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RPE: What Is It and How To Apply It


RPE stands for the “rating of perceived exertion” and it is a subjective measurement of how hard you feel you are training. It can be a helpful tool for ensuring you progress each and every session. The measurement is based on a number of factors (or physical sensations) such as your heart rate, how deeply you’re breathing, how you feel and how fatigued your muscles are.


An RPE scale is a numerical scale that’s used to convert your subjective feelings about how hard you’re working into an objective number. This can be helpful for a coach to guide you to the next weights you should be using or how many more reps you should perform depending on your RPE.


Th higher numbers on the RPE scale represent exercising at or close to maximum effort, and lower numbers represent exercising at a lower intensity (like walking).


The two most commonly used RPE scales are the Borg RPE scale and the Modified RPE scale.


Below is the original Borg RPE Scale:






The 15-point Borg RPE scale ranges from 6-to-20, with 6 representing no exertion/rest, and 20 meaning maximum exertion or complete exhaustion. (Eg. One rep max)


The Borg RPE scale goes from 6-20 because if you multiply those numbers by 10, you’ll get a rough estimate of what your heart rate will be at each level of intensity, which is a reliable indicator of cardiovascular exertion.


For example, if your run feels like a 10 RPE your heart rate is probably around 100 beats per minute.


However, this is also one of the downsides to the original Borg RPE scale – it is designed for cardio sessions, not strength training, where heart rate isn’t closely correlated with physical effort.


Some other cons are:


1. It can be difficult to determine exactly where you fall on the scale without practice because it offers so many options. You could be unsure whether you are 14/15 or 16



2. Studies show that heart rates can vary person-to-person at the same training intensity. Even two people of a similar size and age running at the same pace might have very different heart rates


That being considered, Borg created a more universally practical RPE scale known as the Modified RPE scale, which is what most would use today and Embody use for training programmes.



Modified RPE Scale


The Modified RPE scale, also known as the “CR10 RPE scale” or the “RPE scale 1-10,” (don’t worry, you don’t need to know that, it’s just extra information) is a 10-point scale that can be used to measure many kinds of perceptions, sensations, and subjective experiences, including perceived exertion, pain, and dyspnea (breathlessness).


There are probably many versions of the Modified RPE scale on the internet, but this is the idea of most of them:






The Modified RPE scale RPE scale is more simple to use and easier to understand than the original, it’s also probably easier to decide which level you are and it isn’t based on heart rate, which makes it more useful for strength athletes.


For example, a 0 on the Modified RPE scale would be something like moving your arms in a bench press motion with no weights, which takes practically no effort, and a 10 would be grinding out a new one-rep max on your bench press.



How Is This Helpful For Us?


The RPE Scale is helpful for determining progress. For example, if you managed 10 reps of a 70kg back squat @ RPE 10 but the next week it was RPE 8, you know you are progressing even though the weight/reps haven’t technically changed.


It is helpful to record your RPE’s for each movement so we can see how difficult you are finding it and adjust your programme accordingly. RPE also allows us, as a coach, to set how tricky each set should be on your plan before you start. Weights may go up in your sessions more quickly than expected so you will know you can add more if it’s feeling light but your coach has set an RPE 9/10.



RPE and Percentages of 1rm





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