As a runner, you’ve probably heard of perceived exertion, rated perceived exertion or RPE. You may have had a training plan based on it. But what does perceived exertion actually mean, and how do you accurately choose how you’re feeling on a scale from 0–10?
TRAINING WITH RPE
There are pros and cons to training with perceived exertion versus the more objective heart rate data. It can be problematic because it doesn’t discriminate between body stress and life stress. Remember, it’s ‘perceived.’ You can influence this in a way you can’t influence your heart rate or power output on the run, because mental fatigue — that fight with your spouse, the promotion at work or the problem with your sister — can change how a run feels. Even throwing on your favorite playlist can make a run feel easier!
But it’s also a great way to force yourself to pay close attention to how you’re really feeling and get more in tune with your body; it can help you better monitor your pacing and effort on race day. Even if you don’t rely on RPE all the time, it’s worth understanding the numbers on the scale and thinking about how you’re feeling on a run instead of constantly looking down at your watch.
Most people (including researchers at the Cleveland Clinic) use a 0–10 scale to express RPE. If you’re not feeling very in-tune with your body, we’ve broken it down using the ‘talk test’ as an indicator for each level as a runner:
If you are working with a coach who uses the RPE scale, make sure you ask for a definition of each number on the scale. Many coaches have slight variations on this scale, especially in the 5–8 section where endurance, tempo and threshold paces start to blur.
BEWARE THE BORG!
One final note: While most coaches and run-training programs use a 0–10 scale for perceived exertion, many scientists and some coaches use the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion, which runs from 6–20. This system was created by Gunnar Borg, PhD, and designed to roughly estimate heart rate by multiplying the Borg scale number you’re at by 10. For instance, if you’re briskly walking or lightly jogging at an 11 on the scale, your heart rate would be roughly 110. So if the numbers your coach or training plan suggests for RPE seem high, it’s likely based on the Borg Scale versus the usual 0–10.