What the heck is RPE?!

In a recent post, I spoke of RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion).  It’s basically a method to help you gauge how intense your workout is or should be.  It assists the lifter by helping him/her determine what weight or degree of intensity should be attempted in a given workout; much like a percentage based program.  This method of gauging a workout is far different from a typical percentage based program, though.  To understand how it differs, one must know exactly what a percentage based program is and how it differs from using RPE to gauge your training intensity.

Your typical percentage based program can be found anywhere on the web.  The web is chock full of them.  Simply go to Google and type in “powerlifting peaking spreadsheet”.  The results will return a mind numbing amount of programs that will supposedly increase whatever lift you are focusing on as long as you stick to the prescribed amount of weight that fills in the spreadsheet rows.  What makes it percentage based is the fact that they use percentages of your 1 RM for a given lift. Well, I’m here to tell you that most of those programs are a waste of time.  Every time that I have attempted a percentage based program, I get injured.  Now, I know of guys that have yielded great results from a percentage based program, but I am not one of those guys.  Most people get injured or excel in their training only to bomb out at the meet.  The reasoning behind this is because these programs are written and tweaked for one particular individual.  Most of these particular individuals will get popular in the sport of powerlifting and then someone will post their routine online, hoping to make a buck.  After that, numerous people attempt the routine.  Some actually succeed with the routine, mostly geared individuals, but the majority fail.  A successful routine or peaking cycle must revolve around the athlete, not the assumption that they will be able to lift with the intensity level of the elite lifter in which the percentage program was originally designed for.  I have used a percentage based program, with great success, but it was provided by a professional lifting coach and was tweaked as we went along.

So, how is a person supposed to be 100% sure they are training with enough intensity if not chained down by a percentage based program?  The answer is insanely simple.  Train instinctively by listening to your body.  Since I have started training this way, I have been injury free and the gains are steady.  Slow, but steady.  To gauge the intensity of my workouts, I use RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion).  RPE can be applied to all types of exercise, but I use it for my powerlifting movements (squat, bench press, & deadlift).  With all of my other exercises, I use different methods to gauge my intensity. Below are some charts that describe exactly what a RPE chart looks like for general fitness and weightlifting:

        GENERAL FITNESS                                                                WEIGHTLIFTING


After viewing these two charts, I hope you see what I mean by gauging intensity.  RPE can be used with cardio, weightlifting, powerlifting, or whatever!  To get to a point in which you are using an RPE scale to gauge your workouts, you have to start keeping a log; if you don’t already. If you don’t have a log, even without using RPE, you will not progress much in your training.  When I first began recording RPEs, I wrote down the applicable number from the weightlifting chart above after my last set of a lift.  For example, I did squats with 315 lbs. for 3 reps on my last set.  I wrote “@9” next to that entry in my workout log.  This meant that I had one more rep left in the tank.  Had I not had one rep left, I would’ve written “@10” next to the entry.  Make sense?  I sure hope so because this is extremely straightforward compared to most of the other articles you will read on the internet that concern this topic.  Most of the articles require the reader to have a Masters in Science in order to understand all of the material contained in the article. There is no reason a simple explanation can’t be give, and a quick one at that!

To learn more, check out the RTS method of training.  RPE is just a small part of this awesome method; a method I feel everyone can benefit and see steady gains from.


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