Understanding Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

Understanding Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
Presented by Spartan Training®

For as long as we can remember, we’ve been using perceived scales. Whether it’s the smiley face pain scale at the doctors’ office, or your post-Spartan Race surveys, it is not uncommon to rank our perceptions for simple tracking. And this is where the Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale (RPE) comes into play.

In fitness, we often like to use the RPE scale to identify where our exertion level is at and where our target exertion should be in any given exercise. This allows the fitness novice to decide which weights to utilize to see the maximum benefit from each exercise. Our brain perceives our exertion at a higher level than our body.

Related: 7 Mindsets to Achieve Extraordinary Success

New to RPE? Start with a Running Workout

"The best way to gauge RPE is to pay attention to your running speed during your running workout. If you find yourself able to hold a conversation more easily or breath more comfortably at a faster pace than before, then, most likely, you have progressed," says Spartan Director of Fitness Sam Stauffer. "This requires you to take a mental (or actual) note of how you feel and breathe at a certain speed. Check as your training routine goes on. The same applies to a workout so long as the variables don't change."

What is the Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale?

Use the list below to decipher where you are at with each exercise you perform during your Spartan WODs. The aim of each exercise is to reach a 9-10 on the scale by the end of your program.

  • 0 = No Effort
  • 1= Just Noticeable
  • 2 = Very Light/Easy
  • 3 = Light/Easy
  • 4 = Moderate
  • 5 = Challenging
  • 6 = Somewhat Heavy/Hard
  • 7 = Heavy/Hard
  • 8 = Moderately Heavy/Hard
  • 9 = Very Heavy/Hard
  • 10 = Failure

SPARTAN PRO TRAINER TIP: A workout journal is an absolute must. You can't track what you can't measure. "Having written notes of how you felt, what you did, the weights you did, etc. is beyond valuable when it comes to progressing," suggests Stauffer. Plus, it's a great way to track your progress—day over day, week over week—as you push to your edge.

Related: How to Get Ready for a Spartan Race

Use Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale to Prevent Injury

Injury prevention is Spartan's number one goal. That said, using RPE is an alternative way to keep yourself in check. "If you find yourself too high on the RPE scale, i.e. always out of breath or feeling over-exerted, you may be overdoing it," says Stauffer. "With this in mind, you may have harder days programmed into your workout routine and reaching higher on the RPE scale may be necessary." Use it as a litmus test and stay honest with yourself to make sure you're pushing to your edge, but avoiding risk of injury.

"Simply put: You want to overreach, not overtrain. Overreaching is the art of pushing yourself just outside of your boundary to promote growth while overtraining is redlining your body (like a car) without the proper rest and recovery," says Stauffer. "In other words, the difference is following a preconstructed program that already includes rest and recovery rather than doing HIIT workouts every day of the week."

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