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RPE & Heart Rate

author image Kelly N. Vance
Kelly N. Vance is an ACE-certified personal trainer and accomplished fitness and nutrition writer who has worked in and written about the fitness industry for 10 years. Her additional qualifications include a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, a minor in English and multiple fitness certifications.
RPE & Heart Rate
A woman is wearing a heart rate tracker. Photo Credit BsWei/iStock/Getty Images

On your endeavor to become fit, you may be confused about the difference between rate of perceived exertion, or RPE, and heart rate. Both are informational about cardiovascular fitness but they operate in different ways. RPE is subjective while heart rate is objective. Learning to use either method can help you take your training to the next level. However, utilizing both methods provides a clearer picture of heart strength, fitness and health.

Locate your Rate

The RPE method is a quick way of determining the level of exertion you’re putting forth during a workout. RPE doesn’t require any equipment and can be measured anywhere. Gauging your effort, you’ll pick a number between one and 10 that best reflects how you feel. It’s important to determine your RPE by how you feel rather than how hard you think you’re working. At rest, your RPE is zero. A moderate to heavy workout would be four or five. RPE helps you find a working range in which you are comfortable.

Outsmart your Heart

Your heart rate can be determined by using your pulse or a heart rate monitor. You can take your heart rate manually by placing two fingers on an artery -- the most commonly used locations are in the wrist or neck -- and counting the beats for 10 seconds. Multiply your pulse by six to determine your heart rate. If you exercise regularly and are interested in checking your heart rate frequently, consider investing in a heart rate monitor. As you become more fit, the heart becomes more efficient at minimizing how hard it must work. Having a sense of what your heart rate generally is during a workout helps guide future workouts. You may want to increase intensity to continue challenging your heart.

Better Together

Used together, RPE and heart rate yield a more complete picture of fitness and overall health. If your heart rate is what you expect for a given activity, but your RPE is higher than normal, that could be a sign that you’re getting sick or overtraining. If your RPE and heart rate are lower than usual, your body has most likely adapted; added intensity will be necessary to continue progress. Becoming familiar with RPE and heart rate assists with learning how your body responds to exercise. This information is helpful in determining training zones, designing workout programs and assessing your overall cardiovascular fitness. Regardless of whether you’re using RPE or heart rate, better cardiovascular fitness hinges on continuing to challenge yourself.


Avoid over-exerting yourself and use caution when beginning a workout program. Always allow the heart to warm up and cool down gradually. Contact your physician immediately if you experience any cardiovascular issues.

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