Alright, so you’ve got a few weeks of strength training under your belt and you’ve documented your one-rep max for those big barbell lifts. To progress to the next PR, you will typically increase a percentage of your max for a planned number of varying reps and sets over your multi-week program. Sounds simple enough, at least on paper.
What numbers and percentages don’t take into account are all the human elements that can easily influence your gym routine. These daily events can take many forms. Maybe you had a tiring day at your desk. Maybe you had a bad night’s sleep. You missed your pre-workout snack. You can’t focus on anything right now except your favorite Netflix series.
All of these factors can make even the lightest workouts daunting, even when the numbers indicate you should complete the lift easily. That doesn’t mean percentage-based training is completely useless, but there are other effective ways to slam and hit those weights.
RPE, or Rate of Perceived Exertion, is one of those training methods that doesn’t require a ton of numbers and math, but rather a simple understanding of your own body. This popular measuring tool can help you maintain your fitness journey and provide a nice change of pace from percentage-based training.
What is RPE?
Rate of perceived exertion is a scale that measures the intensity of your exercise. The scale is based on how easy or difficult you perceive an activity to be, and is completely subjective to your Personal feelings. No maximum or percentage is required, so you can tailor your training based on your status at that particular time against a number of sensations such as increased heart rate, fatigue level, breathing patterns and more.
The Borg scale versus the modified RPE scale
Although the RPE is subjective, there is a general understanding of how to structure the scale. The original RPE scale was developed in 1982 by Swedish researcher Gunnar Borg, ranging from levels 6 to 20. The lower the number, the less exertion you should feel for an exercise. For example, a level 6 on the Borg scale would indicate no intensity like sitting in a chair, where a level 18 should involve intense effort, like in a max deadlift or a fast sprint.
The Borg RPE scale ranges from 6 to 20 to give you a correct estimate of where your heart rate should be over varying intensities. Simply multiply the RPE by a factor of 10 to get your estimated heart rate. For example, if you perceive an exercise to be RPE 10, then you should aim for around 100 beats per minute.
Using the Borg Scale can help you correctly identify RPE, but it requires access to your heart rate, either through a fitness tracker or knowing how to measure your BPM. If you don’t want to take your pulse before each workout, the Modified RPE scale could be your ticket to training success.
Instead of focusing on heart rate, the modified scale ranges from 1 to 10 based on your breathing rate. So an RPE of 1 on the modified scale would mean you can easily carry on a conversation during training, while an RPE of 9 or 10 would indicate deep breathing with no margin for lack of focus.
Whichever method the RPE is determined is up to you. If you’re not so confident in measuring your breathing patterns, stick to the Borg Scale. If you like a more compact range with fewer calculations, use the Modified. Both can help you organize your workouts around your planned output rather than max lift totals.
The pros and cons of RPE training
As with any training method, there are positives and negatives, all related to your personal goals and training style. Below are a handful of pros and cons of instilling an RPE measurement method into your fitness routine.
Benefit: Your training is based on feel, not numbers
Instead of taking the time to figure out your 1RM, you can easily switch to RPE training because it doesn’t rely on that data. Additionally, not everyone has the ability to safely and effectively assess their maximum, which can lead to inaccurate percentages and poorly managed drug regimens. Rather than relying on these stats, RPE allows for a fluid subjective scale that changes based on your abilities at the time. If you know what a “hard” workout is relative to your personal abilities, it can make RPE the go-to measurement tool without having to find your max on every exercise.
Pros: RPE can make every workout a success
You are not a robot, you have a life outside the gym. And with that come stressors and various vibrations. So each new day comes with different fitness results, which is not the intended workout routine when you base your workouts on percentages. Regardless of your feelings and physical state, your goal is to rep X weights for X sets, and when you’re stressed, tired, or just plain unmotivated, you can miss those numbers, causing even more stress with that added feeling of a workout. missed.
RPE training eliminates this tension and allows for unlimited variability. Not feeling the hottest that afternoon? Settle into your workout and match the weight to your vibe. Do you feel extra-juicy? Stack these plates as high as you want. When training under an RPE regime, the only goal should be to push yourself to the desired intensity. The weight does not matter, only the effort.
Disadvantage: you need to understand your maximum effort
Although RPE training empowers the person, you need to understand what “maximum intensity” means to you. If you’re new to the gym or have trouble gauging your performance, this can lead to inconsistent scaling in your workouts. Experienced lifters and fitness enthusiasts need to know how their body responds to certain stressors like extra weights or higher rep ranges. If you have just gone below the bar for the first time, it may be best to use percentage scaling for a while, as you are feeling what your body can Actually do.
Disadvantage: EPR requires honest self-assessment
Occasionally, it’s normal to cut a few corners. This is not the case with RPE, however. To keep your training effective, you must honestly assess your personal feelings before deciding on the intended RPE for an exercise. If you decide to take it easy on certain days when you know you could push harder, your progress may be more limited than if you were prescribed a certain weight or rep range. For those who do not want to give their training the respect and honesty it deserves, percentage-based measures are preferable in order to maintain a more rigid and structured regime.
RPE training can be an effective and interesting way to change the way you think about training. By taking the focus off of what was lifted and giving it to who actually lifted it, this measurement scale can be a great way to move you forward, even if the numbers don’t indicate it. As long as you’re honest with yourself and know your abilities, RPE could be the answer to all your workout woes.
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