Have you heard of the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) chart but not sure how it’s used or whether it is useful for your running workouts?
Here’s my mega-guide to explaining what RPE is, why every runner should be familiar with it, and how to use it for creating workout routines.
The topic of RPE, or Rate of Perceived Exertion, has a special place in my heart – it’s one I think every runner can benefit from being familar with.
Grading the intensity of your runs on a 1-10 scale gives you a universal language that you can use for measuring your training or progress, without having to get deep into data or compensate for variables like weather, tiredness, variance in your route, your running shoes . . . the list goes on!
No matter how good your GPS device is, it can’t tell you how you’re feeling – what your level of motivation, or willpower, or fatigue is, on any given day. RPE does.
It also stops you from being too prescriptive in the pace you’re running; some days will be better or worse than others, and constantly trying to hit the same time or speed is often counterproductive.
Using RPE as your guide helps you detach the effort of your workout from the outcome – rather than getting wrapped up in your 10k time or beating a particular Strava segment, RPE has a focus on the exercise rather than the result.
In this article which I put together with Sarah from The Fit Cookie, I’ll show you how to use the RPE method of measuring workout intensity (rate of perceived exertion or RPE) and how you can use it for running and workouts.
What is Rate of Perceived Exertion (What Is RPE)?
Rate of Perceived Exertion (often shortened to RPE) is a simple tool that can help you tune into your body more and still reach your fitness and running goals.
At its simplest, RPE is a scale of 1 to 10, measuring the intensity of your effort – 1 being extremely light activity like a slow stroll, 10 being an all-out sprint which you can only maintain for a few seconds.
(There are a variety of scales and ways to measure RPE, which we’ll get into – but generally these days a scale of 1-10 is regarded as the simplest and also the most widely used.)
Depending on which scale you use, you can even use it to estimate your heart rate during exercise without the need for a heart rate monitor.
Here’s our RPE chart, feel free to grab it, print it, pin it, refer to it wherever you need to:
The Benefits of Using RPE
Using RPE is a great way to keep tabs on the intensity of your workouts and stay in tune with your body without relying on technology or tracking your metrics too closely.
Perhaps the most compelling argument for adopting RPE is recognizing that no two runs are identical: a myriad of factors affect the amount of effort required for a workout, both external and internal – both physical and physiological factors affect RPE.
These can include:
- Weather (especially wind and temperature),
- The terrain (a 6 minute mile on trails takes more effort than the same distance on road),
- Running Shoes (springy vs minimal support)
- Level of tiredness (more tired = harder effort),
- Whether you’ve eaten recently (fuel vs running on empty),
- Willpower / motivation (recent studies have shown this can significantly affect your performance).
When you begin to consider all the varying factors, it makes less and less sense to compare your performance based purely on speed, distance, or time.
For example: if you are scheduled for a 4-mile moderate run, and you had a stressful week and lack of sleep, your moderate-intensity run might be at a slower pace than during a previous week where you’re feeling better.
Your intensity level feels the same, but your pace might be slower, which is perfectly okay! If your body is feeling run down and in need of rest, it is important to listen to your body.
That’s why RPE is such a powerful tool: it prioritizes how you feel, your effort, and doing the workout over the result.
Running based on RPE is an excellent tool for beginner and experienced runners alike, although beginners should spend some time familiarizing themselves with the scale and practicing their runs at different efforts in order to get used to the feel of RPE.
Another reason I love running based on RPE is that I’m no longer looking at my GPS watch every 30 seconds to check I’m on-track: instead I’m listening to my body and checking the intensity.
Using RPE is also great for tuning in and listening to your body better. Using RPE to set your workout intensity can be friendlier to your body instead of adhering to specified heart rate zones or paces.
Your workouts should be flexible to your body’s needs. During your run, you can stick to your desired RPE intensity instead of pushing for certain times or paces.
RPE vs. HRZ Training (the differences between RPE and HRZ)
RPE has a close cousin in the activity metrics world: heart rate. Heart Rate Zone (HRZ) training involves calibrating the athlete’s heart rate at various exertion levels and defining a variety of training zones: the athlete then uses a HR monitor device to track their heart rate during workouts.
HRZ training shares many of the advantages of RPE training, in that it accounts for many of the external and internal factors that are listed above: an athlete’s heart rate generally correlates quite well with their RPE.
While HRZ training is arguably easier to quantify, measure, and document than RPE, it is not without its limitations.
HRZ Training Doesn’t Work For De-conditioned Athletes
Deconditioned athletes typically have a higher resting / starting heart rate, and their heart rate climbs faster and more intensely than that of a condition athlete; this HR surging often does not correspond to the deconditioned athlete’s RPE.
They feel they are performing a medium-intensity activity whereas their heart rate data would suggest they are going at high intensity. The more conditioned the athlete, the closer the correlation between HR and RPE typically is.
Related: Why Is My Heart Rate High On Easy Runs? 8 Reasons + Solutions
HRZ Training Has Issues With Hot Weather and Cardiac Drift
Secondly, even conditioned athletes can find their heart rates drifting higher than their predetermined HRZs tell them it should be at – due to either running in the heat, or a phenomenon known as cardiac drift, which occurs during prolonged endurance activity.
These inherent limitations of HRZ training (deconditioned athletes, heat, and cardiac drift) are not faced when training based on RPE.
3. HRZ Requires a Gadget
Training to heart rate zones requires a GPS watch with a HR monitor, simple as.
One of the benefits of running by RPE is that you don’t even need to use a GPS watch (although I still recommend running with one in order to log your actual performance); but you don’t need to rely on the output of a device (which can often be a bit wonky, especially ones with wrist-based HR monitors).
4. Your Heart Rate Is Affected By External Factors Too
Did you know that your heart rate is elevated by lack of sleep, stress, caffeine, warm temperatures, and dehydration?
In that way, HR is similar to RPE – factors that wear you out will make your running tougher.
Your HR can also be affected by medication.
Rate of Perceived Exertion scales are also excellent tools for people using beta-blocker medications. Certain beta-blockers reduce the heart rate response to exercise, so rather than relying on measuring heart rate, people on certain beta blockers are encouraged to measure their exercise with an RPE scale.
Types of RPE scales
There are 2 standardized RPE scales: the classic 15-point Borg RPE scale (6-20 scale) and the revised Borg scale (or Category Ratio Scale, 1-10 scale).
We favor the 1-10 scale, but first lets discuss the original RPE scale : the Borg RPE scale.
The original Borg 15-point scale is a bit more difficult to use than the classic ratio 0-10 scale. The original Borg scale starts at 6, where 6 is no activity or complete rest (like sitting on the couch).
The original Borg RPE scale begins at a 6 since it was designed to correspond with average heart rates.
- Borg score 6 corresponds to a heart rate (HR) of 60 beats per minute (BPM).
- Borg score 12 corresponds to a HR of 120 BPM
- Borg score 20 corresponds to a HR of 200 BPM
So whatever your RPE number is on the classic Borg scale, add a 0 to the end of that number and you have an estimate of your heart rate during that activity.
Since these are estimates, you can create your own heart rate notes on the RPE chart or scale by measuring your RPE while wearing a heart rate monitor.
The other popular RPE Scale, the classic ratio 1-10 scale, detaches RPE from Heart Rate altogether.
So, why do we favor the 1-10 scale?
Borg RPE Scale vs. Classic Ratio 1-10 RPE Scale
The Borg scale is the original Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale, and was developed to allow athletes to grade their PE from a scale of 6-20. While this scale helps peg effort to heart rate, there are a couple of reasons it’s not so widely used these days:
i) Asking an athlete to grade their effort on a 15-point scale is probably too many data points. While you’re running, how do you discern between running at a 14 or a 15 out of 20?
ii) The 15-point scale is tied to heart rates; as we’ve seen, heart rate zones vary widely from runner to runner depending on a multitude of factors, and we’re often drawn to RPE in order to not be reliant on HR data.
For these reasons, many coaches and runners now use a modified RPE scale of 1-10 over the Borg scale.
It’s much easier to ask someone “on a scale of 1 to 10, how hard are you pushing right now?“.
Less data points and a more intuitive range (1 to 10, not 6 to 20) make it an easier system for athletes to become conversant in.
How to use a Rate of Perceived Exertion chart
We created an RPE chart you can use that combines the Borg 15-point scale, the category ratio scale, and examples of activities for
The activity examples in this chart are just estimates and examples and may not be reflective of every person’s training or activities with respect to their RPE. Especially depending on a person’s level of conditioning (which we explain a bit further down in the post).
Using RPE for running and fitness and setting RPE targets
When creating your workout or training plans using the rate of perceived exertion, you’ll need to establish a few things:
- Your fitness level: beginning exercisers will want to start at lower RPEs during workouts than conditioned exercisers. Stick with lower RPE workouts at first as you build your endurance/cardiovascular base.
- Your goals: if you are building endurance for long-distance runs, more of your workouts will be spent in the lower RPE ranges (easier endurance runs). If you’re training for speed or short-distance sprinting, you’ll likely have a few more high RPE sessions in your schedule.
Good running plans already have RPE built into them alongside paces/times that are designed for the runner and based on their recent running times.
For example, long runs are should feel pretty easy on the RPE scale, tempo runs should feel moderate to hard, sprints should feel very hard, etc. So if a runner doesn’t want to worry about trying to track their pace, they can still stick to an effective running plan by paying attention to their RPE.
Here is an example of a weekly routine based on RPE:
- Sunday: rest day or yoga, RPE 0-2
- Monday: 4 mile tempo run, RPE 6
- Tuesday: cross training/strength training, RPE 4-5
- Wednesday: 5 mile easy run, RPE 4, last mile strides, RPE 9
- Thursday: cross training/strength training, RPE 4-5
- Friday: yoga, RPE 3
- Saturday: 10 mile easy long run, RPE 3-4
How To Use RPE For Marathon Training
We’re often asked how to incorporate Rate of Perceived Exertion into a half marathon training plan or a marathon training plan , here is how to approach each workout:
- Regular training runs should be done at 4-5 RPE
- Long runs should be done at 2-3 RPE
- Any speed work (like interval training) should be done at 8-10 RPE (fast intervals), then 1-2 RPE (recovery)
- Cross-training activities will vary depending on their nature: make sure you don’t do any high RPE activities following a high RPE running workout. Allow for peaks and troughs, and listen to your body.
Drawbacks to RPE
There aren’t that many drawbacks to using RPE for workouts and they are great for most people to help them gauge the intensity of their own workouts without monitoring equipment.
However, there are a few things to consider when using an RPE scale and when using RPE might not be effective:
- Very deconditioned and sedentary people may not be able to use an RPE chart very well initially since even very light activity can feel difficult. Once they begin to improve their exercise tolerance over time, they can use an RPE chart more effectively.
- RPE is subjective, so it can be swayed by mood, perceptions about exercise, etc. In general, men tend to underestimate their exertion and women tend to overestimate their exertion.
- Sometimes conditioned or fit people underestimate their perceived exertion if they are focusing on the workload of the muscles rather than on cardiovascular effort.
Perceived exertion is how hard you feel like your body is working. It is based on the physical sensations a person experiences during physical activity, including increased heart rate, increased respiration or breathing rate, increased sweating, and muscle fatigue.What is a benefit of using the rating of perceived exertion RPE scale? ›
Rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is a way to measure the level of exertion a person feels during physical activity. RPE is a useful tool that helps people manage the intensity of their physical exercise.What is Rate of Perceived Exertion for running? ›
The Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale (RPE) is a 1-10 scale used to determine intensity during a run. RPE allows you to judge the appropriate training intensity of workouts and ensure you are training in the appropriate easy/moderate/hard zone.What is the best way to use the perceived exertion scale? ›
How to Use the RPE. After warming up at a light level of exertion, begin your moderate-intensity workout. After a few minutes, assess your RPE from the Borg scale. If you are still at an RPE under 12, pick up your pace or add resistance to increase your intensity.What is the purpose of RPE? ›
There are many types of RPE designed to: protect the wearer from a variety of hazards; suit a variety of work situations; match the specific requirements of the wearer.Why is using RPE necessary to an athlete? ›
RPE is an excellent tool for gauging both your exercise intensity and how your fitness level progresses over time. It also helps athletes tailor training plans and achieve a high level of fitness for competition. RPE is single number (out of 10) to rate any given training session or competitive match.What are the advantages and disadvantages of using RPE? ›
Being able to push harder on the days the athlete feels better will allow them to get stronger with the prescribed program and prevent deviation. Cons of using an RPE Scale: It allows the athlete to slack. Since an athlete is assessing themselves, it might give them the chance to take the day off and slack.How reliable is RPE? ›
Evidence suggests that RPE is accurate during both estimation tasks, where exercise intensity is set and RPE is then estimated by the participant [22,24,25], and production tasks, where the participant is asked to adjust the intensity of the exercise to produce a particular RPE value [22,26,27].What does the result of RPE tell you? ›
This scale correlates with a person's heart rate or how hard they feel they're working. The modified RPE scale has a range from 0 to 10 (with 0 being no exertion and 10 being maximum effort). This scale corresponds more with a feeling of breathlessness.What is the best intensity for running? ›
Aim to do at least 80 per cent of all running at an easy or aerobic (conversational) pace and no more than 20 per cent at a moderate-to-high intensity. Taking this approach, you'll likely feel better and stronger going into your high-intensity sessions and can also increase your mileage safely and effectively as well.
Health benefits of running and jogging
help to build strong bones, as it is a weight bearing exercise. strengthen muscles. improve cardiovascular fitness. burn plenty of kilojoules.
2 to 2: This means two strides per inhale, two per exhale-a good training pace for most people. Long runs and marathons can be done at this breathing ratio.What does RPE stand for in running? ›
Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) refers to a 1-10 scale to self-report the intensity of an effort. Our RPE scale is based largely on Matt Fitzgerald's running and swimming RPE scale. We use it because it falls in line with what we consider correct exertion levels for what we're trying to achieve with the workouts.How does RPE help an individual in participation? ›
RPE values give a reference point for an individual's internal load which can be compared with others during a similar session. A team's sport scientist and coaches can take this data to plan sessions with specific intensities and manipulate training loads to fit into microcyles.What are examples of RPE? ›
Examples are hoods, helmets, visors, blouses and suits.What is the purpose of the RPE chart in quizlet? ›
The Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale is used to quantify the patient's overall sense of effort during activity. A subjective rating of "somewhat hard" is correlated with an RPE value of 13 on Borg's (20-point) Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale.What factors affect RPE? ›
Results of the study also indicated that certain physiological variables including oxygen consumption, heart rate, ventilation, lactate acid, respiration exchange ratio and certain psychological parameters including physical self-efficacy, self presentation and neuroticism are the most important predictors for RPE ...Who can it benefit of the RPE? ›
The RPE scale is helpful for measuring work intensity, because it helps people measure the risks for musculoskeletal injuries. These injuries commonly happen when your physical abilities can't keep up with the physical demands of your job.Is running the best all round exercise? ›
Running, or jogging, is one of the best cardio exercises you can do. Running for at least 10 minutes a day can significantly lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Runners lower their chances of dying from heart disease by half.Is high intensity running better? ›
“Numerous research studies have shown that HIIT programs can yield similar cardiovascular improvements when compared to more traditional, steady-state exercise programs, like running or cycling,” Kusmiesz said.
Running is one of the best activities for overall cardiovascular fitness and raising an athlete's VO2 max. Running is an ideal exercise to mix with sports like basketball, tennis and even cycling, where a big cardiovascular machine means that athletes can hang longer and often faster.Is it better to breathe faster or slower when running? ›
' That slower, deeper breathing will benefit your running. 'Taking deeper, slower breaths will deliver more oxygen to the muscles than short, shallow breaths, as you're taking in more air and expending less energy,' says Dickinson.What does a high RPE mean? ›
RPE meaning in fitness/cardio workout: typically refers to how hard you're breathing and how high your heart rate is. So if you performed 800m at 10/10 RPE that would be a max effort. It would be incredibly intense, you would be massively out of breath, and your heart would feel like it was beating out of your chest.Should you use RPE? ›
Should You Use RPE-Based Training? If you're an experienced lifter, want to get stronger, and need a break from 1RM training, then yes. It would help if you had at it with an RPE-based program. Just make sure you're keeping yourself accountable for your recovery so that you can really make each set count.Is a high RPE good? ›
The higher the RPE is, the more "accurate" it will be, and the lower an RPE is, the less "accurate" it will be. Higher volume sets (aka sets with more reps) are harder to gauge than lower volume sets. RPE for the same load can change the more sets you do because of fatigue accumulation in a training session.