What the heck is RPE anyways?

Great, one more damn thing to remember for training.

I promise this one is simple, and very important. It stands for rate of perceived exertion (RPE).

That’s fancy-pants talk for how subjectively hard that exercise or session is.

It can be used for both cardio work or pumping iron.

There are two scales in which to measure this. A simple 1-10 like a normal person or the Borg scale which is nonsense and no one uses it so forget I even mentioned it, unless you’re a complete weirdo then you can look it up.

So, focusing on the 1-10 scale before I was rudely interrupted by the Borg scale, 1 being the easiest possible effort – like slowly cruising on the sea wall while licking an ice cream cone and 10 being like you’re about to keel over.

If you were to go on a long slow run you’d usually be going along at a 6-7 on the scale. That is typically referred to as zone 2 training. Something you could maintain for a long time.

Also called a conversational pace, you can run and catch up on all the juicy office gossip with a friend.

A 10 on the scale would be, as I usually describe, running away from a tiger that has you in its crosshairs.

For lifting weights I use the scale as well. 

This also closely relates to reps in reserve which I’lll get into for my next article.

Asking an athlete after a set where on the scale it was will determine whether I need to leave the weight the same or move up. Or move down if they’re hurtin’ for certain that day.

I also ask at the end of a workout with some people about what their perceived effort was for the total workout.

If I meant it to be a 7/10 and you thought it was 10/10 then our wires are crossed.

Since workouts are designed to elicit a specific stress we need to be synced up on this. Sometimes it’s meant to be 9/10 and others are meant to be a 6/10 depending on the situation.

Now that we’ve established what it is, we can get into the common faults of it.

Many people don’t know what their 10 truly is.

Their 10 is actually an 8 but they don’t know how hard they can actually work. Or they give up on themselves.

When I suspect this is the case they better be ready for some serious work because we will find out what the actual 10 is. 

Or the person that claims an 8 but it’s clearly a 10 effort as they actually failed on the lift or threw up after the interval session.

So, as you can see, there are shortcomings with this scale.

Still, RPE is a great subjective scale to measure the difficulty of your workout, specific exercise or cardio effort. 

Despite a few hiccups here and there it’s a great (and free) tool to determine how hard you’re working as long as the scale is understood and you’re being brutally honest with yourself.

Free Recipe Book

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter and receive your FREE copy of our top mouthwatering dinner recipes, perfect for busy parents!