Rate Of Perceived Exertion (RPE)


Many of you have probably heard of this or even currently use it in your training. We want to talk about both why someone would use it and the basics of using it.

The Basics: RPE is a scale from 1 to 10 on how difficult a set was. Although it's named, perceived exertion you should try to make it as subjective as possible(I know it's hard) and write down(or put it in your phone) a score/rating that has to do with how well we performed the lift. To do this we want to try recording a video of the lift, how it felt (you’ll get better at this over time), how you performed and how the bar moved when performing your lift.

Typically we won't ever use below a 6 on this scale. A 10 is MAX effort, this was the most you could do, no more weight, the bar speed was at a minimum and you could not do any more reps. A 9 would be something like having 1 rep left in the tank or even add in a little bit of weight(2.5%-5% of your max).

Why RPE over percentage? Well they aren’t exclusive and you can have both in your program. So why have RPE in your programming? RPE lends itself to autoregulation. In a perfect world we would be in perfect condition to lift every single day, but unfortunately it's not like that. Some days we can feel amazing but we don’t lift as well as we did the previous week when we felt the same or worse. There are tons of different variables that go into how we perform on any given day. RPE is useful because it allows us to change and adapt on the fly.

So in order to progress with volume and strength we need to take into account all the little things that lead to our condition for that day. Based on our previous training sessions and how the bar is moving(speed and technique) we can adjust the weight to match any given RPE. If you normally squat 450 for three reps with about 1 rep left in the tank(RPE 9), with the RPE system you might aim for anywhere between 445(if you're not performing well) and 455(if you're crushing it). That allows you to train based on how your body is doing and responding to the weights on any given day while still progressing in your program. If you are strictly based on a percentage system, there is no leeway when it comes to your workouts.

When do I adjust? You should have a good idea of what any given RPE will be based on your other workouts. Try and record these so you can have a good jumping off point to base future workouts on. The adjustments for the RPE will be based on how you did on your warmups. Use a similar progression(based on your workout history) for each warmup and once you get to 70-80 percent of that day's working load, then you start making adjustments based on how you feel that day(autoregulation).

RPE: Scale of 1-10, how well/difficult a barbell moves that allows you to put a target weight on that. 10: Max load, 9: 1 rep or more weight, 8: 2 reps in the tank or 5-10% more weight. This is done to keep it in a range that allows us to continue to progress forward even when we aren't doing as hot or if we are doing better than usual. You don't need to hit MAX weights everyday to progress, if we continue to slowly trend upwards even if we don't hit PRs every workout, then we are heading in the right direction!

RPE Scale example as follows,

  • RPE 10 Max load
  • RPE 9: 1 rep or more weight
  • RPE 8: 2 reps in the tank or 5-10% more weight
  • RPE 7: 3 reps in the tank or 10-15% more weight
  • RPE 6: 4 reps in the tank or 15-20% more weight