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RPE Scale for Runners: Benefits, Demonstration Videos, & More

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5 Benefits of the RPE Scale for Runners RPE Scale for Runners: Benefits, Demonstration Videos, & More www.runnerclick.com
RPE stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion and is used to measure the intensity of your exercises. Based on a scale from 0 to 10, the RPE Scale is a training device that allows coaches and athletes to effectively communicate, assess, and conduct training as efficiently as possible.

There are many ways for a runner to measure how hard they are working. If you have ever worked with a running coach, you have likely seen workouts where you are expected to hit certain paces for specific portions of a workout. 

There are other ways for a coach to tell the athlete how they should be running a particular workout. One of these methods of measure is based on RPE, or rate of perceived exertion. What is RPE? It is your rate of perceived exertion!

What Is the RPE Scale and How Is It Used?

The RPE scale is where you determine your own perceived rate of physical exertion. It is about you and your body. Sure, you could lie to yourself (and your coach and/or training partner) and say you’re running a 7 but really you are not. When push comes to shove, if you cheat on your workout, you are only cheating yourself. 

RPE Scale Chart

RPE ScaleRate of Perceived ExertionDemonstration

10

MAX EFFORT ACTIVITY
Feels almost impossible to keep going.
Completely out of breath and unable to talk.
Cannot maintain for more than a short period of time.

9

VERY HARD ACTIVITY
Very difficult to maintain exercise intensity.
Can barely breathe and can speak only a few words.

7-8

VIGOROUS ACTIVITY
Borderline uncomfortable.
Short of breath but can speak a full sentence or two.

4-6

MODERATE ACTIVITY
Breathing heavily but can hold a short conversation.
Still somewhat uncomfortable but becoming noticeably more challenging.

2-3

LIGHT ACTIVITY
Feels likes you can maintain for hours.
Easy to breathe and carry a conversation.

1

VERY LIGHT ACTIVITY
Hardly any exertion but more than sleeping, watching TV, etc...

Description & demonstration by Evan Wood – RRCA Level I Certified Running Coach – justanotherrunner.com

As is illustrated by the chart and demonstration videos above, your level of effort is measured by breathlessness. Each stage along the way is linked to how your breathing is changing while you exercise. 

The RPE scale is used to measure your exertion. Since it is a sliding scale of sorts, you have the ability to complete your workout not based on speed (or the weights you are lifting, etc). Rather, you just stay within a zone of exertion. 

It stands to reason that as you work your way through your workout, your body gets fatigued. If you are doing a pyramid track workout, you might find that you can’t maintain the same exact paces on the backside of the workout.

If your measure is RPE, what matters is not how fast you are going. What matters is that you are hitting the exertion assigned by your coach. 

What Are The Benefits Of Using An RPE Scale?

  1. Better Understanding of Your Body: Running (or any other workout) using the RPE scale forces you to really get to know your own body. You have to be honest with yourself about how hard you are working. If not, you are just spinning your wheels and wasting your time. 
  2. Flexibility in Programming: If you are fresh from a rest day and your coach assigned you a run at an RPE of 7, you will likely run at a pretty fast pace. However, what if you are a parent who was up all night with a sick toddler? Your RPE of 7 might be considerably slower. And guess what? That is okay!
  3. Keeps You Moving: If you don’t hit a mark that is time-based (or weight-based), you might get frustrated and give up. However, if you are honestly listening to your body and giving the effort asked for, the number on the watch matters less than how hard you are working. 
  4. Linear Progress is Difficult: Let’s face it. You can’t keep running faster and faster. Why? Because if you always took time off your 5K, eventually you would be running a zero-minute 5K. Which is impossible. Sure, I’m being a smart Alec, but the point is, sometimes you do have to work harder to maintain the same pace.
  5. External Factors Matter: In all things, external forces are at work and impact things. If you are running during a snowstorm, your RPE will be higher. Running in the wind, sleet or rain can also change things for your workout. The RPE allows you to make changes based on these factors. 

How Do You Explain RPE?

Let’s give you something you can relate to here to explain RPE. This is based on the modified RPE of 0-10. If you are laying on the couch watching TV, you are at a 0. On the other hand, a 10 is when you are running up a steep hill with a heavy backpack on your back.

You are exhausted, breathless, and feel like you might not be able to pull off another step. The 10 on the RPE scale is a level of effort that you can only hold and maintain for a very short period of time. 

Borg's Scale (Gunner Borg, 1982)

RPE ScaleRate of Perceived Exertion

17-20

VERY HARD TO VERY, VERY HARD ACTIVITY

12-16

SOMEWHAT HARD TO HARD ACTIVITY

7-11

VERY LIGHT TO FAIRLY LIGHT ACTIVITY

6NO ACTIVITY

It is worth noting that the Borg RPE Scale goes up to 20. On this scale, a 6 is standing or sitting quietly. A 9 is walking at an easy pace. The moderate activity zone is 9-12. Anything 15 or above is intense activity.  

While this was the original scale, most people find the 0-10 more user-friendly because, in our heads, the 10 point scale is easier and cleaner. 

How Do You Read An RPE Scale?

reading an RPE scale
andybeal.fitness

I start from the bottom to the top when considering RPE. Let me explain why.

Since you should warm up in order to engage in any kind of vigorous activity, you are essentially always starting at 1 and working your way up. Also, getting an adequate cool down would dictate that you travel back down the scale also. 

How Do You Calculate Your Target RPE?

Some people find that when they first start using RPE, using a heart rate monitor is a great measure.  If you are not familiar with heart rate training, you use your HR to hone in on a “pace” for a workout.

If you are supposed to run easy, for example, you get your HR down low at all costs. Yup. Even if you have to walk to get there (and keep it there). 

As you get more familiar with these different zones, you may find that the RPE scale is easier for you to hone in on without using a heart rate monitor or any other formal measure. 

Are There Disadvantages to an RPE Scale?

As with most things, there are disadvantages. First, you could certainly slack and be lazy using RPE for your training. If you overestimate your perceived exertion, you are not getting the maximum benefit from your workout.

Also, training by RPE has a learning curve. It takes some time for you to figure out exactly how your body should feel in each stage.

However, once you have it figured out, it’s pretty slick!

PRO TIP: Create individual playlists that match Beats Per Minute (BPM) with the RPE levels you’re looking for in each workout. We put together a guide with a handy table showcasing each song’s BPM. Click here to read the guide.

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