RPE – How to monitor your own Intensity & Consistency

Exercise Intensity is arguably one of the most important elements of an exercise programme to monitor, BUT at the same time it is one of the most difficult elements to present quantitatively.  There are numerous methods by which we can monitor exercise intensity:
1) Heart Rate (some of the girls on the team wear heart rate watches)
2) RPE – rate of perceived exertion
3) METS – metabolic equivalents
4) Caloric expenditure
5) Talk Test
6) Blood Lactate & VT2
I am going to introduce you to RPE today so you can assess yourselves and check you are working hard and often enough!

RPE was born in the 1970’s as a subjective way of gauging exercise intensity.  There are 2 versions of the scale, classical 6:20 scale (Bjorg 1998) & the more contemporary 0-10 scale.  Both scales have been shown to be capable of defining the ranges of objective exercise intensity associated with effective training programmes.

In Simple terms, a rating of ‘moderate’ on the RPE scale is more or less equivalent to 70% of MHR (max heart rate), ‘somewhat hard’ is equivalent to 80% MHR and ‘hard’ is 85% MHR.

The RPE system works well for about 90% of people, learning to use the scale effectively can ensure you get the most from each of your workouts.

A session RPE has been developed to monitor combined intensity and duration of an exercise session.  Try to become familiar with rating yourself on the RPE scale so you can move into assessing a session RPE and ensure you are getting the most from your workouts.  This is particularly important if you are having to complete some of your weekly sessions by yourself and not as part of an instructor led class.

You should be working towards:
Beginners level 5 RPE
Intermediate level 6 RPE
Intermediate + level 6/7 RPE
Advanced level 7/8 RPE

Your goal should be to work towards exercising cardiovascularly 3 times a week for at least 20 minutes and an addional strength session 1-2 a week.

Now we need to administer this simple equation in order to get a session score.  Your session score can then be summated on a weekly basis to generate a training load for yourself to monitor.  This system allows you flexibility to train on your own when you can’t get to a group class but still ensure you are working hard enough and long enough each week in order to progress your workouts.

Multiply your RPE goal (as listed above for each level) by the time you workout to get your session points and then a weekly total.

Beginner doing 3 sessions a week
Training volume = 2 x 20 mins cardio 20 mins strength + 1 x 24 min run (week 1)
Target goal in week one was 64 mins cardio and 40 mins strength @ RPE 5 = 320 + 200 = 520 points

Beginners progression over 3 weeks at 10% CV (cardio vascular) progression rate per week:
week 1 = 520 points
week 2 = 550 points
week 3 = 585 points

If you can’t fit in 3 sessions of this duration a week you can mix it up and break it down to suit your time and commitment constraints i.e.:

2 sessions @ 20 mins cardio RPE 5 = 200 points
1 session @ 10 mins cardio RPE 6 = 60 points
1 session @ 10 mins cardio RPE 6 = 60 points
2 sessions strength @ RPE 5 = 200 points
TOTAL = 520 points.

RPE table can be found here