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How to use Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) in your training

What is RPE?

Before we talk about what RPE you should train at, we need to establish what it is.

RPE stands for rate of perceived exertion. RPE is a SUBJECTIVE difficulty rating of a set you performed.

RPE was originally conceived by Dr. Gunnar Borg decades ago. It’s original form ranged 6 to 20.  6 representing no exertion and 20 representing a maximal effort. Everything else is somewhere

between these numbers. 6 to 20 might seem like a weird range to use. It was inititally designed to represent the normal range of heart rates (around 60 to 200 bpm).

Mike Tuchscherer, a well-known and extremely respected powerlifting coach modified the RPE scale to run from 0-10. This is the scale that is used by the vast majority of lifters today. RPE is judged by considering how many more reps you could have gotten in a specific set if you took that set to failure. Often also refferred to as Reps in Reserve (RIR).

The most common interpretation of the RPE scale is  RPE = 10 – (RIR)

10 – Couldn’t have done any more reps and wouldn’t have been able to add any weight to the bar on the last rep (MAXIMAL EFFORT)

9.5 – Could possibly have done 1 more rep or been able to add weight to the bar for the same reps.9 – Could definitely have done 1 more rep8.5 – Could possibly have done 2 more reps8 – Could definitely have done 2 more reps7.5 – Could possibly have done 3 more reps7 – Could definitely have done 3 more reps6.5 – Could possibly have done 4 more reps6 – Could definitely have done 4 more reps

and so on.

Sometimes you’ll see people group all RPE below 6 into one group (SUB6). When we start to get 5-6+ reps away from failure, being off by a rep won’t really affect the hypertrophic (muscle building) stimulus or the fatigue generated by performing that set.

On rarer occasions I may specify an RPE 5-5.5 (usually in a deload) but I don’t specify anything lower than that.Trying to judge exactly how many reps you are away from failure when you’re 6 or more reps away is pretty difficult anyway, even for advanced lifters.

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