Reference values for leg effort during incremental cycle ergometry in non-trained healthy men and women, aged 19-85.

Hijleh AA;  Department of Medicine, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
Wang S; Berton DC; Neder-Serafini I;Vincent S; James M; Domnik N; Phillips D; Nery LE; O’Donnell DE; Neder JA

Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports [Scand J Med Sci Sports] 2024 Apr; Vol. 34 (4), pp. e14625.

Heightened sensation of leg effort contributes importantly to poor exercise tolerance in patient populations. We aim to provide a sex- and age-adjusted frame of reference to judge symptom’s normalcy across progressively higher exercise intensities during incremental exercise. Two-hundred and seventy-five non-trained subjects (130 men) aged 19-85 prospectively underwent incremental cycle ergometry. After establishing centiles-based norms for Borg leg effort scores (0-10 category-ratio scale) versus work rate, exponential loss function identified the centile that best quantified the symptom’s severity individually. Peak O 2 uptake and work rate (% predicted) were used to threshold gradually higher symptom intensity categories. Leg effort-work rate increased as a function of age; women typically reported higher scores at a given age, particularly in the younger groups (p < 0.05). For instance, “heavy” (5) scores at the 95th centile were reported at ~200 W (<40 years) and ~90 W (≥70 years) in men versus ~130 W and ~70 W in women, respectively. The following categories of leg effort severity were associated with progressively lower exercise capacity: ≤50th (“mild”), >50th to <75th (“moderate”), ≥75th to <95th (“severe”), and ≥ 95th (“very severe”) (p < 0.05). Although most subjects reporting peak scores <5 were in “mild” range, higher scores were not predictive of the other categories (p > 0.05). This novel frame of reference for 0-10 Borg leg effort, which considers its cumulative burden across increasingly higher exercise intensities, might prove valuable to judging symptom’s normalcy, quantifying its severity, and assessing the effects of interventions in clinical populations.