The Complete Guide to The Rated Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale

How can I measure my training intensity?

If you don’t know the answer to that question, then you are in the right place.

Workout intensity is vital to measure as it can tell you whether you are training too hard or not pushing it hard enough. Do too much, and you risk injury and/or burnout. Do too little, and your fitness level will plateau, even decline, which is not what you want.

One of the commonly used methods is the Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE). Using this rating system is a crucial component of any training program—regardless of your current fitness level and goals.

In this post, I will give you an overview of RPE—what is it, why you should use it, and how to efficiently use for maximum effect.

So, are you excited? Then here we go.

The Complete Guide to The Rated Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale

The R.P.E Demystified

The R.P. E scale, also known as the “Borg CR10 scale”, or the “Modified RPE scale.” is a method of rating perceived exertion. It’s used, mostly, by exercise physiologists and personal trainers to measure the level of effort during physical activity.

The RPE scale is a rating scale ranging from 1 to 10.  The numbers on the scale correspond to descriptive statements that rate how hard or difficult t you find an exercise or physical activity.

The ratings are based on an array of feelings and sensation of physical stresses a trainee experiences during physical activity. These include increased respiration, increased heart rate, sweating, muscle fatigue, and discomfort.

So, for instance, a rating of 1 means you are putting in any effort, whereas a rating of 9 means you’re near maximal exertion.

The RPE is typically used in cardiovascular training, but it can just as easily be applied to other forms of training, especially resistance training.

It’s Convenient

Using the RPE rating system requires no equipment. As long as you’re willing to listen to your body, you’re good to go.

The RPE scale is especially handy if you don’t own a heart rate monitor and/or don’t want to stop in the middle of your run to check your pulse and how hard you’re pushing yourself.

But don’t get me wrong. For first-timers, the RPE complex rating system can be quite overwhelming. But, with a little bit of practice and perseverance, one can learn how to correctly use this powerful tool.

And this is worth the effort, especially for the long haul once you start taking your running routine more seriously.

Different People Different Strokes

Now that you have a thorough grasp (hopefully) of what an RPE is, let’s talk about how we can put it to action.

And here is the key.

If you are serious about making the most out of this rating system, you need, in simple terms, to just start using it—even if you have never done it before.

To get good at this, make sure cultivate the habit of regularly rating each workout on a 1 to 10 scale both during the workout and right after. You have to build your inner sensors.

Next, keep tabs on your RPE for your workouts in your training diary.

Just keep in mind that this scale is different for everyone.

So, for instance, super vigorous activity could be jogging at 4.5 MPH for one person or faster running at 9 MPH for another person. So it’s up to you to come up with the right numbers and ratings.

The RPE Ratings Demystified

  1. Very easy. No exertion. You’re lounging on the couch, doing nothing physically The only movement you are doing is holding a potato chip and pushing buttons on the remote.
  2. Fairly light exertion. This is how you ought to feel when you are warming up and cooling down, or stretching. You can converse with no effort.
  3. Light exertion. You are moving, but it’s slow and easy like strolling. This how you should warm up your body before running. You can converse with almost no effort.
  4. Moderately easy. Your breathing and heart rate is a little faster. You’re feeling a little warmer. And you’re starting to work up a sweat. But you can still maintain a conversation while exercising without much effort.
  5. Moderate to somewhat hard exertion. Your heart is pumping faster. You are breathing harder. You’re feeling warmer. You can still converse, but it is getting tougher.
  6. Hard exertion. You are breathing hard now. But you can still sip from your water bottle. You can only say a few words at a time.
  7. Hard to somewhat intense exertion. You are breathing really hard, and are wondering how you can keep on going like this.
  8. Very hard. You are breathing hard and nearing your maximal limit. You can no longer say a few words without gasping for air.
  9. Super hard. You feel like your lungs are about to explode. You cannot keep this intensity for more than one minute. Conversing is impossible. This is one tad bit away from your maximum.
  • Ultimate exertion. This is your absolute limit. You cannot keep this pace for more than 10 seconds. Speaking is out of the question. Pain is everywhere.

RPE & Heart Rate Zones

Research has found a strong correlation between your RPE ratings and your actual heart rate during exercise.

For instance, a hard interval run should be RPE 9-10 or 94 to 99 percent of your maximum heart rate.  On the other hands, an easy recovery should be RPE 3-4, which corresponds to roughly 60 to 70 percent of maximum heart rate.

Just keep in mind that it’s only a rough estimate as physical conditioning, age, and other factors, vary from one individual to the next.

This is how you can correlate it to heart rate zones so you can have more measuring tools on your hand.

  • 2-4 – Very light zone – 50 to 60 percent
  • 4-5 – Light zone – 60  to 70 percent
  • 5-7 – Moderate zone – 70 to 80 percent
  • 7-9 – Hard zone – 80 to 90 percent
  • 9-10 – Maxiumum zone – 90 to 100 percent.
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David Dack

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