Utilising RPE For Strength Training
By Steve Barber
Rate of perceived exertion more commonly known as RPE was popularised by Borg (1982) as a way to determine the difficulty of a task that an individual has performed usually within physical activity. Due to demands on the body I.e. sleep, work stress, nutrition, activity level outside of the gym and general day to day life the body is not always going to be able to perform at its 100% best on any given day and the RPE for sessions will vary on the bodies state of being in that sessions when the body is in a more fatigued state than normal then more than likely the RPE for that session would generally be higher. The original scale that Borg had created does not transfer well In to strength training so adaptations have been made so that it can be used as a tool within strength training and not just physical activity. Rather than use the original scale which rated the perceived exertion on a scale between 1-20 and later being adapted to between 1-10 the RPE chart for lifting rates the perceived exertion of a lift in a factor of how many reps the lifter feels that they could perform at the end of that set. Below is an example of how we would use RPE to effectively rate a set.
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This may seem a little confusing at first but usually an individual will complete a set and have without consciously knowing it have rated that set usually with words or phrases such as that was tough or that was easy this method utilises the natural response to rate how difficult a set was and to help to remain injury free, get the most out of sessions and to make more continual strength gains. RPE will also help to reduce mental stress from training as is often when a lifter has a bad session where they do not hit a prescribed amount of weight they was supposed to and will beat themselves up about it where working at an RPE as a target will give them an opportunity to not beat themselves up as there is no fixed weight in a session. RPE also gives the lifter an opportunity to track progression in more forms as a select weight may become a lower RPE rating which would indicate a strength gain and will help to keep the lifter more motivated along their journey of strength.