Guide to the RPE Scale

Have you ever woken up and noticed some days are harder than others? This is typical in life and in training. Even with the best science and coaching, some factors are difficult to predict. When it comes to training, here is where autoregulation comes in hand.

Autoregulation is a fancy term for adjusting your training based on some form of assessment of day to day fluctuations. The assessments can either be subjective or objective depending on the data collected. The objective data typically requires technology to obtain an accurate measurement on a consistent basis. Objective data can include hours of sleep, heart rate variability (HRV), resting heart rate, or even real-time data of velocity of movement during a workout. The subjective data is generally easier to obtain as these are based on questions that rely on self-interpretation. Subjective data can include self-ratings of sleep quality, mood evaluation, perceived difficulty of a task, or similar self-evaluation questions.

Enter the RPE scale

The Rating of Perceived Exertion, or RPE scale, is a subjective measure that I prefer to use with clients, allowing for a form of autoregulation to their training. Although historically there have been alterations of the RPE scale, I prefer the simplicity of the 1 through 10 variations. See the image below for further clarification.

Credit: https://www.strongerbyscience.com/autoregulation/

Although the above chart applies to resistance training, a similar scale could be adapted for conditioning training. See below for an example.

RPE-scale
Credit: http://lifestylefitnessmanagement.com/understanding-training-benchmarks/

Back to our talk on autoregulation, the RPE scale is only ONE data point, and the accuracy and effectiveness depend on how honest the individual is with their subjective assessment. It does take some time to really dial in your familiarity with the RPE scale and training. It will vary among individuals as some are naïve to how hard they can push their bodies, while others might be out of touch of what they can achieve that day and overshoot their training loads. I encourage you to track your loads, both objectively (sets, reps, and weight lifted) as well as subjectively using the RPE scale. With more data and practice using the RPE scale, the better you will become at selecting your training loads more accurately. This will better your chance for success while facing the day to day fluctuations that we all face.

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