RPE, or Rate of Perceived Exertion, is a way to measure the intensity of your workouts.
RPE is a subjective measure, meaning that it’s based on your own perception of how hard you’re working, rather than any objective measure like heart rate or watts on a bike.
If you’ve ever worked with a personal trainer or taken a small group training class, you’ve probably heard the term “RPE” thrown around. By reading this blog, you will know better what exactly RPE is, and how it can maximize your training.
What is the RPE scale
The RPE scale ranges from 0 to 10, with 0 being no exertion at all (sitting on the couch, for example) and 10 being maximum exertion (like an all-out sprint). Different types of workouts may target different RPE levels, depending on your goals and fitness level.
For example, if you’re doing a steady-state cardio workout like running or cycling, you might aim for an RPE of 6-7, which would correspond to a moderate level of exertion. On the other hand, if you’re doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT), you might aim for an RPE of 8-9 during the work intervals, followed by a lower RPE during the rest intervals. I love taking note of my RPE whether I am swimming laps, playing tennis, hiking a 14er, or lifting weights. It helps me create overall awareness and have a sense of accomplishment.
why is RPE important?
It helps you tailor your workouts to your own fitness level.
One of the great things about RPE is that it’s personalized to your own perception of effort. This means that two people doing the same workout might have different RPEs, based on their individual fitness levels and how hard they’re pushing themselves. One person can be overall more consistently active then the other person, which would also make a difference.
By using RPE to guide your workouts, you can make sure you’re working at an appropriate level for your own fitness level. This can help prevent injury and burnout, and also help you make progress over time as you gradually increase your RPE. It can feel so good to be aware of your progress through RPE.
It allows for flexibility in your workouts.
Another benefit of RPE is that it’s adaptable to different types of workouts and different circumstances. I talk about this a lot in the small group fitness classes that I teach. Whether someone got a poor night’s sleep, just returned from a two week trip, or is feeling like a million bucks, the RPE can be personally adjusted so that the workout can feel ‘challenging but doable’ to them. You are always in control to adjust your RPE downward or you might feel energized to be able to push yourself to a higher RPE.
By using RPE as a guide, you can be more flexible with your workouts and adjust them as needed to fit your current circumstances.
It helps you measure progress over time.
Finally, RPE can be a useful tool for tracking your progress over time. As you become fitter and stronger, you should be able to work at a higher RPE for longer periods of time. By tracking your RPE over time, you can see how your fitness is improving and adjust your workouts accordingly.
One of the ways I did this last year was to do the same hike/trail run each weekend for a span of 3 months. I used a journal as well as Map My Run to track my RPE as well as compare stats from the trail runs. I loved how I could see the progress week over week for general improvement of speed while also noting from my journaling that it actually was feeling easier to do!
how can you use RPE in your own workouts?
Learn the RPE scale
The first step is to familiarize yourself with the RPE scale. Spend some time thinking about what each level of exertion feels like for you, and try to associate specific activities (like running, cycling, lifting or walking) with specific RPE levels.
You can get creative with making your own and use emojis, pictures/images, descriptions and colors to create your scale. For example, I would use a soft color blue with an emoji of feeling relaxed for a 1 whereas for a 10, I would most likely use a deep, intense red with an emoji that represents exhaustion, stress and/or fatigue to represent the intensity.
Use RPE as a guide, not a rule
Remember that RPE is a subjective measure, so don’t get too hung up on hitting a specific number. Instead, use RPE as a guide to make sure you’re working at an appropriate level for your own fitness level and goals. This is ultimately to create awareness and to empower you!
Experiment with different RPE levels
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different RPE levels to see what works best for you. For example, you might find that you prefer to work at a slightly lower RPE for longer periods of time, or that you prefer to do shorter, higher-intensity intervals at a higher RPE. Trial and error are not a bad thing!
Track your RPE over time
To track your RPE over time, there are a few different methods you can use:
- Journaling: One of the simplest ways to track your RPE is to keep a workout journal. After each workout, make a note of the type of workout, the duration, and the RPE you felt during the workout. Over time, you can look back at your journal to see how your RPE is changing and adjust your workouts accordingly. (Bonus! You can also look back at your journey and appreciate all your efforts!)
- Fitness apps: There are many fitness apps available that allow you to track your workouts and RPE. These apps may also provide additional information, such as calorie burn or heart rate, that can help you get a more complete picture of your fitness. After each run, bike, or hike, Map My Run allows me to add these types of notes AND take a picture for records!
- Heart rate monitors: Although RPE is a subjective measure, you can use heart rate monitors to get an objective measure of how hard you’re working. By tracking your heart rate during a workout and comparing it to your perceived exertion, you can get a better sense of what different RPE levels feel like for you. If you have never used heart rate monitors, make sure you check out our 28 day challenge. We incorporate them for this exact purpose. Because our 28 day challenges come with accountability coaching and support, we can coach you around your individual data and goals. This will teach you how to integrate your heart rate as part of your RPE journey as well!
- Fitness assessments: Finally, you can use fitness assessments, such as VO2 max tests or max heart rate tests, to get a more objective measure of your fitness level. By comparing your RPE to your performance on these tests, you can get a better sense of how accurate your perceived exertion is and adjust your workouts accordingly.
By tracking your RPE over time, you can get a better sense of how hard you’re working and adjust your workouts to ensure that you’re making progress. Whether you prefer to journal, use fitness apps, or track your heart rate, there are many different ways to use RPE to maximize your training and reach your fitness goals. By using multiple tools to track your progress, you can get a more complete picture of how your fitness is improving and make more informed decisions about your training.
So the next time you’re working out, give RPE a try and see how it can help you maximize your training. If you find you need support and education around this, reach out to us!
To learn more, check out my Coffee with Coach Brandy video on RPE.