Rate of Perceived Exertion – how hard are you really training?

How do you measure how hard you are training?


You might say, I feel hot and sweaty, my heart is pumping fast, I’m out of breath, my muscles are burning. Or, I use a heart rate monitor to know my heart beats per minute and stay in a particular training zone. Or perhaps, I follow a program that has the resistance, reps, speed and distance increases built in, so I don’t worry I just stick to my plan.

The Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale is a predetermined scale that measures how hard an individual perceives or ‘feels’ themselves to be working and it can be a useful tool, used alone, or in conjunction with other methods of measurement.
7 Very, very light
9 Very light
11 Fairly light
13 Somewhat hard
15 Hard
17 Very hard
19 Very, very hard
You can use the scale to see how hard different modes of fitness feel. If you always rate your cardio workouts as easier than your strength workouts, either you need to step up your game in your cardio routine, or strength is your weaker mode and you need to place more emphasis on it.
On some days you know you are not lifting as heavy weights or running as fast, but you actually feel like you are working harder than usual. For whatever reason – be it lack of sleep, stress, low blood sugar levels, or impending illness, your body is working harder. The RPE scale lets you know you have given what your body had to give that day.
You can use rate of perceived exertion to communicate more effectively with your personal trainer or coach. Gaining a better understanding of how hard you feel you are working on different days, at varying times of day, during different workouts or specific exercises, gives your trainer valuable information. This enables them to train you better so you get more out of your session.
There are some conditions such as pregnancy where heart rate and breathlessness alone are not accurate measures of exertion, as they are affected by the body’s changing hormones and growing baby. You can use rate of perceived exertion in conjunction with heart rate, to help you stay safely active during pregnancy.

Similarly some medications affect heart rate or cause breathlessness, so a different measure of exercise intensity is needed to monitor how hard your body is working.
By Rachel Livingstone Personal Trainer & Owner of The Health Hub www.healthhub.net.au

Rachel Livingstone

Rachel is a PT and Maternal Health specialist who found the gym at 14 through her weight lifting dad and never looked back. Originally from the UK she finally settled her wanderlusting feet on the shores of Sydney and can often be found on the back of a paddleboard exploring Rose Bay and the beautiful harbour.

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