Learn how to accurately gauge your level of intensity to ensure that you don’t fall short of your goals!

Has this happened to you ?
You’ve committed to going to the gym consistently and are completing your workouts and making progress. Occasionally, however, those dumbbells you used last week seem to be heavier and now feel like 100lbs versus the 35lbs that is clearly labeled.

What’s going on here ? Are you getting weaker ? If you have a well-designed program that prevents overtraining and plateaus, then the answer is most likely no! However, what may have changed in this scenario is your rating of perceived exertion (RPE).

What is RPE?
RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) is a subjective measurement of how much work you are putting into a given movement or exercises. RPE takes into consideration feelings of effort, strain, discomfort, and/or fatigue which are then quantified on a scale of 6-10. If you train long enough, eventually you will have those days where high intensity feels like a warm-up and vice versa, which is totally normal. What the RPE scale allows you to do however, is have additional data points in which to track your workouts beyond the standard Sets, Reps, and Weights. RPE actually allows you to self-assess each movement and gives immediate feedback as to “how it felt”. This in-turn allows you to make necessary adjustments to ensure you progress. Further, you can proactively program your workouts based on RPE’s to distinguish between low, medium, and max intensity days versus randomly coming into the gym and saying “It’s going to be a light workout today”
While there are a myriad of factors including sleep and stress that can affect RPE, it is best to be honest with yourself and use how you feel in the moment to dictate your next move. If you underestimate your RPE and go too intense next set or round, you can potentially hurt yourself and/or hinder your progress.

The RPE Scale
RPE works on a scale of 6-10 and should be used before (how I want to feel during) and after (how I actually felt during) each exercise. As you improve your ability to evaluate your effort level, the two numbers should be identical.
RPE of 10 – Max Effort –“ Zero reps left in the tank”
RPE of 9 – Heavy lift – “One rep left in the tank”
RPE of 8 – Difficult lift – “Two reps left in the tank”
RPE of 7 – Moderately difficult lift – “Three to four reps left in the tank”
RPE of 6 – Minimally difficult lift – “four or more reps left in the tank”

As a general rule you want to feel stimulated, not annihilated after your workouts and should be at 7-8 RPE with the occasional 9-10 RPE days, which should be followed by several days at 6 RPE (Recovery/Deload).
Truth be told, a lot of us are not working as hard as we could be in the gym as effort can be difficult to accurately gauge. The RPE scale is a simple and effective way to properly monitor exercise to know if you are being properly challenged or if you need to work a little harder in order to reach your goals.

Written by, Flow Coach Mackennon Klink, B.S. CSCS, PN1