How Do You Monitor Training Intensity as a Triathlon Coach?

Training at precise intensity for every workout is important for getting the maximum benefit from your routine. By not incorporating proper intensity thresholds, your racing performance and overall fitness can take a dive, making your training investment practically worthless. With that being said, monitoring training intensity is a very precise practice that is not an easy task. In this two-part article, I present to you several different ways to measure and monitor training intensity, highlighting the benefits and downfalls of each method.


Today’s technological world is full of heart rate monitors, body fat calculators, and other kinds of digital health monitors that help people keep track of their fitness. It should come as no surprise that many athletes get so caught up in the numbers that they have forgotten what it physically feels like to be working at full intensity unless their heart rate monitor is saying so. Perceived exertion is determining how hard you think you are working, and this factor is very valuable for monitoring workout intensity. The Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is a numeric scale from 0-20 that measures the intensity of your exercise based on how easy or difficult you rate the activity. 0 is ‘nothing at all’ whereas 11 is ‘light or weak.’ While RPE is less exact than using a digital device, it has huge value in being able to take into account fatigue, illness, diet, medication, or other physical and mental factors that heart rate devices would not.


On the other hand, RPE can also be inaccurate when an athlete’s physical reactions don’t translate exactly to his or her perceptions. A RPE pitfall is illustrated among athletes waiting for a race to start. The anticipation of the gun going off likely causes an adrenaline spike in most athletes, which leads to a (perceived) surge of excitement and (unperceived) fatigue as the body works harder to process this eager feeling. Ask most athletes how they felt at the beginning of the race, and they’ll likely only remember the positive feeling of excitement, not the accompanying fatigue it later causes.


Overall, my recommendation is to start off by using heart rate or fitness monitoring devices and learn to associate specific feelings of workout intensity with the numbers your body is reporting. As you gradually become more in tune with your body, you should know more or less what pulse or heart rate you are at when training at an intensity of 4 versus 9 or 15. This knowledge and ability to read your body will sky rocket your training and help you improve as an athlete.