Coaching Corner: The RPE Scale

What is the RPE?


The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is a way of measuring physical activity intensity level. Perceived exertion is how hard you feel like your body is working. It is based on the physical sensations a person experiences during physical activity, including increased heart rate, increased respiration or breathing rate, increased sweating, and muscle fatigue. Although this is a subjective measure, a person’s exertion rating may provide a fairly good estimate of the actual heart rate during physical activity* (Borg, 1998).


What it is: RPE is a way for coaches and athletes to regulate their training intensity. On a coaching level RPE can be a way to gain an understanding of an athlete’s level of exhaustion, plus what they have left in the tank. As an athlete, you can learn about your level of exertion and apply that knowledge to your training to make sure you are getting the desired stimulus from the workout. In the CrossFit world, a 1:00 max calorie row would be a 9-10. Whereas Helen, would be a 7-8. A Warm up may only be a 4 or 5. Here is a breakdown of the levels in my own words.


How to use it: The ratings go from 1-10,

1 – Sitting on the couch, watching reruns of The Office.

2 – 4  Light activity or light weight that could be considered active recovery between more intense efforts. 

5 & 6 – Warm up activity or weight. Think “sweaty and ready”. I often use the RPE level in my own warm ups. I’ve hit when I am breathing heavy and can maintain short conversations. BUT – I should not be uncomfortable at this point.

7 & 8 – Borderline uncomfortable, but you can keep it for a little while. Think ::seeing a small spider near your foot, but not quite on it, but you know he’s thinking about it:: You should be able to speak a sentence but not more. Like “I see you, spidey.” In reference to fitness, this would be considered “Vigorous Activity”.

9 – Ever heard of an Assault Bike? Ever tried to sprint for 2:00 on one? Ever been in a bad relationship? It’s a lot like that. It’s very challenging to keep this intensity up and maintain your pace. You are working harder and harder, but only getting worse and worse.

10- Maximum intensity and effort. This pace is impossible to keep for very long, and you cannot speak to others. Have you ever seen an athlete just making head or hand gestures for water, help, or yes/no? This is level 10.

11- You’re dead

All seriousness aside, It’s important that you know most people have no clue what their pacing, % of max effort, or RPE levels are, until they have practiced and gained experience while keeping their chosen scale of effort in mind. Reading about the RPE scale in a blog post is not enough to impact your training in a noticeable way. However, when you see a 5k run come up in your training and can relate/connect the 4-6 level of the RPE scale with how previous 5k runs, Chelsea Wods, and long emoms have felt, you are closer to knowing how to approach future training for optimizing your adaptation to the stimulus of that training session.

Some basic tips for beginners:

  • Don’t run a 5k @ 10
  • Don’t warm up @ 2, warm up @ 5 (or even higher if called for) for the majority of the warm up.
  • Normally, the shorter the workout, the higher the RPE level should be. *But always listen to your coach.

Good luck, I hate Spiders.

-Jeff Jucha



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