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How Rate of Perceived Exertion Can Make You a Better Athlete

ZC observing Owen sprint

In performance physical therapy, training programs follow a strict methodology for exercises, sets, reps, and effort to produce a specific training effect.

One overlooked, but equally important aspect of an effective training program is autoregulation, which describes adjusting the training effort to accommodate a present condition. For example, if the program calls for a brief warmup, reducing the weight on the bar is one easy form of autoregulation.

One of the main use cases of autoregulation involves using the RPE scale, also known as the Rate of Perceived Exertion. The RPE scale is a scale from 1–10 that measures the perceived level of exertion or difficulty.

Rather than saying, “Darn, that set was really difficult!” you could say, “I’d rank that as an 8 out of 10 on the RPE scale.” Using RPE in performance physical therapy is an effective way to place a numerical value on the difficulty of an exercise, set, or workout.

Credit: Michael Tuchscherer & RTS

How to Implement RPE Into Your Training

Before we dive in, it’s important to understand the usefulness of RPE. According to Propane Fitness, autoregulating using RPE allows an athlete to get the most out of each training session — whether you’re feeling amazing and well-rested or if you slept for two hours on the floor of your buddies apartment. By adjusting the training load based on perceived difficulty, you’re better able to manage the workload of each exercise.

A sample workout using RPE might look like this:

  • Barbell Bench Press: 3 sets x 5 reps @ 8 RPE
  • Decline Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 sets x 8 reps @ 6 RPE

Implementing RPE into a workout is as simple as adding it to the already existing workout. RPE is simply a training tool that allows for more customization and variation in training load. An RPE of 8 would require more weight, whereas an RPE of 6 means an easier training load, thus lighter weight.

All in all, tracking the RPE of sets and reps is incredibly valuable when working with a coach or performance physical therapist. This method of autoregulation creates common ground between the PT and the athlete. It also creates a well-defined approach for managing workload and training effort, an invaluable tool for avoiding injury and overtraining.

The difficulty of RPE is determining how difficult each set or workout should be — or rather placing an RPE value to each exercise. This is why it’s important to work with an experienced personal trainer or performance physical therapist. For a deep dive into implementing RPE into your training, contact us today for a free consultation!

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