You want to train like a pro, but don’t have a power metre or a heart rate metre? Don’t worry, you can still track your training with a metric that is all about how you feel. Welcome to the Borg Scale. And yes, it hurts just as much as the other stuff.

Everybody who is training these days is talking watts. But there is a much simpler, old-skool method of tracking your training efforts. Some say it’s more Zen, more chilled, and a better way to get in touch with your inner cyclist than staring at a little screen and reading numbers.

Feel the force

Back in the day, before our riding lives became digitised, a Swedish scientist called Dr Gunnar Borg invented a user-friendly scale to monitor effort during exercise. A student of both philosophy and physiology, Born was interested in grading actual physical effort against how it feels.

His 1962 paper Physical Performance and Perceived Exertion was a ground-breaking work in sports medicine, and launched the career of the most-quoted Swedish scientist and his Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion. Or, simply put in terms of training: “How horrible/easy does it feel?” And it still works—but how can you use it to train with these days?

Body check

Basically, the scale of RPE, or Relative Perceived Effort, allows you to grade the intensity of your own workout by how it feels. In these days of digital data overload, this feels like a lost art. The RPE scale is a zone chart—like you see for heart rate and power—but instead of BPM for your heart or threshold percentages for power, the metric is what you are feeling. This ranges from zone 1 (hardly any exertion) through zones 7-8 (borderline uncomfortable) to the maximum 10 (impossible to keep going). (Previously the scale went from 6-20, and was subsequently simplified.) For the science nerds, this branch of science is called psychophysics: the scientific study of the relation between stimulus and sensation. Now you know.

Interval training

So, once you know the feeling of the intensity of whichever interval you are training, you should be able to gauge what zone you are in, and then plan your intervals—from full-gas sprints (zone 8-10) to longer tempo work (zones 4-7). Sure, it’s not as accurate as a heart rate or power metre, but it’s totally free, and it really gets you touch with your inner masochist. Happy workout!