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Any periodization training plan requires at least some measurement of work – daily, weekly or monthly.  The challenge occurs when we try to balance work and recovery in the short, medium, and long term.  One way to determine how hard your body is working is to measure your rate of perceived exertion or RPE.  Simply put, RPE is our perception of how hard we’re working based on how we feel. 

Athletes use a 1 to 10 (or 20) rating system on how hard they felt they worked with 1 being effortless and the higher numbers meaning they pushed as hard as they could go.  This rating system measures feelings of effort, strain, discomfort, and/or fatigue experienced during aerobic or resistance training.

Example of a Rating system (Talk test):

RPE 1-2: Very easy; you can converse with no effort
RPE 3: Easy; you can converse with almost no effort
RPE 4: Moderately easy; you can converse comfortably with little effort
RPE 5: Moderate; conversation requires some effort
RPE 6: Moderately hard; conversation requires quite a bit of effort
RPE 7: Difficult; conversation requires a lot of effort
RPE 8: Very difficult; conversation requires maximum effort
RPE 9-10: Peak effort; no-talking zone
There really is only one way to get RPE wrong and that is to have someone other than the athlete measure it.  Similarly trained athletes should have similar RPE ratings after a training session, so when you let someone else rate the effort involved, a coach for example, the ratings can be skewed.  A recent study illustrated this idea when they had both athletes and coaches rate the difficulty of a workout and ended up with very different results.  Surprisingly, the ratings were opposite, when the athletes felt that they were working hard, the coach thought it was easy and vise versa.  
The researchers came to the conclusion that using a RPE rating system is a practical, non-invasive way of measuring an athlete’s workload.  It’s also important that athletes and coaches ensure that they communicate with each other on how hard an athlete is working when they are going at different intensities.

References from the SIRC Collection: 

2. Faulkner J, Parfitt G, Eston R. The rating of perceived exertion during competitive running scales with time. Psychophysiology. November 2008;45(6):977-985.
3. Groslambert A, Mahon A. Perceived Exertion: Influence of Age and Cognitive Development. Sports Medicine. August 2006;36(11):911-928.
4. Lima-Silva A, Pires F, Bertuzzi R, Lira F, Casarini D, Kiss M. Low carbohydrate diet affects the oxygen uptake on-kinetics and rating of perceived exertion in high intensity exercise. Psychophysiology. February 2011;48(2):277-284.
5. Shigematsu R, Ueno L, Nakagaichi M, Nho H, Tanaka K. Rate of perceived exertion as a tool to monitor cycling exercise intensity in older adults. Journal Of Aging & Physical Activity. January 2004;12(1):3-9.
6. What rate of perceived exertion (RPE) means. Shape. July 2012;31(11):140.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.