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A lot of content is produced around the topic of RPE, but there are also a lot of misnomers surrounding this subject. RPE is a multi-faceted approach to moderating training fatigue while allowing for progression of intensity and year round specific movement training. Essentially, athlete empowered auto-regulation. RPE is more than anything a subjective approach to a distinctly objective analysis, meaning that from any standpoint it is always going to be a flawed metric. RPE is one of the most valuable tools we have to asses relative strength within each and every session. But, like with anything in powerlifting viewing it from an absolutist paradigm is irrelevant, an RPE 8 for 3 different athletes will produce 3 different lifts, 3 different speeds and 3 different “feelings.” RPE is not just a tool for measuring “reps in the tank” a lot of beginner athletes see RPE from this perspective (RIR a different metric, perhaps better suited for beginner athletes) but, this is a great underutilization of RPE as a tool.

Consider this example, an athlete hits 98% of their max (600LBS) for a single, after completing the single they decide that it was an RPE 8 and they were capable of 2 reps. The following week, the athlete once again feels good and decides to complete 600LBS for a double since their previous single with 600 was so smooth. The athlete completes the first rep and once again feels like an RPE 8 so they attempt the second rep, the 2nd rep is shaky but they complete it and asses that since the first rep & last week was sub-maximal a third rep should be there… the 3rd rep was not there. Anyone that trains with RPE has had a similar experience, the reps are always there until they aren’t. But, that isn’t to say that the athlete could not have added more load, or a different modifier to increase difficulty (Pause, tempo, accommodating resistance.)

Thus RPE is not a measure of reps left in the tank, but rather an assessment of relative intensity. RPE literally means rate of perceived exertion and exertion can and should be measured in a variety of ways. Success in powerlifting involves having an acute understanding of oneself and a big part of this is recognizing where you can do more. RPE allows athletes to do this, it provides a template for understanding the way you fatigue, and the rate at which you do. Both essential skills for competitive success. Being able to ascertain roughly how much weight you can add to the bar before failure is literally crucial for powerlifting, during competition, the “game” is maximizing the kilos you can get from each lift on that specific day. A powerlifting meet is a test of you in that moment, so the goal should always be to produce the biggest total possible (Outside of records etc.) Athletes that have trained with RPE for a considerable period of time have a much better understanding of where they should start, how much they should jump and how much they have left. Allowing for informed conversation with coaches and empowered decision making.

RPE is not without its challenges, it can be difficult for beginner athletes to learn how to asses RPE, resulting in unnecessary training errors, it is subjective… (Subjectivity is not really a flaw, it is simply a measure of the tool.) Even RPE with objective analysis (Bar speed, technique breakdown etc.) still results in issues, well you can’t do this in a meet. You have 60 seconds to choose your next attempt, so finding your handler, watching the clip and discussing is barely manageable. Bar speed as a metric is also questionable, so much of performance sport centers around mindset and emotion, so adding 20kg just because it moved fast is rarely a good idea. Planning out attainable attempt strategies and having intelligent conversations with your coach are much more important than attempting to be completely objective in your analysis. Developing your personal proficiency of self awareness is crucial as an athlete and will help to ensure optimal performance in competition. This is not to say that RPE is the be all, end all solution, it is simply one metric of performance. But, it is definitely something you can benefit from understanding and implementing in your training progression.

Far too often in powerlifting, we jump to an instantly critical perspective when we consider other paradigms in training. RPE is not an ultimate solution, but, falls into the context of a well structured training method. It allows for a much greater level of individualization, requiring athletes to develop self awareness and understanding. Enabling coaches to get a 2 sided perspective of training, the lifters perspective and the video, as a coach RPE is invaluable. It allows us to give lifters freedom (some) while ensuring progression and fatigue management. From the perspective of lifting, there is no way I would have reached my current goals without it. There have been so many sessions where the planned load was more than sufficient and many many more where it was insufficient. It is still important to plan "good" days and "bad" days but, using tools like RPE we can be much more flexible with this, taking small victories when they are there and just getting the work done when it is not. Ultimately, RPE is as strong as the user. Much like any tool in our training arsenal it must be used with responsibility, consideration and awareness.

If you are interested in using RPE in your training, get in touch. We use RPE in some implementation form with almost all of our athletes and have had great success both as a fatigue management and measurement tool. Visit: www.onerepmaximum.com to get started.