Another problem with not using an RPE system, is that you’re assuming that everyone has the same training effect from a specific training variable. This is false. It violates the law of individual differences which is a big part of strength training.
For example, personally, I don’t have a very good volume tolerance. If I took my 10rep max and did 3 sets with it, I might get 10 reps in the first set, 8 in the second and 6 in the third. While another lifter, who has a high volume tolerance, can get 10 in the first set and 9 in the remaining two. This is important and needs to be accounted for.
Even when accounting for individual differences and different tolerances to volume, intensity etc, there’s even a different tolerance for each day. Even in the example of the lifter who had good volume tolerance, perhaps the day before he under-ate or under-slept, and his volume needs to be scaled back.
Mike Tuchscherer built a RPE Scale, just like Borg’s. However, this one is much smaller and practical to use. It goes from RPE 6 to RPE 10, and it’s based on how many reps left you had in that particular set.
RPE 10: No reps left. Maximum effort
RPE 9.5 : Maybe 1 rep left
RPE 9: Definitely 1 rep left
RPE 8.5 : Maybe 2 reps left
RPE 8: Definitely 2 reps left
RPE 7.5 : Maybe 3 reps left
RPE 7: Definitely 3 reps left
RPE 6.5 : Maybe 4 reps left
RPE 6: Definitely 4 reps or more left
One negative aspect of training this is way is that it’s pretty hard at first to accurately determine RPEs. It’s a skill that takes time and practice to acquire. Some lifters will say their lift was an RPE 8, however, if you made them go to failure, they’d get another 4 or 5 reps. And sometimes the opposite happens, they will tell it was an RPE 7, but when going to failure they’d get another 1 or 2 reps. It requires you to be honest with yourself and objectively rate your lifts. And there’s no magic trick to get good at it either, just start logging your RPEs each session and it will get more accurate overtime.
When being introduced to RPEs, sometimes it helps to connect the percentages to each RPE, as shown in this image:
This shouldn’t be used to calculate specific percentages when you’re trying to hit a certain RPE. Once you understand how it works, percentages become unnecessary. Everything will be dictated by your ratings, because when you know the reps, weight, and RPE, you automatically know the percentage you’re working with of your daily max.
Now that you know what RPE is and its benefits, in the next article you’re going to learn how to apply it. Stay tuned!
(1) Borg’s Perceived Exertion and Pain Scales. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 1998
(2) Verkhoshansky; 6th edition Supertraining; 2009