RPE Blog


Happy New Year, everyone! I’m excited to kick off 2020 – we have accomplished so much in 8 years here at CFD, and the most fulfilling aspect of it all has been watching progress over such a long period of time. My vision when we first opened our doors in 2011 was to create that ‘forever home’ for our community. Some of you are just beginning with us, and some of you have been with us since the very beginning. Even at elite levels – think collegiate sports and many professional athletes – the ability to work with the same client base over such a long period of time is simply not typical (ex: colleges have a ~4-year revolving door). Very, VERY few places get to see the kind of commitment and longevity that we have enjoyed here at CFD, and watching data trend over time (and witnessing countless walking testimonials) continues to add to our claim that we provide a program that can continue to benefit our population as we approach a decade of business.

It’s always a welcome challenge to provide a program design that is (1) safe, (2) robust, (3) appropriate, and (4) effective. A group program design is, by definition, never perfect for any one individual; we have to consider our population’s ever-widening bell curve of training age, movement competence, and goals.

A critical component of fitness is weight training. I’ve dedicated countless blogs about the topic and defended loading our clients’ skeletons for almost a decade within the walls of CFD, and I continue to stand by the importance of that training methodology to this day. As time passes, I continue to witness more and more evidence in support of weight training, in spite of all of the fad training methodologies that attempt to circumvent it. Whether your goals are aesthetic, performance, or longevity, you NEED to load your skeleton. 

How, then, do you go about doing it effectively? Simply put, there are a lot of different ways to do it, and there’s no one ‘perfect’ answer. We have utilized many different approaches over the last 8+ years in improving one’s ability to move heavier loads safely and more effectively. Over the next handful of weeks, we will take a different approach to our upcoming weight training cycle: Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) loading.

The concept of RPE is definitely not new, and we’ve utilized it when training both aerobic and anaerobic systems in the past (and will continue to do so). However, we’re going to apply this concept to weight training for a couple of reasons:

  • It’s relative to the individual
  • It forces you to be more aware of your effort
  • It allows you to progress loads at a rate appropriate to your adaptation

For reference, the following table will define what each RPE rating means (sorry for the formatting – I can’t quite get this to look right):

RPE 10 Max Effort
RPE 9.5 No more reps, but could increase load
RPE 9 1 more rep
RPE 8.5 1-2 more reps
RPE 8 2 more reps
RPE 7.5 2-3 more reps
RPE 7 3 more reps
RPE 5-6 4-6 more reps
RPE 3-4 light effort
RPE 1-2 little/no effort

Keep the RPE table in mind throughout this month. It’s easy to memorize and will serve as a guide that defines the INTENT. Rather than try to assign percentages relative to a 1RM, which, as I have demonstrated, is not as useful when applied to a diverse population, we will refer to RPE. For example, one person may rep out a 5-rep back squat at 90% of their 1RM, and it may be a 9.5 RPE (couldn’t have done another rep, but could have maybe increased the load slightly – this person would have high neuromuscular efficiency and probably a high training age). Another person may have repped out 90% of a 1RM for 5 reps and experienced a ~7.5 RPE (could have done 2-3 more reps at that same weight within that set – this person would have low(er) neuromuscular efficiency relative to the first example). Note: This isn’t to be confused with a ‘better’ or ‘worse’ athlete; in fact, virtually all Games athletes have lower NME due to the need for resilience in the sport.

By utilizing RPE as a guide rather than arbitrary percentages that really only apply to a certain ’type’ of athlete, we allow each individual to determine their appropriate load and progression over the course of time rather than tethering them to a progression that may be too aggressive or too slow.

Is this method perfect? No, of course not. Some of you may really like using this guide, and some of you may prefer set percentages, linear or undulating progressions, or other loading patterns. This is simply an attempt at changing up our metrics and serving an ever-increasingly diverse population. RPE loading certainly has the potential to be beneficial for virtually everyone, but RPE is, by definition, subjective. I encourage you to really pay attention to your efforts and determine what you think you ‘had left in the tank’ after each set. Those truths can be very telling of what you’re capable of and will serve you in how you load the bar for subsequent sets!

As always, don’t hesitate to sound off with questions or ask your coaches for guidance. I will always value QUALITY movement over QUANTITY; none of this is a pass to throw caution to the wind and move like shit. Creating awareness of our motor patterns and our effort exerted during each set will only continue to build that foundation of strength, stability, safety, and competence that transfers to countless applications, both in and out of the gym.

Stay the Course <1>

Not a member? Sign up today!  The next free Intro classes take place on January 18th at 10:00. RSVP or e-mail us today to set up an appointment!