What is RPE in Exercise?

In order to create a personalized fitness regimen for yourself, it’s important to first understand what a good workout means and looks like for you. Measuring the “goodness” of a workout varies from person to person and is a vital measurement to understand and track.

Is the validity of a training session measured by the amount of sweat on your skin? The fatigue settling into your muscles as you leave the gym? The amount of calories burned according to your smartwatch? And while there are plenty of fitness trackers to measure aspects of your workout and report the statistics after the workout is over, how can we measure the effectiveness of a workout while it’s still happening? 

Today we’re going to talk about a tool you can use to maximize your workouts called RPE. From understanding what RPE in exercise means, to establishing your RPE, and how you can use RPE to make your workouts more effective in real time. 

What is RPE?

RPE stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion

RPE originated in the 1950s when Gunnar Borg, a pioneer in the relationship between the connection between the psychology of the mind and the physiology of the body, recognized a gap in his field. A colleague of his, Hans Dahlström, was annoyed because some of his patients were exaggerating certain symptoms of fatigue, making it harder for Dahlström to track and report correct findings. When it became clear that the discrepancies between the patients’ opinions and the results of physiological tests were a result of a lack of any basis from which to judge their own experiences rather than any real deceit, the two set out to create a standardized system for measuring perception. 

Over the next 20 years, Borg created the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale. The purpose of this RPE scale was to help people identify how hard they felt they were working. 

The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale really took off when the American College of Sports Medicine began using it for their Guidelines for Testing and Prescription in 1986, and today it remains a valuable method for measuring exertion.  

However, now there are two iterations of RPE, both developed by Borg himself. The original version, which is based on a scale of 6-20, and an updated version with a scale of 0-10, which we’ll describe in more detail in the next section. 

How does RPE Work?

The original 6-20 scale relates to one’s heart rate zone. The heart is a fantastic tool to measure exertion because the harder we work, the more oxygen our muscles need, the more blood pumps through the heart. 

Six marks the lowest rate of perceived exertion, meaning that you’re very relaxed and not exerting energy at all. On the other hand, a 20 marks the absolute maximum level of exertion your body can possibly feel. Between seven and twelve is where light exertion is felt, like walking or picking up your kids, for example. Scoring between twelve and fourteen indicates moderate exertion, while anything higher implies intense exertion. 

The Borg CR10 Scale, which is a modified, simplified version of Borg’s initial 6-20 scale, was later developed in the 1980s. This revised version functions on a scale of zero through ten. Although the emphasis on actual heart rate correlation doesn’t exist with this scale, it still measures perceived exertion. 

On this scale, a zero represents no exertion at all, 0.5 represents slight exertion, a 3 is considered moderate-intensity exercise, 5 implies heavy exertion, 7 very heavy, and 10 is the most intense exertion. While the CR10 Scale is a fantastic tool, it is significantly more subjective than the first version and therefore leaves room for human error. At the end of the day, however, you’re the only one who knows how you feel in your body, so don’t be afraid to use it. 

Why is RPE Important? 

Understanding your own body is vital for personal health. Since RPE is a useful tool to stay in touch with your body, use it to your advantage. RPE allows us to flag when something feels wrong or push a little harder when something feels right. 

Another reason why RPE is important is because it helps to track how much fitness we get in a week. All leading guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. This translates to about 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week. It helps to know what “moderate” exercise intensity level feels like for you. Since this is such a subjective measurement, using RPE measurements will help you maintain a healthy lifestyle. 

Once you’ve calculated your RPE and learned to recognize what exertion feels like, you’ll be on track to a healthier, happier you. And we at Chuze fitness are thrilled to be here to help you with state-of-the-art equipment, plenty of group classes, and a fitness family to make sure you’re supported along every step of the way.

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