Understanding the Rate of Perceived Effort Scale (RPE)

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Understanding the Rate of Perceived Effort Scale (RPE), RPE scale

Do you understand the Rate of Perceived Effort Scale (RPE) when it comes to your running workouts?

If you have ever completed a survey on shopping experience or filled out an exercise readiness form at the doctor’s office, then you have probably encountered a rate of perceived effort scale (RPE). These scales are a simple way for us to generalize our perceptions of things for easier tracking and case study analysis.

When it comes to exercise, the Rate of Perceived Effort Scale is very useful in helping to determine if you are exercising at the intended intensity for a workout. The scale allows the exerciser to decide the pace of their run, the number of repetitions or the weight to use to reach the desired benefits of the exercise and workout. For a coach, using the RPE with clients can help us to understand workout results and recommend the correct adjustments for better gains, prevent injuries, and increase motivation to exercise.

Here is the general guide for each number on the RPE scale…

0 = No exertion
1 = Very Easy
2 = Easy to somewhat light exertion
3 = Light Exertion
4 = Light to somewhat moderately exertion
5 = Moderate Exertion
6 = Moderately to somewhat hard exertion
7 = Hard Exertion
8 = Hard to somewhat intense exertion
9 = Intense Exertion
10 = All Out Exertion

What does the RPE scale mean for your running workouts?

  • RPE 1 to 5. You should easily be able to hold a conversation with a training partner. Your heart rate in general will be below 65% of the maximum. This is a great RPE to be at during warm-up, cool-down, and stretching or dynamic exercises.
  • RPE 6 to 7. You are still considered easy pace/efforts. You are running slightly above what you can maintain a steady conversation, 65-75% of maximum heart rate.
  • RPE 7 to 8. You are now working at moderate to hard paced efforts where you can hear your breathing, but you’re not breathing hard. This effort is typically 75-80% of the maximum heart rate.
  • RPE 8-9. You are running at intense efforts and paces. You should be breathing hard and your heart rate is between 80-95% of your maximum.
  • RPE 10. This is your ultimate exertion. This is your absolute limit. You cannot keep this pace for more than 10 to 20 seconds. Speaking is out of the question. Pain is everywhere.

I recommend using a combination of this scale, heart rate, and pace when evaluating your workouts from one day to the next. If you are in tune with all three measurements, then it is easy to stay in the right training zone (recovery, easy, moderate, hard) for any workout.  All of my training plans and coaching services recommend each runner use at least 2 of these measurements to maximize the benefits of running.

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