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RPE: Definition, How It is Used, and Benefits

What is RPE?

RPE stands for rate of perceived exertion and is a scale used to measure workout intensity and effort. It’s a subjective method of assessing exertion that considers muscle fatigue, breathing, and the overall difficulty of a set. It ranges from 1 (rest) to 10 (maximal effort), and trainees can score each set based on the number of additional reps they feel they can do at the end of a set.

Understanding RPE

The first version of RPE, created by Gunnar Borg to measure exercise intensity, ranged from 6 to 20. It was later simplified to 1 to 10, which is widely used today.

Mike Tuchscherer, an IPF champion and a well-respected powerlifting coach, modified the original RPE scale. In his version, each score reflects a trainee’s subjective feelings about how many reps they have in the tank at the end of a set.

RPE scores look like this:

  • 10 – to failure (couldn’t do more reps at the end of a set)
  • 9.5 – close to failure; perhaps you could lift slightly more weight
  • 9 – could do 1 more rep
  • 8.5 – could do 1 more rep, perhaps even 2
  • 8 – could do 2 more reps
  • 7.5 – could do 2 more reps, perhaps even 3
  • 7 – could do 3 more reps

A score below 7 is generally not enough effort and too far from failure to accurately determine how many extra reps you could have done.


RIR (reps in reserve) is an alternative to RPE for measuring exertion. The primary difference is that RIR estimates how many reps you have in the tank. In contrast, RPE can be a more general scale measuring exertion in other exercise modalities.

For example, if you complete a set and feel you could have done two more reps, your RIR is 2.

How is RPE Applied in Strength Training?

Trainees can track their RPE to make sure they are training hard enough. That way, progress (be it doing more reps or lifting more weight) would be easier to track because it would always be tied to a specific level of effort.

As a result, if a trainee lifts more weight or does a couple of extra reps, they wouldn’t have to wonder if that’s just because they trained harder than before.

Also, RPE is ideal for coaches to write training programs and give their clients some freedom to adjust training variables. For instance, one client might be able to do sets of 8 with 70% of 1RM, whereas another might be able to do sets of 12.

So, just prescribing 3×8 @ 70% of 1RM wouldn’t be ideal in all cases. But, by providing an RPE target (say, 7), trainees can select the ideal load to hit that level of exertion, regardless of the actual weight they lift.


Why is RPE important in training?

RPE is important because it helps trainees manage their fatigue better and avoid pushing themselves to the max on every set. It’s also a valuable tool for coaches to provide targets for effort and allow trainees to tweak certain variables (such as the weight lifted) to reach that target within specific rep ranges.

Can beginners track RPE in their training?

While it’s an excellent tool for measuring effort, RPE is not ideal for beginners because they lack the experience to gauge their level of exertion accurately. As such, a coach should monitor their sets, teach them about RPE, and estimate clients’ level of effort based on their breathing and technique changes as fatigue builds up.

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