RPE or Rate of Perceived Exertion was developed in 1960 by Gunnar Borg. The Swedish researcher developed this scale to help individuals measure effort and exertion during physical work. A more straightforward way of looking at this scale is the measure of how hard something feels to you at a specific moment. It is a subjective measure to an individual at a given time. Usually, we rate this on a scale from one to ten, but there are many versions that people use. Individuals can make their own scale once they understand how to train by feel. The main thing is that you’re consistent with whatever version of the RPE scale you use.
Why would you use an RPE scale as opposed to a percentage program?
Even though percentage programs are easy to use, and effective, they can become very limited in their accuracy. There are many things that throw off your percentages. The longer you go in a training cycle, the less accurate your numbers become due to your individual strength adaptation. Each athlete is different because of differences in training history, fast-to-slow twitch ratios, illnesses, good and bad days, and general sleep patterns. Basically, life happens, and you won’t always be at 100 percent when you train. If you have been at Graham Strength & Conditioning for a while chances are you have trained using percentages. The majority of the time we can perform the given lift at the set percentages, but there are days we all run into where those percentages just aren’t happening. Using an RPE scale allows us to go into each training session no matter where we are in life and train optimally without the added pressure of hitting a set percentage.
Different Versions of the REP Scale
Let's take a look at some different versions of the RPE scale that are used across strength sports and fitness:
This version comes from Olympic Weightlifting Coach Mike Burgener:
Coach B's RPE Scale
RPE 1-4 || Very light to light effort
RPE 5-6 || Could do 4 to 6 more repetitions
RPE 7 || Could do 3 more repetitions
RPE 7.5 || Could definitely do 2 more repetitions, chance at 3
RPE 8 || Could do 2 more repetitions
RPE 8.5 || Could definitely do 1 more repetition, chance at 2
RPE 9 || Could do 1 more repetition
RPE 9.5 || Could not do more reps, could do slightly more load
RPE 10 || Could not do more reps or more load
This version is commonly used for bodybuilding:
RPE 1-3 || This should be a weight that an athlete can move with ease throughout the intended rep range.
RPE 4-5 || This is a weight that provides a moderate amount of resistance but the athlete feels like they could double the intended rep range with the weight they chose
RPE 6-7 || This is a moderate-moderate/heavy weight for the athletes. This should provide a challenge for the intended rep range but should not be something that they are worried about failing. The rest needed between sets should be minimal.
RPE 8-9 || This is a near-maximal effort for the intended rep range. Athletes should need and want an adequate amount of rest between the sets at this RPE.
RPE 10 || This is a max effort for the intended rep range. The athlete should be fully taxed at the end of each set.
The Hinshaw RPE Chart was developed by one of the top endurance coaches, Chris Hinshaw:
The scale can be used for every type of training and is commonly seen across strength, bodybuilding, and aerobic work., But this scale can also be applied to functional fitness-style workouts. More often than not when applying the REP scale to functional fitness-style workouts we will be operating in the range of 7-10 the majority of the time given the high-intensity nature of each workout. Let’s look at some examples:
100 Pull Ups
200 Push Ups
300 Air Squats
Add a weighted vest (20lbs for men, 14lbs for women)
This workout would rate as an RPE of 8-9. Very difficult and once you finish you should have nothing left.
100 Box Jump Overs
100 Cal Bike
150 Wall Balls
200ft Handstand Walk
*You may partition the work however you want.
This workout would rate as an RPE of 7 - a ard workout with a grind-style pace. Since the reps can be broken up and the movements are taxing you will need to pace this one more.
21-15-9 reps For Time:
This workout would rate as an RPE of 10. This one is designed to be an all-out sprint from start to finish. You should have nothing left in the tank.
By applying an RPE scale to our style of workouts we can help athletes better understand training stimulus. Some days we need to go a little slower and lighter; other days we go harder and faster. It is important for athletes to understand their individual capabilities in order to best utilize this tool as not every session should end with you lying in the fetal position coughing up your lunges while your soul leaves your body.