• Vince Piraino

Why use rate of perceived exertion (RPE) in fitness training?


Graviton Member Todd D Overhead Pressing to the Stars!

What is Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)? RPE is a way to subjectively measure your own effort. RPE is based on a scale to identify the relative intensity of your exercise based on how you feel about your effort. In other words, this a way for you to self-regulate your training intensity based on the perception of your effort during exercise.


The RPE Scale. The scale range is from 1 to 10. One indicates absolutely no effort. While 10 indicates your maximum possible exertion for the exercise. This scale is valuable for beginner and experienced athletes, but, experienced athletes typically benefit more since they have more practice using the scale and understanding how it feels to move and exert themselves in training.


Tip from Graviton Coach David Kim:

Another easy way to think about RPE scale is thinking about how many reps in reserve you still have left. For example, RPE 10 would mean you are at your max and you have no more reps in reserve. While RPE 9 would mean there’s another rep in the tank, but, it’s a tough grind. Then RPE 5 and below are typically used for warm up and prep for heavier weights to come.


RPE vs Percentage based training prescription. Percentage based training is a common way to periodize strength programming. Although this prescription is effective it does not account for life’s daily stressors. For example, most of the members that train at Graviton are every day people looking for general physical preparedness training and NOT looking for a performance-based prescriptions for sport. Here is an example of how a percentage-based prescription might hinder your training experience: Let’s say you stayed up late and only got 5 hours of sleep because you were working toward a project deadline. You still made it into the afternoon training session at the gym, but, the workout calls for 5 rep Back Squat moving at 85% of your 1 rep max. In this example, RPE could save you from burning out and effectively listening to your body and prescribing a more appropriate relative intensity. Let’s be real, most of us are not professional athletes and pushing for peak performance. Instead, we’re looking to train for health and longevity and build ourselves for the long game. RPE is a great way to still hit higher relative intensities while also avoiding burnout and injury.


RPE Scale Definition for Beginners. Here’s an example of how the exercise tracking app Strava defines the RPE scale:

– Easy (1-3): Could talk normally, breathing naturally, felt very comfortable – Moderate (4-6): Could talk in short spurts, breathing more labored, within your comfort zone but working – Hard (7-9): Could barely talk, breathing heavily, outside your comfort one – Max effort (10): At your physical limit or past it, gasping for breath, couldn’t talk/could barely remember your name


Take together, RPE can come in handy as an additional piece of information to check your intensity. Especially, if you are a beginner or intermediate athlete that does not know all of your own personal lift percentages.


Interested in learning more about our training program at Graviton? Book your free intro session today.

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