Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) – How & Why You Should Use It In Your Workouts

The idea of “RPE” most definitely falls in the category of fitness jargon and workout mumbo jumbo that you may or may not be super familiar with, so let’s break it down!

“RPE” stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion, and can be super useful to help individuals understand how hard they should be working when following a training plan, when running, when lifting, etc

If we used high intensity exercise modalities as an example: someone newer to fitness may think they should always be redlining, on the verge of failure, maxing out ever single day in the gym… The above would be exerting an RPE of 9-10… and could be a fast track to injury, isn’t super sustainable, and isn’t necessarily the most efficiently conducive to positive adaptations (like gaining muscle, hitting PR’s, losing body fat, etc) over time. It’s also an important shift to understand when approaching workouts: you should be TRAINING the majority of the time (RPE of ~6-9), not COMPETING every day (RPE ~9-10). There’s a difference!

If looking at running (let’s say training for a half/full marathon), same thing: we’d likely regularly be alternating through RPE of 5-9’s. We’d have a mix of training with easier runs, harder runs, sprint work vs steady pace effort, etc. In @paragontrainingmethods, we never really prescribe lifting based off percentages and we almost always use RPE/RIR (rate of perceived exertion // reps in reserve). Percentage work can struggle to account for muscle fiber type (fast vs slow twitch) in individuals. There’s also a differences in biological gender physiology and the ability and effort required to lift at certain percentages. Percentage work also just can’t take into account real life factors and how they may vary day-to-day, such as sleep, stress, menstrual cycle and hormone levels, etc etc.

Using RPE allows individuals to train smarter, listen to their body, and make adjustments in their efforts accordingly. As mentioned in the infographic, RPE of 7-9 is usually where the magic happens.

To bring another term in the mix: “RIR” = Reps in Reserve, or what you have “left in the tank” after your lifting set is complete. For example: if programming says “build to a set of 3 Deadlifts with 2 RIR,” that means  you would work up to a weight you could lift for 3 reps (BUT could hit for 5 reps if needed to). This ensures that we’re lifting a challenging weight, but we’re not maxing out or likely going to see a total compromise in form.


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