RPE and RIR are two common terms in the lifting world right now, and understanding them can help you to understand different programs and methods better. You can also apply them to your own training right away. What do RPE and RIR stand for?

RPE stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion. This is a method of rating how hard one has worked, subjectively. For some time, the Borg scale which goes from 6-20 was used for measuring RPE, but more recently a 1-10 scale (with 1 meaning no effort/exertion and 10 being maximal effort/exertion) has been used in the lifting world, for obvious reasons. I mean, who has a scale going from 6-20?

RIR stands for Reps in Reserve. RIR refers to how many reps you “leave in the tank” during a given set. So an RIR of 2 would mean you could have done two more reps when you finished the set.

RPE and RIR can be used to rate a set after the fact, but often are used as a guideline before hand. A program might say you have to do a set of 5 at RPE 8, or a set of 10 with RIR of 2.

RPE and RIR are often combined. Since RPE is subjective and requires you (or a coach) to judge how hard you had to work to do a set or rep, it can be very difficult and take some time to build consistency in your ratings. In order to add some firmer footing to their RPE ratings, lifters will often assign RIR numbers to different RPEs. This might look something like this:

RPE 10 = no more reps

RPE 9 = 1 more rep

RPE 8 = 2 more reps

RPE 7 = 3 more reps

Different lifters will have their own comparisons, but the chart above would mean that any set where you stopped with 2 more reps in the tank is an RPE 8, and so on. This makes it easier to assign RPE and build consistency in one’s ratings.

Why is this worth knowing? Some programs will use RPE/RIR as a way to make sure you are working at the right intensity with certain lifts. Both methods allow you to take into account how you FEEL on a given day, meaning you can take advantage of good days, and dial it back a bit on bad days. This is part of autoregulation. There will be a post on this in the future. In addition, when you are doing accessory lifts, like rows or lunges, you won’t really have a max to base your weights off of. Often a program will use RPE or RIR to prescribe the desired intensity for that day.

We also recommend checking out our Beginner Program - Free Preview, its a great place to start if you're new to the gym.

Nigel, Kizen Coach

Who is Nigel?

Nigel is a coach who has been competing in powerlifting since 2012 and started directing meets in 2017. Nigel began working as a personal trainer in 2013, was a part of the Ascendant Athletics team with Omar and Silent Mike from 2015-2016, and has managed the group coaching for Kizen Training since 2017. Through this work and coaching private clients, Nigel has worked with many lifters of all skill levels and from diverse athletic backgrounds. His best lifts in competition are a 661lb/300kg squat in sleeves, a 451lb/205kg bench, and a 639lb/295kg deadlift.

Instagram: @captain.planet