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RPE—or the Rate of Perceived Exertion—is a scale used to identify the intensity of your exercise based on how hard you feel (or perceive) your effort to be. The RPE scale typically runs from 0 to 10, with zero being literally nothing and 10 being the hardest you could possibly exert yourself.
For example, a 7/10 RPE means you should be at about 7 out of 10 in terms of perceived exertion—or about 70% effort.
One thing to note: RPE is a subjective measure of how hard something feels both physically and mentally for you in that specific workout on that specific day. You might perceive the same effort as harder or easier on a different day for any number of reasons—your fatigue level, illness, weather, even mental fatigue make a workout feel harder. That’s why RPE is commonly used as just one metric among a number of tools to help fine-tine your training.
Why Use RPE?
You’ll see RPE referenced in many of our one-hour workouts on Wednesday and in other common training plans. While your specific coach might also give you target paces or heart rate zones to hit, RPE provides a more universal scale to measure exercise exertion.
The other benefit of RPE is that it gives you a check on more objective measures like heart rate or power. You might have established your training zones with an FTP test or extrapolated them from a long race effort; that then gives you target heart rate zones to hit for various efforts and corresponding power numbers on the bike or paces on the run and in the pool. But there are workouts where you’re hitting the pace, power, or heart rate numbers—and yet your perceived exertion feels off. Think of those days the tempo workout feels like an all-out sprint! That’s where RPE can come in handy as an additional piece of information to check your intenstiy
The longer you pay attention to your RPE too, the more you’ll fine-tune it. As you hit your paces and numbers in workouts, you’ll also learn what Olympic-distance pace or 70.3 effort feels like. And you’ll learn to listen to your body.
How Do You Know What Your RPE Is?
Originally, the RPE scale was established as the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion and the scale went from 6 to 20. The idea was that if you added a zero to your perceived exertion, you’d get your approximate heart rate. For example, a 12 on that scale would correspond with about 120 heart rate—which is considered “fairly light” activity on the Borg scale, such as brisk walking.
In the 1960s, that scale was changed to an easier to understand 0 to 10, but the rough guidelines are still applicable.
Strava, for instance, uses RPE as a metric you can add to your workouts. Here’s how they define the 0 to 10 scale:
– Easy (1-3): Could talk normally, breathing naturally, felt very comfortable
– Moderate (4-6): Could talk in short spurts, breathing more labored, within your comfort zone but working
– Hard (7-9): Could barely talk, breathing heavily, outside your comfort one
– Max effort (10): At your physical limit or past it, gasping for breath, couldn’t talk/could barely remember your name