Dr. Matt Reuschle
how to utilize RPE?
RPE or Rate of Perceived Exertion is a scale used to measure effort. While note an objective measure, it has a significant place in training that gives it value. Each time we workout, run, cycle, or train in any manner we are in a different place psychologically and physiologically. Along with weather conditions and other factors we can’t control, this means that the same resistance, speed, or objective level of training will not always feel the same for us as we work out. You know this. We all have good days and bad days and sometimes the weight feels light, the wind feels like it’s at your back and you feel like you want to do more. Other times it’s all you can do to get to the track, hit the gym, or finish your warm-up sets.
The Rate of Perceived Exertion scale is usually measured 0-10 or 6 – 20. The low number being minimal effort and the high number maximal effort. I have seen other scales such as 1 – 5 but they are not as common. In this article, we are going to use the 1 – 10 scale.
RPE is utilized to adjust your training load according to your daily ups and downs while helping to ensure you are on track to reach your goals while also not overtraining. It helps you to go big on the days you feel great and to taper back on the days it’s just not going well. Here I want to acknowledge that adjusting the demands of your workout is great for helping you reach your goals, however, in regards to mental toughness and competitive preparation, adjusting your training based upon how you feel is not ideal. You want to learn to go big no matter how you feel if your goal is to compete at any event where you cannot choose the time you have to compete and execute at your best.
how we can utilize RPE to our advantage?
You have scheduled a back squat session 3 x 8 at 185 lbs. If we asked you to complete as many reps as possible of 185 lbs, you could complete 12. This means 8 reps is a RPE of 6 leaving 4 reps in the tank. But today, you are recovering from an illness and want to work out but don’t have the energy as normal, you believe the max reps you could compete today would be 10 reps, so an RPE 6 would be 6 reps. You choose to do a 3 x 6 at 185 lbs.
Here is how I often program RPE into resistance training. I program 5 sets of 4 – 6 repetitions of deadlift. We are working at an RPE of 8, the weight on the bar is programmed to be 225 lbs. The instructions I give the client is to leave 2 reps in the tank, minimum 4 reps and maximum 6 reps. If the client performs 3 reps and says that their max would be 5 reps, we lower the weight. If the client performs 6 reps and says the max would be 8 or more, we raise the weight. Any number of reps between 4 and 6 is perfect and we keep the weight at 225 lbs as planned. We also utilize RPE for increasing the weight on the bar. I expect that if they can perform 6 reps of 225 at an RPE of 8, that they could perform 4 reps of 235 at an RPE of 8. So, once they complete 5 sets of 6 reps of 225, we step it up to 235 and my expectation is that to keep the RPE at 8, that the client will likely perform 4-5 reps instead of 6. After a few weeks at 235, they may be approaching 5 sets of 6 reps which lets me know it’s time to raise the weight again.
Today’s tempo run is set for 5 miles at 7:30 min miles. Your fastest 5 mile time is 35 minutes, so this is an RPE 9 tempo run for you. You are feeling great and after the first mile, the 7:30 pace feels more like an RPE 7, so you dial it up to 7:15 pace for the rest of the run. By adjusting the pace you still hit an RPE of 9 but this time it’s an RPE of 9 equivalent to a race pace of under 35 minutes.
Final info on RPE
Use it as a guide to adjust your training on the good days and bad days while still ensuring that you are challenged at each training session. Try to keep most workouts at a submaximal RPE, so 6 – 8 is the sweet spot. You will overtrain a muscle group or your whole body if you constantly train at a 9 – 10 RPE. If you compete, don’t utilize RPE in the lead up to the competition and instead learn to hit your goals of each training session regardless of how you feel, this way you are mentally prepared to perform at the appropriate time.
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