RPE stands for “Rate of Perceived Exertion”, and was adapted by Mike Tuscherer from the original scale developed for measuring cardiovascular exercise to now fit into powerlifting. It is a basic rating system to notate the relative intensity (how hard to have to exert yourself) on a particular set. A 10 RPE means that you could not add a single more pound to the bar, but you can grind out the rep. A 9 RPE means you have 1 rep left in the tank, an 8 RPE means you have 2 reps left in the tank, 7 RPE means you have 3 reps left in the tank, and so on.
The reason we use RPE training is for three main reasons:
1.) It allows you to auto-regulate your training to your current strength levels. Instead of having set training maxes, integrating RPE allows you to adjust your training loads to match your daily or weekly strength and achieve a more optimal loading approach to your sets. Some days you might be stronger, so days you might be a bit beat down, and using RPE allows us to regulate the training to match your abilities on any given day.
2.) It allows the athletes to give us feedback on how difficult training is. We typically have athletes rate the RPE of the last set of each exercise. As coaches we have a good idea of how hard something should be based off our intentions when we programmed it, so seeing how the athlete now rates that set gives us great feedback on how the training is going.
3.) Many exercises we just are not able to have a “training max” for. I am not going to know the exact weight a new athlete is going to be able to do on a Hammer Strength Chest Supported Row for 8 Reps, so instead of making an uneducated guess, we can use RPE to let the athlete know the desired relative intensity we’d like them to perform the exercise at.