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RPE: Useful or Not?


In today’s day and age when data is all around us in triathlon (HR, Pace, Power, Cadence, Lactate Threshold, etc…), there have been discussions about the utility of RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) as a way of measuring the effectiveness of a workout. Whether you are a triathlete who can only utilize RPE because the other data is not available or an athlete who has all the bells and whistles, RPE is still a tool that is available in the triathlete’s toolbox. Many triathletes get so fixated on the data that they forget to “feel” the workouts. This feeling is more present in our swim training than the bike and run training because it is extremely difficult to look at your watch while performing a freestyle stroke in the pool! We may look at the heart rate and/or pace following the interval, but during the interval not so much. Conversely, during the bike and run triathletes have a tendency to look at their watch in an effort to obtain the available data. This focus on the data results in athletes not experiencing the workout and forgetting to concentrate on how the workout feels, am I overstriding, is my pedal stroke smooth, etc… During the swim we have a lot more tendency to zero in on stroke deficiencies because we are not fixated on the watch, but in run and bike workouts we fall short at this.


Over the years there have been different ways of measuring RPE including the original Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion which rated exertion from 6 – 20. This scale was developed for the medical community and was intended to be utilized by adding a zero to the number exerted to correlate with an expected heart rate for that level of exercise intensity. Since then, many coaches and exercise physiologists have changed to a scale of 1 -10 to determine exercise intensity. The majority of triathlon coaches utilize the below 1 – 10 scale for determining workout intensity and work with athletes to help them understand how to incorporate this into their training.


Here is the RPE scale with sample activities to help guide athletes through workouts:

Exertion

RPE scale

Descriptors

Activity examples

None

0

​Recovery

Laying on the couch

Fairly light exertion

1

Recovery

Stretching. Converse with no effort.

Light Exertion

2

Warm-up

Slow and easy. Warm up before running. Converse with almost no effort.

Easy

3

Aerobic

Breathing and heart rate are rising. Working up a sweat. Can still maintain a conversation without much effort.

Moderate

4

Aerobic

Moderate activity that speeds up your heart rate without making you out of breath.

​Moderately Hard

5

Tempo

Can still converse, but it is getting tougher.

Hard

6

Tempo

Breathing is getting harder now. Can still drink from your water bottle. Can only say a few words at a time.

Hard to Intense

7

Sub-threshold

Breathing is really hard and wondering how you can keep on going like this.

Very Hard

8

Sub-threshold

Breathing hard and nearing maximal limit. Can no longer say a few words without gasping for air.

​Super Hard

9

Threshold; All-out

Cannot keep this intensity for more than 1-2 minute. Conversing is impossible. Approaching maximum effort.

​Maximum Effort

10

Threshold; All-out

Absolute limit. Cannot keep this pace for more than 30 seconds. A short burst of activity, such as a sprint.

RPE is another tool for triathletes to utilize to fine-tune your training and help optimize your experience. Additionally, utilizing RPE during workouts where you are gathering data and analyzing the data later may help with correlating your perceptions to the physiologic response that your body is experiencing.


For more information on how to utilize RPE in your training, please contact Coach John at John@AxesPerformanceCoaching.com