What is RPE and is it useful?

The Rack Athletic Performance Center

RPE (rate of perceived exertion) relates to how difficult an exercise is. This can be in relation to compound lifts, HIIT, aerobic activities, or even accessory lifts. The Borg scale was first to use RPE in 1982 and it ranged from 0-20, then 6-20, and lastly 1-10. Currently, majority of people use a 1-10 RPE scale since it can be simpler to explain and use. This simplified version follows the same trend of the previous scales with the lowest number meaning zero exertion and the highest number meaning maximal exertion. RPE is great for autoregulation since strength isn’t always the same week to week. Everyone has great days and bad days and utilizing RPE can be a great way to get the most out of every training session.

Here is an example of using RPE for training purposes. On your program, you are recommended to squat a 5×5 at RPE 7 with a recommended load of 250 lbs. An RPE 7 would translate to a weight that would be challenging, but if needed you could execute three more reps. If during your warm ups you notice your body is sluggish and the weight is moving much slower than usual, then it is most likely better to lower the weight for the day since you would be overshooting your programmed RPE for the lift. If the opposite happens and your lifts are moving fast and efficiently, then you could increase the recommended load for the lift if the recommended load feels lighter than it normally would.

Overshooting and undershooting when it comes to RPE will happen. Overshooting is when someone goes above the recommended RPE for the lift. For example, an athlete is recommended an RPE 7 squat single, but instead squats a maximal single attempt with zero energy to accomplish another rep. In theory, the athlete should have been able to execute two more reps instead of using all their energy for a single attempt. Undershooting would be the opposite. For example, an athlete is recommended to deadlift 4×3 at an RPE 8, but decides to take it easy and rep a weight that they easily could do for 5 reps for 3 reps. Because they didn’t reach the recommended stimulus level, this would be considered undershooting.

RPE is a great way to progress with your training, but like any tool or skill it requires time and experience to make it your own. Hope this helps and please reach out if you have any questions. 

Matthew Walcott

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