Become a HUSLA

What is RPE and Why is it Useful? | Maximise Your Training

Coach Jason spotting client on the bench press

— Jason Stoupas

I’m sure everyone has heard of RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) based training before. Initially, it was used as a cardiovascular training scale for aerobic-based workouts and was based out of 20. It was then made popular in the lifting scene by RTS (Reactive Training Systems) as they modified it to be more lifting specific. They did this by reducing the scale which is now measured out of 10. At HUSLA we use it as a tool for strength training as it enables us to rate the difficulty of an effort/set performed for any given exercise.

I learned and adapted the RPE method from Melbourne Strength Culture where I was personally exposed to it through my own lifting. It was then further taught to me during my time in the coaching development program.

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RPE is used to indicate the difficulty of a set and is a way to gauge/control relative intensity.(Relative Intensity: Proximity to concentric muscular failure of any given set). An example of this would be; an exercise performed at an RPE 8 would indicate that a person could complete any given rep range prescribed with 2 reps left in reserve. Now, remember, the scale is out of 10, so a prescribed effort of RPE 10 would mean there would be 0 reps left in reserve. An RPE 10 is considered a max effort. You would not physically be able to do another rep even if you tried.

Another method of prescribing intensity is using % based training. This is generally calculated based on person’s 1RM. We have never used % based programming on it’s own as we don’t believe it to be as efficient as RPE training. There is an aspect of % based which we use, but it is based on an RPE rated top set for auto-regulation purposes, it is used via your projected daily max for that particular day… Good day = more weight. Not so good day = less weight. This is mainly used for Powerlifting.  We don't prescribe exact loads for most training programs, especially when it is for hypertrophy, which is the purpose of this piece.

We believe that prescribing exact loads is a limiting prescription method as you are confined to lift what an external source believes you should. For hypertrophy based training the goal is not to lift a certain weight but to reach a certain proximity from failure. I will explain this further below. 

With the education of RPE based training, an athlete can adapt the skill and choose the load that is ideal for them. This means that on any given day, they can adjust the weight on the bar to match the RPE prescribed for across all rep ranges. This is super beneficial as auto-regulation accounts for individual matters, therefore assisting in fatigue management. A lifter has the ability to drop the weight on a day where they are feeling tired, fatigued or stressed and on the contrary, the lifter has the ability to increase the weight on a day where they are feeling fresh and ready to push new limits.

Pushing the relative intensity to an RPE 6+ is great for hypertrophy training. We know that sets completed in rep ranges between 3-30 are can elicit hypertrophy. However more importantly, these sets must be performed at an RPE of 6+ in order to achieve the adequate stimulus. Anything below an RPE 6 is typically not considered to be hard enough to stimulate the target muscle for growth.

RPE is not limited to advanced lifters, and can be utilised by anyone. It doesn’t have to be daunting! To ensure you get the most out of your training you should look at the intensity of your sets objectively not subjectively. It is mostly your emotion that you should remove from your decision making when deciding the difficulty of a set. This is where most people go wrong. Remember that your goal of hypertrophy has little to do with hitting a PB weight in the gym. It has every thing to do with getting in close proximity to failure. Forget your previous PB’s. Your focus in training is to ensure you get the stimulus that will drive the adaptation you are hunting. 

Some things to remember to help you to get the most out of RPE:

  • The weight on the bar does not represent you, chuck your ego in the bin.

  • Your goal is to ensure you hit the prescribed RPE for the prescribed rep range.

  • The weight you choose is just a tool you use to get the stimulus on the target muscle.

  • DO NOT OVERSHOOT, you are better to undershoot and if you do find yourself in the last rep of your set and feel it's a little easy, you can always do another couple of reps to get the RPE that is prescribed. (not as applicable for powerlifting)

  • When finishing your sets, even warmups; ask yourself how many reps did you have left? Get into the habit of calling your RPE. It is a skill that takes some time to learn, and you will get better at it over time.

Some other things to be mindful of on BOTH, your good and bad days:

Many things can influence your RPE. Like;

  • Sleep

  • Nutrition

  • Exercise outside of the gym

  • Emotional stress

  • Inconsistent rep speed from week to week/rest between reps

  • Changing the days you train

  • Menstrual Cycle

  • Overshooting

  • Undershooting

  • The weather

  • and more

This is why it's important to remove the emotion from the decision-making process to make the most gains possible!

I hope I was able to simplify RPE based training for the general hypertrophy focused lifter. I encourage you to message me if you have any questions and or just want to reach out. If this helped, I would love to hear it :).

— Jason Stoupas