Programming Tool: Rate of Perceived Exertion

In this blog, we will review the use of  two common terms that are used in many strength training programming: RPE and RIR.

Rate of Perceived Exertion, most commonly referred to as RPE, is used as a feedback-method in strength training. The athlete is able to rate the load lifted on a scale of 1-10. Repetitions in Reserve (RIR) is very similar to RPE. However, instead of rating how difficult the set was, the athlete instead gives the number of reps they still have in the tank. Therefore, if an athlete is to perform a set of 8 reps of squats at 75% of their 1-rep max, they will probably give it an RPE rating of 8/RIR rating of 2. This means that they found the set to be difficult/heavy, however they still had 2 reps in the tank they could have cranked out if they were going to the point of failure. 

RPE and RIR are tools that can be extremely beneficial in executing a strength and/or hypertrophy program. The table below describes the values of RPE and RIR:

How can I use RPE/RIR in training?

RPE and RIR can be extremely useful, and there are several ways they can be implemented into a program:

  • Autoregulation

    • Your performance in training is dependent on a lot of factors such as recovery, stress levels, hydration, nutrition, etc. Many programs use percentage-based load prescription, which is fixed. However, using an RPE range allows for a more fluid approach. You can adjust based on your readiness factor–  lifting heavier when you feel good or stepping back if needed.

  • Progress tracking

    • Even if you follow a percentage based program, tracking your RPE can be extremely useful. Sometimes we don’t hit our goal weight or 1RM goal, but we may find that a certain weight that used to be an RPE 9 now feels like an RPE 7. Maybe you didn’t hit a new rep max, but you progressed in another way. 

  • Progressive overload

    • Progressive overload is often achieved by increasing the total volume by manipulating the reps, sets, or load. RPE can be used to adjust the volume appropriately, based on progress in RPE (as discussed in the bullet point above)

    • For example, if an athlete benches 225 lbs for 3×10 at an RPE of 9 in the first week, but after several weeks benches the same 225 lbs for 3×10 at an RPE of 7, then we can conclude that there is progress and we can increase the weight appropriately. 

RPE and RIR are extremely useful and can be implemented in a strength training program. However, RPE is subjective and can vary from person to person…one person’s RPE 8 may look different than another person’s RPE 8. How can we tell if it’s accurate?

  • Compare:

    • First, perform a set of a few reps at about ~80-80% of your estimated 1RM (of a compound lift of your choice). Give it an RPE value (aim for 7 or 8 RPE).

    • Next, rest as needed and do this again, except go to failure. 

    • Compare. How close was your first set (of RPE 7-8) to your RPE 10? Use the RPE-Percentage matrix to compare. 

  • Velocity analysis: how fast is the bar speed? Is it accurate to the rated RPE? Remember, as RPE increases, the bar speed decreases.