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RPE Scale

You may be familiar with heart rate zones if you have worked on your cardiovascular fitness and/or are an endurance athlete (runner, cyclist, etc.). On the other hand, what you may not know is that your heart rate can help provide data, but the RPE Scale may be able to tell us even more. So, what is the RPE Scale?


The RPE Scale

The RPE Scale, or rate of perceived exertion, is a subjective measurement of effort that can be used in relation to both resistance training and cardiovascular training. The scale runs from 1-10 and allows you to self-assess your intensity within a given exercise, training session, or cardio session.


Becoming in tune with your perceived effort is not something that happens overnight. It takes time, experience, and trial and error to learn what the difference between and RPE 7 and an RPE 8 looks and feels like.


Within the KATHLETICS online programs, including 1:1 online training and KATHLETICS Trail, I use the RPE Scale with clients since they are self-guiding and recording their workouts. Clients usually find their suggested RPEs to be between 7-9 for resistance training, with the occasional 5-6 depending on experience and/or if it's during a deload. Rarely do we push to an RPE 10. Why? Research shows that we don't need to push to failure to succeed. Leaving 1-3 reps left in the tank can increase strength and muscular gains.


Below is an overview of what the RPE Scale looks like for lifting. You'll notice that some of the descriptions include "2-3 reps left in tank" referring to RIR, or Reps in Reserve. This can be an easier way to gauge your RPE when learning how to perceive effort levels.

RPE scale for lifting

When I program cardio activities for clients, I suggest using the RPE Scale, as well, so they can rely on their perceived effort vs only heart rate. Heart rate zones can be helpful, but if someone is new to running, inconsistently runs, has not built an aerobic base yet, is experiencing high stress, or is under-hydrated, a higher heart rate may not tell us the whole story. The cardiovascular system needs time and consistency to build and adapt, so a higher heart rate may be read without the perceived effort being at a 8/9/10. This is why using the RPE Scale may be a better marker for each session. Check out the RPE Scale below for cardiovascular training, particularly in line with running efforts.

RPE scale for aerobic activity

Learn more about working with KATHLETICS.


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