The talk test is an easy method for gauging whether a person is working out enough, too hard, or just at the right level, by determining the degree to which a person can communicate while exercising. This method has been in use for some time, but continued testing on it shows that there is real scientific support for its use. In a number of research experiments that evaluate the talk test, standards for measuring exercise capacity are shown to be almost identical to those standards used to measure talking ability.
There are different ways the talk test can be administered and these may depend on whether a person is alone or exercising with someone else. Essentially, anyone able to carry on a conversation with someone else or, if alone, recite a small poem or something like the Pledge of Allegiance, is probably not working at peak capacity. Uninterrupted talking suggests heart rate is lower and cardiovascular demand on the body is not high enough.
In contrast, the person who can say a few words but can’t carry on a full conversation or recite a few lines of a poem is likely working at peak capacity. This is the goal for most people who administer a talk test. They want to be somewhat breathless, able to speak a little, but not able to say many words strung together without some effort.
The talk test can also be used to measure when people are exercising too hard. If it is almost impossible to speak and if a person is so breathless they can’t get a word out, it’s time to slow down. This could mean continuing an activity but doing so at a slower pace, so that breathing is not too difficult and some talking is possible.
While this testing is a good measure for people who have excellent fitness levels, it may not be the ideal test for those who need to do more slowly paced exercise. If a person is told to exercise well below maximum heart rate, he or she might need to stay in the conversational range, instead of progressing to the barely talking range of activity. This is a good matter to discuss with a doctor, particularly if a person has cardiac or breathing issues.
For those in good shape, the talk test provides a shortcut. It’s a lot easier than measuring heart rates and determining if peak efficiency in exercise is being reached. Given that talking levels do seem intimately tied to exercise efficiency levels, such a test may be a useful alternative.