Rating of Perceived Exertion (Coach Rizal SG Titans)

(This article is written by Coach Rizal and originally posted http://www.coachrizal.com/2011/01/rating-of-perceived-exertion-rpe/) 19th Jan 2011



The idea of “NO PAIN, NO GAIN” is a BIG FALLACY in exercise and performance training and should be avoided. Many coaches and trainers advocate this to their trainee very often as a motivational tool which without unknowingly present them with many detrimental effects. Pain is not a natural consequence of exercise or training but rather, it actually indicates a problem that you need to deal with. During exercise the body will produce natural opiates called endorphins which can mask discomfort for the effort. If you are experiencing real pain and it persists during training and after training, you should back off or reduce the intensity. If the pain still persists, have the problems be evaluated before you go back to the particular exercises. Do not be tricked in the idea of “NO PAIN NO GAIN” when your coaches or trainer push you on. Get him to address the issues first.


Discomfort, on the other hand, can come with the difficult aspects of training such as strength training, intense interval training or long duration effort such as long distance running or long reps exercises. Discomfort is a natural consequence of increase of acidity level in your body during anaerobic effort of lifting or interval, signs of muscle fatigue, microscopic muscle damage (microtrauma), or soreness that comes with long-distance training. Participants should only accept statement of “NO DISCOMFORT NO EXCELLENCE” or “NO EXERTION, NO IMPROVEMENT” instead. To improve in your fitness and health objectives, there should be an overloading which will entail with discomfort or exertions. It requires working at the upper limit of strength, intensity, or duration, and that state can be temporarily uncomfortable. If exercise results in pain, it is probably excessive.

Do you know your current stats?

Before I move on, I would like you to ponder on these few questions are;

  • How do we go about assessing and monitor our exercise routines and programs to meet our objectives?
  • What intensity level should I be doing?
  • How do I know I am working hard enough?
  • When should I stop?
  • Has my fitness level improved?
  • Should I push it?
  • How much weight should I be lifting?
  • How long should I run?
  • How fast should I run?

As participants, it is important for you to reflect on these few questions. Many coaches, trainers and participants training methodology are usually based on what was being passed down by the previous coach, taught by friends or by following training plans found in the internet which was so called proven. In most cases, these plans and routines are “proven plans” which prove to be a successful for them. I do not doubt the effectiveness of such program. However, we have to bear in mind that proven plans may not be transferrable to others. Even though some new users who use the plans may show improvements, the hidden detrimental effects may appear in the long run. They can lead to burnouts, micro trauma or injury. A good approach to training should be one that comes with ASSESSMENT, DIAGNOSE, PRESCRIBE, MONITOR, EVALUATE.  Now come to the big question, how do we do carry this out in our aerobic, anaerobic, hypertrophy or strength training?

Let me ask you to reflect on your current training methodology or if you have been trained by a trainer, coach or mentor. Did they go through these steps in any form? Are there any scientific backings with regards to their methods? If you are a trainer or a coach reading this article, before you blow the whistle the purpose of this article is not undermine you but rather to share something that I felt that all coaches and participant should consider adopting. Do you know your trainee current aerobic, anaerobic and strength capacity and capabilities? I would like to share the most up-to-date, easy and innovative way to rate your participants’ physical exertions in your professional practice.

Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is low cost, innovative and scientifically valid way to assess physical fitness, identify functional and clinical performance limits. The method is also able to prescribe and regulate the intensity of exercise training, sport conditioning and weight-activities using OMNI picture system (Robertson, 2004) to target RPE zones and self-regulated exercise intensity. Remarkably, the use of RPE can also be apply in exercise testing and prescription for individual whose clinical or exercise status is limited by cardiac or pulmonary or chronic pain (Robertson,2004).

Heart Rate and RPE

Heart Rate (HR) is the current popular methods by the masses to regulate or identify the intensity exercise. However, the drawback about this method is that participants will not be able to focus on her training and she will kept looking at her heart rate monitor or measure her pulse during training. Participants will become a “pulse counter” and continuously interrupting the flow of her exercise program. Cost is another big factor which many people may be able to afford to buy one. An alternative method to self-regulate exercise intensity is to use a target rating for perceived exertion (RPE) training zone. This is because; RPE and physiological measures such as HR and oxygen consumption provide much of the same information about exercise intensity. The correlation coefficient between RPE and HR is high. 0.84 for adult female, 0.86 for adult male in cycling exercises (Robertson et al., 2004). In the same study, the VO₂ achieved a correlation coefficient of 0.93 for female and 0.95 for male.

Strength Training and RPE

In strength and resistance exercises, a common way to express resistance exercise intensity is a percentage of the one-repetition maximum (%1RM). Lagally et al. (2002) measured RPE in young, recreationally active weightlifters that performed a series of resistance exercises at 30 and 90% 1RM and found that the RPEs for the active muscles and the overall body were higher during 90% than during the 30% 1RM sets. This study showed that when appropriate scaling instructions and testing procedure are used, it is possible to simultaneously measure RPE for the active muscles and the overall body during a single exercise repetition or following a set of repetitions. It also showed that during a resistance exercise, RPE accurately distinguished between different intensities, or % 1RM. Therefore, RPE can be used in tests of muscular strength or endurance and in the subsequent development of perceptually based resistance exercise training programs. Robertson et al. (2003) did a validity studies of RPE against total weight lifting in resistance exercise and it result in a correlation coefficient of 0.79 for female and 0.87 for male.

Health-Risk participants and RPE

Guiding exercise progression with RPE is especially helpful and safe when assessing and training participants who are taking medications that can alter the HR. For example, in participants taking cardiac medications such as propranolol or atropine, these drugs can respectively reduce or accelerate the HR response to aerobic exercise. Therefore the use of HR as a form of measurement may not be useful in signaling the test end point. Because RPE is largely unaffected by cardiac medications, it is an effective tool for monitoring test and exercise progression for coronary patients.

How to use RPE?

Fig: Verbal Cues for the adult and child OMNI perceived exertion scales. Adapted from Robertson (2004)

The OMNI RPE scale can be used to measure RPE for the overall body, limbs and chest. To accurately rate these exertional perceptions. Participants have to read and understand both the definitions of perceived exertion and the standard set of OMNI RPE scale instructions. This has to be done immediately prior to the undergoing exercise test and again before each of the first several conditioning sessions in which a new exercise program is employed. Different definitions of perceived exertion are used for children and adults.

Adult: What is the subjective intensity of effort, strain, discomfort or fatigue that I feel during exercise?

Child: How tired do I feel during exercise?

Make sure you are sure and understand on how to use the scale to rate perceived exertion. Optimally there should be big charts for the participant to point. To make sure your participants understand how to use the scale. Do this by asking the following questions.

  • How do you feel right now? Please point to a number of the scale
  • How do you feel when you perform your favorite recreational activity? Please point to a number on the scale.
  • How did you feel when you performed the most exhausting exercise that you can remember doing? Please point to a number on the scale.

Take time to make sure you and your participants are familiarized with the questioning and reflection of perceived effort. This preparatory period will help to ensure that clients can comfortably and competently use the OMNI RPE scale.

Anchoring RPE scale

Anchoring RPE is the next most important step. It should be done for first time user and also those who have not been awhile using it. These anchor points establish the perceived intensity of exertion at the low and high ends of the OMNI scale and serve as reference points to help participants to use the full range of the scale’s numbers in estimating their level of exertion. Scale anchor points should be set individually for each participant. There are three methods to do this anchoring process. Memory procedure, exercise procedure and combination of memory and exercise procedure. These three methods can be used for aerobic, anaerobic, intervals, strength training.

Memory procedure is the handier between the two. Participants is asked to recall a time when she reached a level of exertion that is equal to the RPE scale at the bottom (RPE 1) and top (RPE 10). During the exercise session, participants is asked to estimate her RPE level by using her memory of the levels of exertion equal to the low and high anchors on the OMNI RPE scale. For example, if the participants felt that her level of exertion during the exertion is about 50% of her memory of maximal physical exertion, then the RPE should fall about halfway between 0 and 10, which is at 5 or 6.

As for the exercise anchoring procedure, it is more complicated but it is useful and more valid as some clients may not have ever exercised to their maximal. They may also find it difficult to recall back their previous instance of maximal exertion as some of them may have not exercised for a while. To use the exercise anchoring procedure, the participants undertakes a short (1-2mins), very low intensity exercise bout, if possible using the same activity mode that will be performed during the test or training session. At the end the 2 min period, remind the participants that his exertion at that point should feel like as depicted in the OMNI RPE scale at the bottom of the scale, and direct him to assign RPE ‘0’ to this feeling. Subsequently, the participants should undergo a progressive exercise test (2 min interval) ending at the point of exhaustion, or maximal intensity. Like before, the same mode should be used. When the client has reached the point of maximal exercise, remind him that his exertion at that time should feel the same as that depicted in the OMNI RPE scale and ask him to assign an RPE ‘10’ to this feeling.

Similarly with the memory procedure, remind the participants to use RPE scale at the low and high anchor points on the OMNI RPE scale to guide his RPE determination. Ensure that the he is able to associate his perceived exertion using the whole range of OMNI RPE scale. (RPE 0 to RPE 10).  A third type of anchoring procedures involves combining of the memory and exercise procedures. At the start, the exercise anchor points are established as a routine part of the pertaining assessment which usually used to determine the participant’s fitness level and to establish a conditioning guideline. Once the low and high anchor points have been calibrated during exercise, they should be reinforced as needed during individual training session by using memory procedure.


The above method allows you to perform ASSESSMENT, DIAGNOSE, PRESCRIBE, MONITOR, EVALUATE in your training and coaching. This methodology is the most up to date where the validity of using perceived exertion was discovered by G.Borg (1998). The scale which I have presented in this article is by Robertson (2000) as it is more simplified and easier to understand by participants. As your participant progress to the exercise program, you can observe that at the same RPE level your client is able to produce more work. This shows that your clients have improved. This article has provided you a brief knowledge of methodology to get you started however I suggest that you read more by reading journals regarding RPE. For trainers and coaches, I suggest you to get the book to learn more about this novel methodology, “Perceived Exertion for Practitioners” by R. J. Robertson. Nevertheless I hope that this article will be useful in your professional practice and your own training.



Sharkey, Gaskill. (2007). Fitness & Health. Human Kinetics. Champaign IL

R. J. Robertson. (2004). Perceived Exertion for Practitioners. Human Kinetics. Champaign IL

Lagally, K.M., R.J. Robertson, R. Gearhart, K.I. Gallagher, and F.L. Goss. (2002). Rating of perceived exertion during low and high-intensity resistance exercise in young adults. Perceptual and Motor Skills 94, 723-731

Robertson, R.J., F.L. Goss, J. Rutkowski, B. Lenz, C. Dixon, J. Timmer, K. Frazee, J. Dube, and J. Andreacci. (2003). Concurrent validation of the OMNI perceived exertion scale for resistance exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 35, 333-341.

Borg, G. (1998). Borg’s perceived exertion and pain scales.Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

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