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Cartoon of a soccer player exerting different levels of effort.

Understanding the RPE (1-10) Scale

Aug 30, 2022

Eric Evans

Fitness trackers are a trend that’s not going anywhere, anytime soon – and for good reason. From Polar to Fitbit to Garmin to the Ring to Whoop…even Apple watches have gotten in the game. If you don’t have a fitness tracker and want to take advantage of training metrics, there is a solution – the RPE (1-10) scale.

The Ratings of Perceived Exertion was created back in the 1960s as a way to measure the intensity of physical exertion – it was designed to determine how hard someone feels like they are working during a workout; it is a way to measure the intensity of your efforts. The scale is a numerical list of assigned values identifying how hard you feel you are working, ranging from 1 (very light – no exertion) to 10 (maximum effort).

While it is primarily used doing cardio exercise, The RPE scale can be used to gauge and measure the intensity of almost any exercise and workout – cardio or lifting. To come up with a rating on the scale, consider your breathing rate, heart rate, possible increased sweating, and muscle fatigue.

Here’s the scale and levels of perceived exertion:

You can also apply the talk test to the RPE scale. The talk test is used when doing cardio training. The talk test has 3 levels: low-, moderate-, and high-intensity. The intensity can be matched up to the RPE scale based on how well a conversation can be held while exercising. If you can easily hold the conversation during exercise, you’re at a 3  or 4 on the RPE scale. A 5-6 means you’re breathing harder but can still hold the conversation. If you’re breathing hard, and barely or unable to carry on a conversation, you’re at an 8 or 9 on the RPE scale.

The RPE (1-10) scale can be used while you’re lifting. The correlation is between your rating and how many reps you should be able to complete with good form before failure. See the chart below:

Another way to correlate the RPE scale with your lifting is below:

The RPE scale can become a very useful tool once you become good at self-rating your own levels of exertion.

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