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Are You Getting the Full Benefit from Your Walking Workouts?

Physical exercise is a great way to reduce the mortality rate associated with some of the leading causes of death and illness in the United States.  The counting talk test (CTT) is a simple and reliable test to ensure that you are working at a level high enough to get the benefits of cardiovascular exercise.  Normal et al. (2001) originally developed a test in which a person simply counts before and during exercise to ensure that they are at least above the threshold for ACSM’s target range for moderate to vigorous exercise.

Use the Counting Talk Test to Find How Hard You are Working

The standardized instructions to complete the counting talk test is as follows:

  • Take a maximal breath in and count out loud, at your usual talking pace, using the following sequence; One-one Thousand, Two-one thousand, Three-one thousand, Four-one thousand, and so on. 
  • Try to count as high as you can before having to take another breath. 
  • At no time should you hold your breath when performing this test.
  • You do this test before your activity to establish a baseline and then during activity to see if you are within your target range.

How to Calculate the Counting Talk Test for Your Walking Workouts

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association state that individuals should complete either 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity 5 days per week or 20 minutes of vigorous intensity 3 days per week. The ACSM’s guidelines for this target range is 40-85% of an individual’s heart rate reserve or oxygen consumption reserve (ACSM, 2010), however how does one discover his/her target range?

Based on the ACSM guidelines of 40-85% heart rate reserve, Loose et al (2012) found that an individual with a counting talk test of <25 at rest, exercising at a level of 40-50% CTT rest would place them in the moderate to vigorous intensity range.  If the person’s resting CTT was >25, exercising at a level of 30-40% CTT rest would achieve the same intensity range. 

For example, “An individual with a CTT rest of 24, recommending he or she exercise at a level where he or she can only count to 10-12 (40-50% CTT rest) while exercising would correspond to a moderate to vigorous exercise intensity level.  For an individual with a resting CTT count of 30, recommending he or she exercise at a level where they can only count to 9-12 (30-40% CTT rest) while exercising would allow them to achieve a moderate to vigorous exercise intensity level.” (Loose et al, 2012)

The CTT can be performed by an individual at any time during exercise to assess their intensity without having to stop by simply counting as high as they can with one breath.  By ensuring that you are at the target area you can make sure that you are getting the most out or your walks, biking, etc and meeting the ACSM’s bottom threshold for cardiovascular exercise.  The next time you are going for a walk or completing simple aerobic exercise, try the counting talk test and calculate your target CTT exercise number to guarantee that you are getting the most out of your exercise.

Schedule an appointment with a CHI Health Physical Therapist today.


American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (8th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2010

Norman, JF, Kracl, J, Parker, D, and Richter, A. Comparison of the counting talk test and heart rate reserve methods for estimating exercise intensity in health young adults. JEP online 4:15-22, 2001

Loose, BD, Christiansen, AM, Smolczyk, JE, Roberts, KL, Budziszewska, A, Hottatz, CG, Norman, JF.  Consistency of the counting talk test for exercise prescription. Journal of strength and conditioning research 21:6 1701-1707, 2012

Brant Loose, PT, DPT, TPI-M3-J2-F2, FMS, SFMA, YSAS
Brant Loose, PT, DPT, TPI-M3-J2-F2, FMS, SFMA, YSAS

Brant Loose is a physical therapy provider at CHI Health.

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