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Rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is a useful system in programming that allows both the coach and the athlete to effectively drive adaptation relevant to the athlete’s goals. The primary driver of adaptation in RPE based programming is proximity to failure whereby optimal strength and hypertrophy gains are made with considerations to internal and external loading, fatigue, and stress management.

Why Do Coaches Use RPE Based Programming?

RPE based programming systems allow the coach and the athlete to identify how the external load (weight on the bar) is affecting the internal load (system’s response to load). Internal load considers the variables outside the training program that will affect an athlete’s performance day to day. How is the athlete’s nutrition? Are they sleeping well? Do they have a big project coming up at work, leading to a high-stress response? Allowing ourselves to consider the internal load will create a more positive coach-athlete relationship while driving adaptive processes with external load.

How do PerforMotion use RPE Based Programming for performance and rehab?

The most consistent improvements are made when the client wants them. RPE-based training allows the client to take ownership of their program, irrespective of training for performance or rehab.

In athletes, systemic fatigue is expressed through compound movements. So how does this work in a rehabilitation context? RPE based programming works with rehab clients where proximity to failure is in the context of isolated failure, pain, or excessive compensation strategies. Rehab is very rarely a linear progression. We need to factor in internal loading the same way as we would for athletes.

Any athlete or rehab client will work well with RPE based programming, provided they are educated about how it works and how their body reacts to load. The system allows clients greater control in what they do with their program based on how they feel on the day, ensuring greater program adherence and long-term health behaviour change.

Cons of RPE Based Programming

As with anything, there are pros and cons to consider before administering an RPE based programming regime. The primary cons with this are the classic overshooter or undershooter.

Do you identify with any of these statements?

“I wanted to see if I could do it.”

“I did less weight last week.”

OR

“I overshot completing 5 reps instead of 10 so I dropped the weight and got out another 5 reps. I had to drop the weight again because I could only do 6 at the new weight.”

Congratulations, you are an over-shooter with a balls-to-the-wall approach. You need to work on pulling yourself back when needed. Proximity to failure drives adaptation. If you’re going to failure or leaving yourself gassed before completing the accessories of your program you are going to consistently push shit uphill in an endless cycle of long lasting fatigue and lack of gains..

On the flip side, do you identify with these statements?

“The weight felt really heavy” (After every rep moved like a warmup)

“I wanted to save myself for the other lifts.”

OR

“I started to feel it working so I thought it was enough.”

Ahhh yes, the undershooter. We will see you more frequently in your novice years where your skill level and understanding of true muscular fatigue are still being developed. You’ll need more of a push from yourself, training partner, or coach to drive the most out of your training.

Now To The Pros of RPE Based Programming

Provided that you are educated on your body and how you perform with different internal loading patterns, the pros of RPE based programing are far reaching.

–          Takes internal load consideration; when you have had a rough day at work, it is normal for our training to take a hit.

–          Capitalizes on days where you have had sufficient recovery from training; these means you’ve enough good quality sleep, nutrition, fatigue, and stress management.

–          Improved autoregulation; an understanding on how your body and training may differ day to day

–          Reactive; you can change external loading to match your internal loading.

–          Transferable skillset

So you’ve learnt what RPE Based Programming Is About and How We Use RPE Based Programming.

How Can We Apply The RPE Based Programming Method?

RPE based programming can be used in a variety of settings, be it powerlifting, bodybuilding, or rehab, within macro and micro-cycles. RPE can be used with programming on and off seasons in strength sports.

Remember the key aspects of RPE based programming that make your programming bullet-proof are…

–          Proximity to failure is relative to everything in and out of the gym.

–          Failure can be derivative of systemic fatigue, isolated fatigue, pain, or compensation strategies.

–          Client has more control over their programming. It is their goals they are trying to hit, not the coaches.

–          Understanding of how internal loading affects external performance.

At the end of the day it’s ok to hit the same number over and over while you’re learning. It’s the fixation on perfection for performance that will play a role in how you feel about your numbers.

Talk to the team about how RPE Based Programming can help you reach your performance and rehab goals. Contact Us.

Article by Michael Bates