What is RPE

Rated Perceived Exertion Scale or RPE is used to put a number on your level of effort during exercise. It’s a guide the helps measure how hard you’re working.

Doctors use a similar scale all the time to get a gauge on a patient’s pain level.

Here’s the scale:

Quick Reverence RPE Chart

RPE ScaleWhile RPE is a a subjective measure it’s based on how you feel durning and after a set or workout and it gives you and your coach a way to assess the intensity of training.

Some things to consider when thinking about RPE:

  • your heart rate
  • how tired your muscles are
  • how tired you feel
  • how hard and deeply you’re breathing
  • how warm you feel

The Borg RPE Scale

In the 50’s, Swedish researcher Gunnar Borg introduced the concept of the RPE scale. It starts at 6 and increases 15 points to 20. On the Borg RPE scale a 6 is no effort. On the high end a score of 20 20 represents maximum effort or complete exhaustion.

The Borg RPE Scale was modeled after heart rate. If you took your pulse at it was expected tSo a RPE of 60 is a resting HR of 60. 20 is a maximal hr of 200 bpm.

so, if your rated your RPE at 12 your HR was estimated at 120 bpm.

this works well for cardio workouts, but effort and heart rate aren’t as closely related in strength workouts.

The Borg RPE scale is common but not as easy to use, so I like to stick with the 1 – 10 scale.

I prefer the Modified RPE scale which is often referred to as the CR10 RPE scale. It goes from 0 – 10, where 0 is chill’n on the sofa. No exertion, while 10 is at the other end of the spectrum, maximal exertion. Here, you can’t take another step or lift another ounce.

CR10 RPE scale

0 –  Sitting on the bench watching cat videos on your phone.
1 – Very light: Is there even any weight on the bar?
2 –  Still Light:
3 Still easy. not eve breaking a sweat.
4Moderate: Still easy but you can tell there is some weight on the bar. Could easily do 6 or 7 more reps.
5 – Last warm up set.
6 – Warm up is over. Not light but not heavy. Could do another 4 or 5 reps.
7Heavy: Starting to work now. Not close to your max. But some effort is required.
8 – Hard: Difficult set. Need a break after set but could do 2 or 3 more reps if you had to.
9 – Very heavy: Can’t do much more. Maybe 1 or 2 more reps. Or another 1 or 2% more weight.
10Max effort: You can’t do another rep. Can’t add a speck of weight to the bar.

Why Would I Use RPE?

Monitoring and using RPE scales helps control your workout intensity. It puts a number on how you’re feeling. You or your coach use this to plan your workouts.

Workouts need the right intensity at the right times. Using RPE helps determine the amount of weight you add or subtract to dial in the correct intensity.

Because you have a life outside the gym you’re not always 100%. Sleep, diet, stress, and everything else going on in your life affects the difficulty of your workouts. So some days you’ll crush it and need to add more weight than the plan calls. But other days won’t feel as good forcing you to cut back a little.

Let’s look at an example of RPE in action.

Say your workout calls for you to add 5 pounds. You’re feeling good, and rate the set at an RPE of 6 out of 10. If the plan calls for an RPE of 8 or 9, that 5 pound increase won’t be enough so you’ll cut yourself short.

The same works in reverse.

If that same set felt like a 10 and the plan called for another 5 pound jump, you’d be doing yourself a disservice. It’s better to drop the weight and keep your RPE on track.

RPE helps prevent you from burning out and progressing as fast as possible by adjusting your training to get the maximum muscle-building stimulus out of every workout, without pushing too hard risking burnout and injury.

How to Use RPE to Maximize Your Workouts

Used with Absolute and Relative Exercise Intensity table to find your optimal training sets, reps, and weight.


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