What is RPE?
We have all heard how important exercise is for our overall health. Looking at social media and reading online, you will see this as a staple of the fitness community. However, you also need to know how to monitor your workout intensity.
That’s where the RPE or Rate of Perceived Exertion scale helps track your effort. It is also referred to as the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion scale.
The RPE scale is set up to track 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” (1). These observations correspond to a scale where the lower the number is, the easier the exercise intensity is, and the higher the number is reported, the more intense the exercise.
The RPE Scale
While the RPE scale is based on the Borg scale, it’s important to remember that there’s a slight difference. The basics are:
- The original Borg scale has a range from 6 to 20. The 6 means no effort at all, and 20 is the maximum all-out effort. This scale was more correlating with a person’s heart rate or how hard they feel they’re working.
- The modified RPE scale has a range from 0 to 10. The 0 means no effort at all and 10 is maximum effort). This scale corresponds more with a feeling of breathlessness. Looking at the updated chart, you can see how each RPE scale number has a mention of breath.
The original RPE scale was originally developed by the scientist Gunnar Borg and designed around heart rate. Whatever number you picked a number between 6 and 20, you would add a zero to that and it should equate to your current working heart rate. The newer modified RPE scale allows for daily changes in your workouts. You can push harder on days you are feeling great, and back off when needed.
How To Read The Scale
For self-measuring the intensity of your workout, it can be helpful to understand the numbers within the scale. When a heart rate monitor is not available, the RPE can be very helpful and can be used for anyone, from beginning to advanced fitness levels.
In order to understand how the numbers correspond with specific activities, try the following examples:
1 on the RPE means you’re lying on the couch
10 on the RPE means you’re pushing a prowler or carrying a sled up a steep hill
Of course, not everyone is the same and the optimal level of intensity for exercise depends on the individual. The general recommended exercise guidelines of 30-45 minutes of moderately-intense exercise would be a RPE of 4 to 6 or a Borg RPE of 12 to 14. Breathing heavily can hold a short conversation. Still somewhat comfortable, but becoming noticeably more challenging. This is where RPE can be great for exercise selection and is also useful when working with patients on heart mentication like beta-blocker. Their heart may be purposely lowered with medication and using the scale helps to prevent them from overexerting themselves.
Comparing Scale Numbers To Exercise
Let’s say you are going for a 60-90 minute jog with your team and you could still talk a little with your friend, that would be more aerobic endurance training at a 5 to 6 RPE scale. Compare that to doing a one-rep max in deadlifts and you are lifting the most weight you ever have. After the lift, you cannot speak because you are so out of breath. You’ll likely approach a 9 or 10 level for a few minutes.
Check out our calories burned by the exercises calculator. While it will not be 100% accurate, given the intensity of the workout, it can help give you an understanding of how many calories your body used during exercise.
How Do You Measure RPE?
If you are using the Borg scale, you will want to correspond with your heart rate. If a heart rate monitor is not available to use, You can also take your heart rate by following these steps:
- Find your pulse on the inside of your wrist, on the thumb side.
- Use the tips of your first two fingers (not your thumb) and press lightly over the artery.
- Count your pulse for 30 seconds and multiply by two to find your beats per minute.
- If you’re using the scale without measuring your heart rate, you’ll need to periodically stop and assess how you’re feeling. Then compare to both scales.
The Takeaway From RPE
We all know exercise is a key part of our overall health. However, understanding the intensity of your workouts is not as easy to understand. Using the Borg RPE scale with a heart rate monitor or the modern RPE with a talk test are both great ways to get a better understanding of how hard you are going. That way you’ll exercise within a range that’s comfortable, but still requires you to exert yourself.
RPE can help keep you in the safe zone while exercising and always talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
1. “Perceived Exertion (Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 Sept. 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/exertion.htm.