Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), simplifying the complicated

Welcome to my sixth blog post! My name is Joe, and I am a licensed Doctor of Physical Therapy and USA Track & Field running coach. I am also an avid runner, triathlete, and somebody who loves simplifying research to provide advice for endurance and strength athletes! I am excited to start writing new content for all my peeps trying to better themselves. Let's get straight into the topic of today which is " simplifying the RPE scale".


The importance of metrics

So much information exists out there in regard to running and what to track that it can be very overwhelming. From various journal posts emphasizing the importance of recording weekly mileage to social media posts about the “5 essential exercises for every runner”, as a consumer you begin to suffer from information overload. How do you know what is high quality information? How do you know what to implement? I always like to say, “if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.” We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Stick with the basic fundamentals and you will have a strong base to build from. Obviously looking at weekly mileage is important, but this blog post is about introducing the concept of Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) as an essential metric to track. RPE is a simple tool that has a large impact on tracking intensity levels and preventing overtraining so strap yourself in and get ready to learn.


The Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale

The RPE scale is a sliding scale with each individual number representing a level of exertional fatigue. The Borg RPE scale goes from 6-20 with the lower number representing lower intensity and higher numbers representing severe levels of subjective intensity. Although this is the classic RPE scale, I find using the modified 0-10 RPE scale easier for most athletes. The 0-10 RPE scale follows the same linear guideline with the higher numbers on the scale representing more effort. See the picture below to get an idea of what each specific number quantifies in terms of fatigue level. As most of you know, exercise watches, HR monitors, and other electronic devices provide you with objective feedback on your runs. They provide information such as heart rate, cadence, and elevation. But that doesn’t tell you about how you feel subjectively. This is where RPE comes into play because it casts a broader net and can capture your fatigue level. Therefore, RPE is a quintessential tracking tool because it offers insight that no watch or device ever can!


The Borg RPE vs. 0-10 RPE

Think about all the factors that impact how a run “feels” for you. The weather, stress levels, aches/pains, motivation, sleep, caffeine intake, hydration, etc. Some of these elements you can control while others you have no control over. Regardless, they all impact how easy or hard a run can feel on any given day and RPE is the best tool we have to capture that subjective feeling. Also, RPE has been researched and shown to correlate to heart rate levels! For the standard RPE Borg Scale that goes from 6-20, it correlates to heart rate at the given RPE levels:

- 6/20 on the Borg RPE scale correlates to 60 BPM HR

- 12/20 on the Borg RPE scale correlates to 120 BPM HR

- 20/20 on the Borg RPE scale correlates to 200 BPM HR

Although the 0-10 RPE scale does not correlate with heart rate levels, I find myself using and prescribing this RPE scale the most often because it is intuitive and easier to use.


RPE example

As a general rule of thumb, I keep most of my runs at an RPE of 4-6/10 (moderate level of activity). This RPE level means that my intensity during my run is moderate, and my breathing is becoming heavier, but I can still hold a conversation. This is an important distinction to make as most runs should be at a conversational pace which helps you prevent overtraining and overexerting yourself which can lead to injuries such as shin splints, bone stress injuries, and pesky tendinopathies. Just by keeping in mind my RPE level, I can now make sure when I go out for my daily run, I have a general subjective feeling in mind that I am aiming for. When I go out to do my sprints, I bump up that RPE to a 7-9/10. That means I am in the very hard to vigorous zone of exertion. I can barely speak a few words while doing these higher level sprints and I cannot maintain this level of exertion for very long.

Here is an example of what my training runs currently look like while incorporating RPE:

- Monday: 35 min moderate run, RPE 4-6, conversational pace

- Tuesday: Day off, strength train

- Wednesday: 20 min warm up RPE 4-6;1 min sprints, 6x, RPE 7; 5 min cool down

- Thursday: Day off, strength train

- Friday: 20 min warm up RPE 4-6; 1 min sprints, 6x, RPE 7; 5 min cool down

- Saturday: Long run, 45 minutes, RPE 3-5

- Sunday: Day off

As you can see, the RPE is higher on the days I do the sprint workouts for speed. For my longer runs, I bring the RPE down and keep the run nice and light. The RPE is not the perfect tracking tool. It is not completely flawless because your feeling of fatigue/exertion can also be negatively influenced by your sleep, stress, and soreness. But it still adds an important metric that must be considered when training.


Let me know what you think about this topic or if you have any questions, you can comment below. Please share this blog post with a friend or fellow runner! I want to help out as many active individuals as possible. Like, comment, share, and happy running!

Keep Moving Forward!

Joseph Daigneau, PT, DPT, SFMA-1, USATF-1

Lead Physical Therapist, Persevere Physical Therapy

Phone: (267)-666-0184

Email: josephdaigneau@perseverept.com