Is Perceived Exertion Accurate or Meaningful to Your Training?

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Even as technology delivers remarkably accurate data about an athlete’s true workload, a seemingly archaic measure of intensity refuses to disappear. Rating of Perceived Exertion, or RPE, is the ultimate in simplicity: It is nothing more than a scale of how hard you feel you are exercising. There’s not one single piece of data collected and you don’t need any special equipment. All you need is the scale.

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To Borg or Not to Borg?

The scale CTS Coaches use in the physiology lab is the Borg Scale, which ranges from 6 to 20 (6 being no exertion at all and 20 being a maximum effort). Why 6 to 20? Well, Borg’s research has shown that there’s a high correlation between the number an athlete chooses during exercise, multiplied by 10, and his or her actual heart rate at that time. In other words, if you’re on an ergometer during a lactate threshold test and tell me that you feel like you’re at 16, there is a pretty good chance your heart rate is around 160 beats per minute. This isn’t absolutely true of all athletes, but you’d be surprised how accurate the 6 to 20 scale tends to be.

Outside the lab, however, we haven’t found the Borg Scale to be as helpful for athletes. Most athletes find it easier to relate to a simpler 1 to 10 scale (1 being no exertion at all and 10 being a maximum effort). Under this scale, an endurance or “cruising” pace would be a 4 to 5, a challenging aerobic tempo would be a 6, lactate threshold work occurs at about 7 to 8, climbing and time trial efforts are a solid 8 (sometimes 9), and VO2 intervals and all-out sprints are the only efforts that reach 10. Just as the Borg Scale multiplies the perceived exertion number by 10 to correlate with heart rate, the number chosen on the 1 to 10 scale, multiplied by 10, seems to correlate closely to the percentage of VO2max that an athlete is currently maintaining.

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10-point Scale of Perceived Exertion

When you say…
It means you’re at…
And you can…
1 Little to no effort Talk freely, breathe through your nose
2-4 Active recovery pace Talk comfortably
4-5 Aerobic “cruising” pace Talk comfortably, breathing through mouth
6 Aerobic “tempo” pace Talk in shorter sentences while breathing somewhat hard
7-8 Challenging lactate threshold pace Talk only in short phrases due to labored, deep breathing
8-9 Time trial and/or hard climbing pace Utter a word here or there between panting breaths.
10 Maximum effort (sprints or 1-3 minute all-out VO2 max intervals) Grunt. Groan. Cry.

Perceived Exertion Provides Context

With power meters providing an accurate and direct measure of workload, some athletes are tempted to relegate RPE to the trash bin of sports science history, but power meters have actually made RPE more important than ever. While it’s true that 200 watts today is the same workload as 200 watts tomorrow, RPE provides valuable context for your power files. When you’re fresh, 200 watts may feel like a moderate spin, but when you’re fatigued you may feel like you’re working harder than normal (sluggish, heavy legs, pedaling through peanut butter, and similar terms may come to mind) for those same 200 watts. RPE is a great early warning device for revealing fatigue; your body is telling you it can still do the job, but that even though the work being done is the same, the effort to complete it is greater.

Perceived Exertion Indicates Progress

RPE can also indicate progress, even without a change in your power outputs. For example, at the beginning of the season, a 20-minute climb at 250 watts average power may feel strenuous enough to rate a 7 or even an 8. Later in the season when your fitness has improved, riding at 250 watts up the same climb may take less out of you and feel more like a 6. An RPE of 7 to 8 on the climb may end up being 275 watts at the height of the season.

Perceived Exertion Can Liberate You From Data

We include RPE values with each workout in our library, and I encourage you to record your RPE during each effort in the CTS Field Test. Not only is perceived exertion important for providing context for power and heart rate files, but it also helps you learn to accurately evaluate your intensity level in the absence of all other technologies. Part of becoming a skilled cyclist is learning to use technology effectively while also reducing your dependence on it.

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Comments 13

  1. Computers don’t run for you though so RPE is all that really matters. I come to this article after a terrible run this evening. Thursday is my “fast5K” training day for my first Spring marathon( so excited- long runs in the 30s are so much more comfortable than the 80s ). So my RPE would have suggested I was running 7:30 s but I was actually running 8:40s. Running as hard as I could just really slow. Frustrating but can only hope long run better this weekend

  2. I’m riding with Travis on the iFit Fuji series. I’m on ride 3. Twice now he’s mentioned watts should be about one to one-and-a-half of my body weight…..for an 8 – 9 RPE. Is there a scale for RPEs 1 – 10 associated with percent of body weight? When you get to the higher RPEs, 6 – 10, how long should I be able to hold an RPE before I feel like I’m bumping up to the next level. For example, should I be able to hold an RPE of 8 for twenty minutes before I feel like I’m crossing over into a 9 RPE? I’m just looking for general parameters as a gauge, not exact science.

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  6. [url=]私は、私が私がどれくらいのスポーツ好きの言うことができるかどうかわからない。スポーツと腕時計:それらの2つのブラケットは、私がこれまでに持っていたと思いますあらゆる趣味を含みます。とマンチェスターの中心から20分で育ちました。パネライスーパーコピーサッカーの重要な歯のエスケープホイールにとって重要であると言っているように私に言います。しかし、私は、ブローヴァマンチェスターユナイテッドクラブウォッチについて聞いたとき、私は興奮よりも神経質でした。私はしばしば私の2つの大好きな分野の融合について疑問にふけっていました、私がどのようにアリゾナ・カージナルスロゴは、贅沢な腕時計のダイヤルの上で高級に見えさせる、というトロントメープルリーフスのバッジの可能性を考えてクラウンに愛国的な見えないのか不思議と国民の巻き毛の「w」またはkiddishにクールに見えますストラップにエンボス加工したならば?私は唯一の失敗は、大胆な生意気なスポーツのしるしとの組み合わせを待ち受けていたと推測しました、そして洗練された文化的な腕時計のデザインとした。しかし、ブローバ私が間違っていますか?[/url]

  7. [url=]「小さいころから芸術の薫陶を受け、訓練のグロリア-イップ、近年、芸術界やデザイン界作全方位の発展、創作範囲が広く、中には陶芸、絵画、製品設計、包装設計などの異なる領域。地元の芸術としてのデザイン界の活躍の分子、及び香港粘土の芸術学院の創始者の一つで、さまざまなアイデアの開会グロリア-イップも教授芸術コース、及び、多く本芸術や手芸の教育の本。グロリア-イップの創作広く認めて、かつて獲得し多くの芸術賞を主催20度を超える作品展展開を十分に発揮する彼女の芸術と設計の情熱と素質。カルティエコピー時計最近では、有名な腕時計ブランドを務めるグロリア-イップ招かれスイスティソ開催、「旅」をテーマにした「160週年环宇漫遊」設計試合切手の審判で、一方、グロリア-イップも招かれてはイベントデザイン1項の切手。スイスティソ表の厚情に誘われて、令愛する旅行の彼女がいるととても興奮。[/url]

  8. I use beta blockers and perceived exertion is therefore more important to me than heart rate. Sometimes the beta blockers have kicked in and other time less so and you can’t predict when they are on the upswing or downswing….so know yourself not a chart.

  9. I think I’m in the same camp (“old” – and specifically 60) and think that if you’ve got it dialed in from a RPE, then you’re where you need to be. Numbers help quantify, but the bottom line is your characterization of your feel of performance.

  10. Great concise summary and table guide without all the “bumf.” Thank you. This might now help me pin-point (so to speak) my corresponding RPEs .. I have found it a bit of a challenge.

    Thanks guys.

  11. I am old. There, I said it. I started racing when the governing body was the ABL(A), and perceived exertion was the only tool we had. Sure, on some rides you could strap your watch around your handlebars and keep track of the time it took to go from landmark to landmark and compare it to other days. But by and large the tool of choice was perceived exertion. I have since bought into technology, and I love it, but I still use perceived exertion, and my gut feeling is still “you know if you’re killing it, and nobody else really cares.” Is this holding me back from getting the most out of my training? Perhaps, but like I said – I am old.

  12. RPE is a useful tool, especially in conjunction with HR and power data. I use HR and power to “calibrate” my RPE. While riding a bike on a road, I don’t enjoy (and it’s not safe) watching my computer display. I free up my eyes while feeling the exertion, and I compare it to my actual power output and HR with occasional glances at the computer. It may vary slightly day to day depending on fatigue or temperature, but over time, it’s helped me develop and maintain my own governor, so I’m not totally reliant on a device. This practice is helpful when racing or when the computer malfunctions – I won’t cancel my training or event if I forgot to charge a device!

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