RPE Running: How to Use the Rate of Perceived Exertion for Optimal Performance

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Written by :

David Dack

Are you ready to dive into the fascinating world of running intensity? Buckle up, my friend, because we’re about to embark on a journey that will unveil the secrets of measuring your effort and maximizing your training gains. Welcome to the realm of RPE in running!

Now, let’s get one thing straight: running intensity is the key ingredient that can make or break your training. It’s like the delicate balance between pushing your limits and avoiding the perilous cliffs of overexertion. Striking that sweet spot is essential for your progress and overall well-being.

Think of it this way: running is a dance with effort. You need to find the perfect rhythm, the right amount of exertion, to reap the rewards without succumbing to the dangers that lie in extremes. Too much intensity, and you risk injury or burnout. Too little, and your fitness level may plateau, leaving you yearning for progress.

That’s where the Rating of Perceived Exertion, or RPE, comes into play. It’s like a secret code that unlocks the mysteries of your effort level. This rating system, my friend, is a game-changer for runners of all backgrounds and aspirations. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or just starting your running journey, RPE is a crucial tool in your training arsenal.

In this post, I’ll be your guide, shedding light on RPE in running. We’ll unravel its intricacies, understand its significance, and discover how to harness its power for maximum effect. So, get ready to elevate your training experience and take your performance to new heights.

Ready? Let’s get to it.

What is The RPE Scale?

The RPE scale, also known as the “Borg CR10 scale” or the “Modified RPE scale,” is like a trusted companion for exercise physiologists and personal trainers. It allows them to peer into the depths of your effort and measure the intensity of your physical activity. It’s like a window into your exertion level, revealing the inner workings of your body as you push yourself to new heights.

Imagine this scale as a ladder with rungs numbered from 1 to 10. Each rung represents a different level of perceived exertion, offering descriptive statements that capture the essence of how hard or difficult an exercise feels to you. It’s a language of effort, spoken through numbers and sensations.

These numbers are more than mere digits. They are a reflection of the symphony of sensations you experience during physical activity. Think of it as a tapestry of physical stresses—increased respiration, a racing heart, beads of sweat forming on your brow, muscles fatiguing, and a touch of discomfort.

Let’s explore the spectrum of the RPE scale. At the lower end, a rating of 1 signifies minimal effort, as if you’re strolling through a meadow on a sunny day. On the other hand, a rating of 9 signifies near maximal exertion, where you’re pushing yourself to the limit, like a sprinter giving it their all in the final stretch of a race.

The beauty of the RPE scale lies in its versatility. While it’s commonly used in cardiovascular training, it can be seamlessly integrated into various forms of exercise, including resistance training.

It’s Convenient

With the RPE scale, you can gauge your effort without missing a beat. No need to interrupt your flow and fumble with a heart rate monitor or pulse-checking antics. It’s like a seamless conversation between your body and mind, allowing you to stay in the zone and keep pushing forward.

Now, let’s address the elephant in the room—the initial intimidation factor of the RPE complex rating system. I won’t sugarcoat it; it can feel like trying to decipher a cryptic code at first.

Think of it as embarking on a thrilling treasure hunt. The more you delve into understanding the nuances of the RPE scale, the closer you get to uncovering its hidden gems. It’s like polishing a diamond, revealing its true brilliance over time. And believe me, the effort is well worth it, especially as you embark on a serious running journey.

Different Runners Different Strokes

Let’s dive in and unlock the true power of the RPE rating system.

Here’s the secret ingredient: Just start using it. Yes, you heard me right. Don’t overthink it or hesitate. Embrace the RPE scale and make it a part of your training routine, even if you’ve never used it before. Trust me, the more you practice, the better you’ll become at harnessing its benefits.

Picture this: You’re in the midst of a challenging workout, beads of sweat glistening on your forehead. In that moment, tune in to your body and rate your effort on a scale of 1 to 10. How hard are you pushing yourself? How does it feel? This self-awareness is key. And don’t forget to also rate your workout right after you finish.

To truly master the art of RPE, make it a habit to jot down your ratings in your trusty training diary. This record becomes your personal compass, guiding you through the intricacies of your progress.

Now, here’s a little reminder: The beauty of the RPE scale lies in its individuality. There are no fixed numbers etched in stone. What might be an all-out effort for one person could be a leisurely jog for another.

As you continue to use the RPE scale, something magical will happen. Your inner sensors will become finely tuned, like a symphony conductor who effortlessly guides the orchestra. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of your body’s signals and push yourself to new heights.

Additional resource – Heart murmurs while exercising

RPE In Running Explained

  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.

How to Use The RPE Scale?

As you settle into your run, take a moment to assess your exertion level using the RPE scale. How does it feel? Are you cruising at a comfortable pace, or do you crave a bit more intensity? If you find yourself rating below 6 on the scale and have the desire to push yourself further, it’s time to kick it up a notch.

Increase your pace, indulge in some invigorating interval sprints, or conquer those challenging inclines and uphills. It’s like adding a dash of spice to your running recipe, infusing it with newfound energy and excitement.

But what if you find yourself rating at an 8 or 9 on the scale, indicating a high intensity level? Take a moment to reassess. While it’s great to challenge yourself, it’s important to listen to your body’s signals.

If you’re mid-workout and feel like you’re pushing too hard, it’s perfectly okay to dial back the intensity. Slow down your pace until you find yourself back in the moderate intensity zone. It’s like finding your rhythm in a captivating dance, gracefully adjusting your movements to maintain balance and avoid overexertion.

Now, here’s a valuable resource to complement your RPE journey: the Maffetone Method. This guide can provide you with additional insights and techniques to optimize your training. Explore it, embrace it, and let it enhance your understanding of the RPE scale and its application in your running routine.

RPE And Heart Rate Zones

Here’s where science meets perception: studies have shown a strong correlation between RPE ratings and heart rate during exercise.

For example, a challenging interval run might correspond to an RPE of 9-10 or 94 to 99 percent of your maximum heart rate. On the other hand, an easy recovery session might align with an RPE of 3-4, reflecting roughly 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.

However, keep in mind that these are rough estimates, as individual factors such as physical conditioning and age can influence the relationship between RPE and heart rate. It’s like unraveling the mysteries of your own body, understanding its unique responses to exertion.

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.

RPE in Running – The Conclusion

There you have it! If you’re looking for the full guide to RPE in running, then this post should get you started on the right foot. I’ve also shared with you a brief description on the link between RPE and heart rate zones. This means that you apply the RPE chart shared while doing any form physical exercise – Not just running.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime thank you for dropping by.

Keep training strong.

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1 thought on “RPE Running: How to Use the Rate of Perceived Exertion for Optimal Performance”

  1. I’m confused. I don’t run anymore, but this pertains to other cardio workouts. At age 60 my max HR is 160 but my HR% doesn’t match up with the RPE levels. For me 75% (120) feels like RPE 3, 85% (136) feels like RPE 4-5, 90% (144) feels like RPE 6, 95% (152) feels like RPE 7-8. When I try to keep my cardio sessions at a sensible 75% with intervals of 85%-90%, I don’t really feel like I’ve done a challenging workout. What is the disconnect here?

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