their lactate threshold. When the participants could easily speak, their heart rate and VO2 max were not yet at a challenging level to improve their fitness.

So why the deviation from the original findings that warranted the “Talk Test?” One big reason is that sedentary and unfit people have a higher resting heart rate than fit people. Getting their heart rate up to a health and fitness-promoting level happens with much less physical challenge on a walk, run or in an exercise class than it does for a fitter person with a lower resting heart rate.

So if you are looking to shave some time off your 5K or lift your leg higher as you hold plank and go down for those final 10 pushups and you become unable to complete a sentence without catching your breath, “you are at the cusp of the lactate threshold — and are most likely improving your fitness.”

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