#115 – What is RPE? And Why You Don’t Need It (If You’re a Novice)
Matt and Scott dive into the concept of RPE, or Rate of Perceived Exertion. Popularized by powerlifter and coach Mark Tuchscherer, RPE refers to a numerical descriptor (between 1 and 10, though only 6-10 apply to training) of the difficulty of a set, as measured by bar speed. Since bar speed depends on the individual — some lifters move the bar fast, and slow down during heavy reps, others move the bar slow all the time — a given RPE can look different from lifter to lifter. What’s important is that RPE describes the relative difficulty of the work being done, and thus is a useful tool for more advanced lifters who need to carefully manage stress during their workouts. Life can throw curveballs and add extra stress and/or impair recovery between workouts, so advanced lifters can use RPE to account for external factors while ensuring they are delivering the correct dosage of stress each workout.
Matt and Scott have observed in their coaching practice that most trainees new to RPE will overrate their sets, that is, assign them a higher RPE than it actually was (i.e. a mismatch between the lifter’s perception and the coach’s more objective eye). For this reason, Matt only uses RPE descriptively at first, assigning loads for his clients and only asking them what they perceived the RPE to be after the set. By comparing the lifter’s perception to his, Matt can help the lifter calibrate his sense of “heavy.” This way, further down the road, the lifter can use RPE prescriptively, choosing the load to hit a given RPE based on how he feels that day. To do so, however, the lifter must be brutally honest with his level of effort. This requires the lifter to be very consistent in his training, maintain good form, and have a history of performing enough heavy reps to have calibrated his sense of exertion.
Bottom line, RPE is not evil, it’s just a metric. It’s a subjectivemetric, which we place below objective metrics like the weight on the bar. Using it prescriptively requires the coach to have a good working relationship with the lifter, and the lifter to have good, honest judgment of his level of exertion. If you’re a novice or early intermediate, you probably don’t need to use it beyond simply learning how to rate your work sets.
The RPE table as described by Mark Tuchscherer can be found on the RTS website.
Whiskey of the Week
1997 Laphroaig, Signatory Vintage – cask strength, 51.3% alcohol, 17 years old. Scott gives it a thumbs up. Thanks Josh Worsham for the gift!