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RPE The Best Guide to Measure a Runner’s Training and Progress

RPE Rate of Perceived Exertion is a great natural measuring guide according to our body, grading the intensity of our run on a 1-10 scale. RPE is a simple tool that can help us tune into our body more and still reach our fitness and running goals. Even when we use a good GPS device, it can’t tell how we feel, what issues affects our run, such as our level of motivation, willpower, fatigue or stress. But using RPE does include these issues.

When we focus on our GPS device, it often stops us from being too accurate in the pace we’re running, some days our run will be better than others, but constantly trying to reach the same time or speed can be very counterproductive. Using RPE as our running guide, can help release the effort of our run from the outcome, like reaching our 10K time or beating a Strava segment. RPE has a focus on the run rather than the result. Using GPS devices for our run is very helpful, but to perform some run without using GPS technology devices is a good recommendation.

RPE is a scale of 1-10, measuring the intensity of the effort, 1 being extremely light activity, and 10 being an all-out sprint which we can only maintain for 20-30 seconds. Using RPE, we can even estimate our heart rate without a heart rate monitor, which is good training to know our own heart rate.

Benefits of Using RPE

Using RPE is a great way to keep tabs on the intensity of our runs and stay in tune with our body without relying on technology or tracking our metrics too intensely.

Perhaps the most important factor for adopting RPE is recognizing that no two runs are identical: Many factors affect the amount of effort required for a workout. These can include:

  • Weather (especially high wind, intense rain and temperature)

  • The terrain (a 9 minute 1.5K on trails takes more effort than the same distance on road)

  • The running shoes (cushiony, springy vs minimal support)

  • Level of tiredness (more tired = harder effort)

  • Whether we have eaten recently (fuel vs running on empty)

  • Willpower / motivation (recent studies have shown this can significantly affect our performance)

When we begin to consider all the varying factors, it makes less and less sense to compare our performance based purely on speed, distance, or time.

For example: if we are scheduled for a 5K moderate run, and we had a stressful week and lack of sleep, our moderate-intensity run might be at a slower pace than during a previous week where we were feeling better. Our intensity level feels the same, but our pace might be slower, which is perfectly fine. If our body is feeling run down and in need of rest, it is important to listen to our body.

That’s why RPE is such a powerful tool, it prioritizes how we feel, our effort, and doing the workout over the result. Using RPE is also great for tuning in and listening to our body better. Using RPE to set our training session intensity can be friendlier to our body instead of focusing on specified heart rate zones or paces. Our training sessions should be flexible to our body’s needs. During our run, we can stick to our desired RPE intensity instead of pushing for certain times or paces.

RPE Versus HRZ Training

RPE and HRZ (Heart Rate Zone) training both take the approach of defining our run based on effort, while RPE relies on us measuring our effort level, HRZ training is based on monitoring our heart rate as we run with a GPS watch and keeping our pulse within a certain range, which matches the intended intensity of our workout.

The Differences Between HRZ Training and RPE

1. RPE is Subjective

Running by rate of perceived exertion includes a certain amount of estimation, which will vary from runner to runner. Not only that, but some runners have a higher pain tolerance and may underestimate how hard they’re pushing.

Using RPE also needs a bit of awareness of the RPE scale to ensure we’re truly hitting the right effort level.

2. HRZ Training Requires Some Analysis

Everyone’s heart rate zones are different- Genetics, age, aerobic health, and athletic history all play a part. Before we can reliably be guided by our HRZs, we need to ensure the device we are using has properly defined our personal zones.

3. HRZ Doesn't Recognise Cardiac Drift

Cardiac Drift is a phenomenon in which our heart rate gradually increases during exercise, even when the intensity remains constant. The heart rate tends to drift upwards over time, due to the increase of our core temperature and losing body water.

Cardiac drift tends kick in after 25-30 minutes of exercise, and is a slow builder, so it won’t necessarily affect our shorter runs. But as a runner gets into marathon training and ultramarathons, cardiac drift affects the reliability of HRZ training, as our heart rate drifts upwards, our GPS device might advise us to slow down in order to stay in the prescribed zone.

4. Our Heart Rate is Affected By External factors Too

Did you know that our heart rate is elevated by lack of sleep, stress, caffeine, warm temperatures, and dehydration, intense cold wind?

How To Use A Rate of Perceived Exertion Chart

Using RPE for Running and Fitness and Setting RPE Targets

  • Your Fitness Level: Beginner/new runners will want to start at lower RPEs during workouts than long time runners. Stick with lower RPE runs at first as you build your endurance/cardiovascular base.

  • Your Goals: If you are building endurance for long-distance runs, more of your workouts will be spent in the lower RPE ranges (easier endurance runs). If you’re training for speed or short-distance sprinting, you’ll likely have a few more high RPE sessions in your schedule.

Good running plans already have RPE built into them along with paces/times that are designed for the runner and based on their recent running times.

Good Running Plans

  • Long runs should feel pretty easy on the RPE scale.

  • Tempo runs should feel moderate to hard.

  • Sprints should feel very hard.

So if a runner doesn’t want to worry about trying to track their pace, they can still stick to an effective running plan by paying attention to their RPE.

Use RPE for Training, Feel Your Own Heart Rate Level and Running Pace, Train According to Your Body Type and Fitness Level, Run Stronger and Feel Great!


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