Preprint / Version 3

Perceived exertion and pain during aerobic exercise differ by body mass index classification in college-aged women


  • Amanda J Salacinski Department of Sports Medicine and Human Performance, Westfield State University
  • Janelle C. Vaiden Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, Northern Illinois University
  • Matthew Stults-Kolehmainen Division of Digestive Health, Yale New Haven Hospital, New Haven, CT, United States;Department of Biobehavioral Sciences, Teachers College – Columbia University, New York, NY, United States
  • Marilyn Looney Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, Northern Illinois University



Rating of perceived exertion, pain, obesity, women, exercise


Purpose: The number of overweight or obese adults in the United States continues to increase. Many diseases are linked to obesity; consequently, there is great need for research to improve prevention and treatment of this condition. The purpose of this study was to compare OMNI ratings of perceived exertion (OMNI-RPE) among normal weight versus obese individuals across stages of an incremental aerobic fitness test. Secondary purposes included determining differences between groups for OMNI-muscle hurt (pain), heart rate (HR) and oxygen consumption (VO2). Methods: Women 28.52(9.69) years of age of normal weight (BMI < 25 kg/m2; n = 17) and obese status (BMI ≥ 30 kg/m2; n = 12) completed two days of testing, including a modified Balke treadmill test. A 2 x 3 mixed model ANOVA (group x stage) was used to detect differences between normal weight and obese groups across all variables. Results: The obese group reported higher OMNI-RPE (p =.002), higher HR (p = 0.003) and significantly lower VO2 (p =.027) than the normal weight group for all stages of the Modified Balke. No group x stage interactions were found for any variables with the exception of muscle pain (p < .004), which was higher for the obese group at higher test stages than the normal weight group. Conclusion: OMNI-RPE, pain, HR, and VO2 data suggest that obese women have different physiological and perceptual responses than normal weight women at the same aerobic exercise intensity. Obese women perceive exercise as harder and more painful than normal weight women during an incremental treadmill test, which suggests the need for modified exercise recommendations for obese women. Further research is needed to determine if these differences explain reduced exercise participation for this population.


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2022-11-21 — Updated on 2023-07-19