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What is RPE and how to use it in your training.

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The concept of RPE training is something everyone should be aware of if you’re involved in resistance training. For most people you may have seen it in your own program or even in a group program but what exactly does RPE stand for? 

RPE = Rate of Perceived Exertion

 Basically RPE is looking into your perceived level of exertion/effort or how difficult each set is. From there you can provide a rating on a scale of 1-10 (Even though numbers 6-10 are mainly used for training – you will see this in a minute) to match your effort. When RPE is used effectively it can be a valuable training tool and allow your workouts to be flexible and fit the demands of day to day life.

WHAT IS THE RPE SCALE?

The RPE scale is subjective metric which means it can be highly dependent on the individual. It allows the athlete to rate each set based on how they feel and then adjust their training accordingly. They can then rate their set on a scale of 1-10 based on the difficulty of the set and how many more reps they could have performed. Below is an overview of the RPE scale and how to work out what number to choose after you’ve finished your set:

RPE Scale =

10/10 – Maximal Effort

9.5/10 – Maybe one more rep left

9/10 – One more rep left

8.5/10 – Maybe 2 reps left

8/10 – 2 reps left

7/10 –3-4 more reps left

6/10 – Almost a warm up weight

5/10 – Not heavy enough to count as working set

HOW CAN IT BE APPLIED IN TRAINING?

RPE can be used in a number of ways during training and below are a few different examples of how it could be used in your program:

Example 1 – 3 x 5 @8/10 RPE

The example shows that the athlete needs to complete 3 sets of 5 repetitions all at an RPE of 8/10. This means when they record their RPE after each set the athlete should have 2 reps left in the tank. This also means that any RPE under 8 means it is still a warm up set and shouldn’t count towards the 3 working sets.

If we take a look at example 2 we can see how a slight change in the RPE can change the stimulus and how the athlete approaches their workout:

Example 2 – 1 x 5 @RPE 6/10, 1 x 5 @RPE 7/10, 1 x 5 @RPE 8/10

As you can see the sets and reps are the same as they are still completing 3 x 5 however the RPE is changing each set. This clearly shows the athlete that they need build to across each set and finish at an RPE 8 or with 2 reps left in the tank.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES –

In other programs specific weights or percentages may be used which don’t take into account how the athlete is feeling and their stressors outside of training.  This is where using RPE can be very beneficial as the athlete can adjust or modify their training based on how they’re feeling. This will allow them to manage the amount of stress they’re placing on their body whilst still getting the desired stimulus from their workout.

As we have spoken about earlier RPE is a subjective measure which is based on the athletes perception of how hard they’re working. This is where it can become challenging as athletes all move very differently and obviously have varying training ages and experience in the gym. If you think back to when you first training, did you know the difference between a 6/10 and a 8/10 and would they have been an honest representation of your training intensity?

SO CAN EVERYONE USE RPE?

Essentially yes. During the early stages of training we can use RPE as a descriptive tool to allow the athlete to learn how to rate their working sets. This could be as simple as asking the athlete how they feel after each set rather than assigning RPE values to their workouts.

As the lifter moves into the intermediate to advanced category and they have spent more time lifting then they can really experience the benefits of using the RPE scale. This will require a period of calibration where the athlete needs to reach a certain intensity to work out their true level of effort and have a sense of what heavy means. From here the coach can start to prescribe RPE values during the workouts. Using it prescriptively requires the coach to have a good working relationship with the lifter, and the lifter to have good, honest judgment of their level of exertion.

In conclusion you can see the RPE is not a magic training tool however it can be used in a variety of situations as an effective way to manage training intensity and stress. This style of training may be used for novices but it may have a greater effect when both the athlete and coach are highly experienced. For any athlete it will allow them to really evaluate how hard their working whilst also balancing stress inside and outside the gym to get the most out of any workout.