How to Use Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) for WODs

By: Coach Mitchell

When was the last time you came into the gym, saw the workout written on the board, and thought to yourself that there was no way – based on how you were feeling that day – you could hit the prescribed percentage? It happens to everyone at some point or another. Now there are two ways we can go mentally when this happens.

Option #1

The first is to be discouraged, feel like you are failing and try to hit those percentages anyway, which often leads to missed lifts and more negative self-talk. Not a great option!

Option #2

The second option, which I believe to be much healthier for cultivating positive self-talk and longevity in your training, is to use Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) as your training guide for that day!

What is RPE?

According to the Cleveland Clinic (1), RPE is a scale of intensity for your exercise. The RPE scale runs from 0–10. The numbers below relate to phrases used to rate how easy or difficult you find an activity. For example, 0 (nothing at all) would be how you feel when sitting in a chair; 10 (very, very heavy) is how you feel at the end of an exercise stress test or after a very difficult activity.

0 – Nothing at all

0.5 – Just noticeable

1 – Very light

2 – Light

3 – Moderate

4 – Somewhat heavy

5 – Heavy

6

7 – Very heavy

8

9

10 – Very, very heavy

Now the interesting aspect of RPE is that it can change from day-to-day. Sometimes 75% of a back squat can feel like an 8 on the RPE scale and sometimes it can feel like a 2. We all have had both of those types of days, for better and for worse.

How to Use the RPE Scale in Training

On those days where 75% of a back squat feels like an 8 on the RPE scale (your sleep wasn't great the night before, work was crazy, you didn't eat enough, etc.), don't be afraid to adjust your weights and workouts accordingly. Reframe the percentages around what feels light, moderate, heavy, and very heavy in your mind and for your body that day. It may mean that you are squatting much lighter than prescribed percentages for that day, and that is perfectly fine!

Give yourself permission to prioritize quality movement over the amount of weight you move – that is the secret to staying healthy and having longevity in your training!