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Can't Talk? Slow Down

Sept. 10, 2004 -- How do you know when you're overdoing it while exercising? Here's a simple test: Say the Pledge of Allegiance out loud.

If it's tough to voice those familiar words, you're probably pushing yourself too hard.

That's what researchers from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse found when they tried the "talk test" on 16 volunteers.

The participants (10 men and six women) were all in their 20s, healthy, and moderately active. That means probably none were marathoners or total couch potatoes.

Each person did four exercise tests on different days, using treadmills and stationary bikes.

Participants performed treadmill and bike tests at an easy pace and again at maximal exertion.

Meanwhile, researcher Carl Foster, PhD, FACSM, and colleagues monitored the volunteers' heart rates and ventilatory thresholds. That's the point at which it gets harder to breath.

Talk Is Cheap

Paces were tweaked for each person. For instance, some found their comfortable treadmill pace while walking; others jogged just as easily.

During the last 30 seconds of each workout, participants were asked to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Right after that, the researchers asked if it had been tough for them to talk.

The yes, no, and don't know responses lined up with the ventilatory threshold readings. That is, participants who had a hard time talking were working too hard.

The results held true for the treadmill and the stationary bikes and were "highly consistent," write the researchers in the September issue of the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

"The talk test is a practical way for people to monitor their intensity during exercise," says Foster in a news release.

And while your sneakers or gym membership probably weren't cheap, the talk test is free and requires no special training or equipment.

Just be sure to say the words out loud, say the researchers. No fair muttering them under your breath; that's too easy.

After all, you want to keep up the exercise habit, so don't turbo-charge your workouts beyond your capacity.

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