Rating of Perceived Exertion…aka RPE

Back in the beginning of July, I wrote a post that delved into the differentiation between Heavy and Max Days. If you missed that post, go back and read it as a primer for this one.
What I want to dive into a bit more tonight is the idea of a heavy day, and how to best judge that no matter the level of lifter you are. Now, it goes without saying that the more experience you have under a barbell (or really performing any movement), the better judge you will be of your own physical abilities, but the idea remains the same.
In the field of exercise physiology, there is a way of judging effort called the “Rating of Perceived Exertion.” Its design stems from silly scientists testing people in their lab with all sorts of breathing apparatus on and needing an easy, straightforward way for the participant to communicate how hard the “work” is that they were performing. Its quite entertaining in the lab to say the least. And I can laugh at that now since I’ve been the guinea pig a time or ten. Here’s someone being tested:

Try talking with all this crap strapped to you!
Try talking with all this crap strapped to you!

In the lab, you’d be pedaling your little heart out and be able to view an RPE scale like the one below, named as the Borg RPE scale. Then the tester would point to a particular number and look for confirmation if you were at that level. When first created by Gunnar Borg, it called for a range of 6-20. The seemingly odd range of 6-20 is to follow the general heart rate of a healthy young adult by multiplying by 10. For instance, a perceived exertion of 12 would be expected to coincide with a heart rate of roughly 120 beats per minute.
I love the note across from an RPE of 20 – “Don’t work this hard!”

As you can imagine, this was adapted over time to a more traditional scale of 1-10 as thats what people are used to using:
When it comes to more traditional “conditioning” workouts like Fran, Helen, or Grace, its relatively easy to implement something like an RPE scale. Strength training is a bit different, though it can still work. However, the folks at ReactiveTrainingSystems have come up with a much more useful chart to work off of. Coincidentally, this is how we walk you all through the days where we’re asking you to work up to a specific number of reps and how it should “feel” as opposed to % based work.
You can see how the chart flows nicely with Yes/No answers from you in judging how hard you feel like you were working. Hopefully this provides some useful insight into how you can approach different days in the gym. If you’ve got any questions, please let us know!

people working out in a group fitness class


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