What Is the RPE Scale in Exercise?

Understanding the RPE scale is like having your own intensity meter providing constant feedback on your exercise routine. The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion scale gives you an idea of how hard you are training and whether you need to pick up the pace or slow it down a bit. Having a good approximation of how fast your heart is beating during exercise is a way to ensure you are exercising to reach your goals.

Woman on exercise bike in gym with trainer (Image: Ancika/iStock/Getty Images)

RPE Defined

The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion -- RPE -- is a rating scale ranging from six to 20 that gives an indication of your workout intensity level. A rating of six means you are not exerting yourself at all, while a rating of 20 means you are at maximal exertion. This perceived exertion is based on how you feel your body feels during exercise. The subjective test relies on bodily sensations during exercise, such as muscular fatigue, increased breathing rate and heart rate, and increased sweating.

Choose Your Intensity

Using the RPE scale on a regular basis helps you to understand the scale, to recognize your body's signs of exertion, and to modify your normal workout intensity. Rating yourself between 12 and 14 during exercise suggests that you are exercising at a moderate intensity -- somewhat hard. Once you feel that you are exercising "somewhat hard," you can increase or decrease your efforts depending on how you feel and the intensity you require. During your workout, if the perceived exertion of your workout is extremely hard and a 19 on the RPE scale, consider slowing down to a moderate-intensity range.

RPE and Heart Rate

The RPE scale serves as an indicator of your heart rate. Multiplying your perceived exertion rate by 10 highly correlates to your actual heart rate during exercise. If your RPE is 13, multiply 13 by 10 to get 130, therefore your heart rate is approximately 130 beats per minute. While RPE is a useful tool for estimating heart rate, it is only an approximation because physical conditioning and age vary between exercise enthusiasts.

Make It Yours

Use the RPE scale to adjust your intensity level and improve your own workouts. Focus on all aspects of the exercise to determine your RPE and avoid focusing on your tight hamstrings or your aching biceps. Don't base your exertion level on what another person does or her intensity level. Jogging at 5 mph may be rather difficult for you, resulting in a RPE of 16 or 17 while the person on the next treadmill runs easily -- RPE of 11 -- at 8 mph. A 225-pound bench press for you may result in the same RPE as 135 pounds for someone else.

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