Absolute and Relative Exercise Intensity

Exercise intensity is an essential training variable. Modifying it helps prevent overtraining and also ensures you’re working hard enough.

Absolute and relative exercise intensity uses two different points of reference.

Absolute Exercise Intensity

The amount of weight used based off your 1RM.

Relative Exercise Intensity

The amount of weight used based on your max at that rep scheme.

Absolute and Relative Exercise Intensity Table

The Relative Intensity Tables below tell you how much weight to use to reach a specific intensity based on a percentage. So a little math is needed.

RPE Table

The RI Table above is for reps 11-20. Downloadable Relative Intensity Tables are at the bottom of the page.

Let’s look at an example.

Imagine that we’re working together. And this week I have you working at a moderate plus intensity.

Looking at the table you see that the yellow blocks contain your moderate intensity values.

Suppose you can bench press 225 pounds for a set of 12. Working in the moderate plus block you can see that has a relative intensity of about 85 –  87%. So, for your set of 12 you’ll use 190 – 200 pounds.

The Math:

  • Relative Intensity
    • To use relative intensity you need to know you 12RM. (In this case it’s 225)
      • 225 x 87.5% = 196.8 (197)
      • 225 x 85% = 191.25 (191)
  • Absolute Intensity
    • If you don’t know your 12RM but know your 1RM it’s easier to use absolute intensity. (For this example 1RM is 335.)
      • 335 x 59% = 197.65 (198)
      • 335 x 57% = 190.95 (191)

Chances are that you’re not using fractional weights so your weight gets rounded to nearest 5 pound increment. So, for an appropriate Exercise Intensity use between 190 and 200 pounds.

Note: Use the 1RM Table to easily find your 1RM or your rep max.


I use relative intensity to plan workouts and absolute intensity to do my weight calculations.

Here’s a good video explaining how to use relative and absolute intensity in a strength portion of your workout…

Max Strength Programing Using Relative and Absolute Intensity

This table works well along side the RPE scale.

Download Absolute and Relative Tables

Cover photo by Anastase Maragos from Unsplash

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