For anyone following a training program, it’s not uncommon to have questions about the amount of effort required to reach your goals. Are your workouts hard enough? How do you know if you’re exercising too hard?
Measuring heart-rate is a great way to gauge the intensity of your workouts. However, you might not always have access to a heart-rate monitor. Tracking your heart-rate is just one piece of the puzzle.
There are other ways to measure your effort, whether you’re hitting the gym or heading outside for a run. This is where using your rate of perceived exertion, or RPE, comes in. This means of measuring the intensity of your workout could be just what you need to get the results you want.
What is RPE and How do Your Calculate it?
Most people try to gauge their workout and regulate their effort based on how their body feels. However, it is often pretty ambiguous. It can be just a matter of guessing based on how your body feels, but it isn’t really a system or exact measurement.
Rate of Perceived Exertion is a more uniform scale by means of measuring the intensity of your workout. It is measured on a scale of 0 to 10, according to the Cleveland Clinic, where 1 is the least difficult, and 10 is the most difficult. Rating your exertion enables you to self-regulate your training intensity during a workout, without needing an external monitor or fitness tracker.
RPE is a subjective rating based on how you feel physically and mentally during the exercise; this makes calculating RPE somewhat difficult because it isn’t an exact science. Being consistent in the gym and paying close attention to how your body feels while training is the best way to improve RPE accuracy. As you gain more exercise experience, you’ll get better at assessing your effort level and the capabilities of your body using the RPE scale. With time, it will only get easier to rate the difficulty of your workouts.
Since RPE is a self-determined rating, it allows you to take into account factors that affect your workout performance, including whether you’ve had enough sleep, what you’ve eaten that day, and whether you’re under stress.
If you are dehydrated or you are doing a fasted workout, you might find that you reach the same rate of perceived exertion with a lower exercise intensity than if you had a pre-workout snack and plenty of fluids.
Using the RPE Scale During Strength Training
The RPE scale can help you determine the amount of weight to lift during your strength workouts. For an exercise with a pre-determined amount of reps, consider how many more reps you could have completed in total. For example: let’s say you’re performing a bicep curl intending to do 10-repetitions. At the end of 10-reps, could you have performed a few more without breaking form? If the answer is yes, and you still could have completed 2-3 more reps, this is an RPE of 8. If you could have completed 4-6 more reps, it is an RPE between 5-7. If you could perform more than 6 reps at the end of the set, it’s a safe bet the weight isn’t heavy enough!
Higher volume strength training to improve muscle tone is usually done at an RPE of 7-8. This training intensity is also suitable for building confidence with new exercises.
Setting RPE Goals
What comes next after you’ve made a habit of measuring your RPE? If you want to make changes to your workout to reach your goals, how can you use RPE to do just that?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, most people will be working out at a 3 or a 4 on the RPE scale. These numbers represent a moderate-intensity workout, and this is fine for someone new to working out or hopes to maintain a baseline of being physically active.
However, individuals who want a more intense workout that challenges their physical fitness will want to push beyond this and aim for an RPE of 6 to 7, according to Healthline. What could this look like more specifically? For most people, jogging, swimming, and biking are exercises that will fall within this range.
Rate of Perceived Exertion and HIIT
High-intensity strength training is a great way to get more bang for your buck by maximizing your efforts in a shorter amount of time. These workouts are different from jogging or swimming, which are typically done over a lengthier period-of-time at a challenging, but sustainable level of effort.
When performing HIIT, you will likely find yourself rating your RPE at roughly an 8 or 9. This is possible because you only have to maintain this much effort for 20 to 60 seconds before you take a break. If you’re not finding yourself at an 8 while performing HIIT, this is an indication that something needs to change. This might be a simple as pushing yourself a little harder during workouts or increasing the amount of weight you are lifting.
No matter which training style you choose, doing workouts at a variety of intensities can help you to prevent or break through a workout plateau, while you maximize the results you get from your program. Using your RPE, you can train according to the right level of intensity at every workout. As you use this rating, over time you’ll get better at using it to train hard enough and to go easier when you need to.
Using RPE to choose a weight in your SHOCK program
SHOCK measures heart-rate or rate of perceived exertion (RPE), guiding each workout to ensure you achieve the best results! You’ll want to select a weight so that the final rep of each round is difficult but not impossible — an RPE of about 7-8. If you find that the weight you choose for the first circuit is too easy, you can increase it for the second circuit.
Overall, even though RPE isn’t perfect, it’s an excellent method to measure workout intensity once you get the hang of it. Like anything else, the more you do it, the better you become. Improving your ability to judge RPE demands that you pay attention to your body as you train. As you become more comfortable listening to the signals your body gives you, you’ll become better at applying RPE in the SHOCK app to understand when it is time to push harder and when it is time to back off.