This is an acronym that stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion. This is a scale of 1-10 that allows you to decide how intense an activity feels, or for coaches and trainers to dictate to you how hard you should be pushing yourself in an exercise.
This scale is derived from the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion, which itself was based on a human’s perception at certain heart rates. But we don’t need to get into the nitty gritty and how a Star Trek villain ties into all of this. We’re just here for the modern interpretation.
RPE is a subjective measure of how you’re feeling during a physical activity. It looks primarily at heart rate, breathing and your sense of fatigue. As with most scales that are on a 1-10, you start at the lowest level and build up from there. So at the bottom level, you are pretty confidently alive. At the top of the scale you are possibly close to dying (or at least it feels that way.)
Because of the subjective nature of this, it allows for your humanity to shine through. If a coach sets your RPE at 7-8 for back squats and one day you’ve just had a really good sleep, work was good, and all pandemics or wars have ended you may hit that 7 and power through towards a PR – but then the next week you realize that all those good feelings were the result of a plate falling off the squat rack and hitting you in the head, and that it’s actually 2020 and you have knowledge of the chicanery that’s coming for the next two years, and that same weight feels like a 9 on the RPE, so you have to back off the weight or reps to accommodate how you’re feeling on that day.
It’s the scale that gives some metrics to the idea of meeting your body where it’s at.
Another cool way to look at this is when we talk about recommended daily activity. The Canadian Government recommends that adults (18-64) be ‘active’ for at least 2.5 hours a week “to achieve health benefits”. (Link: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/physical-activity-tips-adults-18-64-years.html)
On the same page, it suggests an activity level of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity. But what does this mean in real terms? Well we can look to RPE to help clarify that! A moderate level would fall into the RPE 4-6 range, which means that you’re feeling good about the exercise, like you could go on for hours. You’re in control and feel good about the activity, you’re able to maintain a conversation, but you are breathing heavily because your heart rate is elevated.
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