5 Common RPE Roadblocks and how to Overcome Them

Author: RTS Coach Ross Leppala

It's not uncommon for people to experience roadblocks when using RPEs in their training. In fact, all of us have faced some struggles along the way in applying them effectively.

You're not alone in that area.

Even us coaches have tripped up along the way from time to time. It's not about being mistake-free, it's about learning and adapting along the way to make smart choices and build momentum.

Here are some common RPE roadblocks and some ideas on how you can overcome them!

One - Not Believing that you can do it:

It's ok to have thoughts or moments of doubt as to whether or not you could use RPEs in your training. They happen and it is fairly common. An important connection to make here is that we all have already been using "RPE's" in our training since the first time we touched a barbell. We have all talked about how hard or easy a lift was, RPE is just putting a scale or language to what hard actually is and means. All words need meaning and/or definition for them to have purposeful use or intent, that's all RPE is doing. Defining the scale of easy to hard. Which allows for better communication between lifters and coaches.

Two - Worry about being Accurate Enough or Not:

No matter what system of training you are following, there will be a degree of inaccuracies along the way. There is literally no way to avoid that. Using RPE's is not an attempt to be perfect, it's a TOOL that helps guide us towards making smart training choices on a day-to-day, session-to-session basis. One of the end goals is to be +/- half an RPE of the prescribed RPE protocol. In other words, a x3 @8 RPE is good enough when we hit a x3 @7.5-8.5 RPE. Sometimes we'll even overreach by more. That is ok too. We're going to make a few mistakes along the way, that's just an opportunity to learn and fine-tune your rating skills.

Three - Everything feels HEAVY:

Time for a mindset check! It's all a matter of perspective. A helpful perspective in this instance is to embrace the world of powerlifting. The goal is to lift heavy weights, heavyweights are going to feel heavy. Embracing that heavy feeling is a skill to develop along the way. Additionally, RPE is more about rating the performance of the lift than it is about rating the feelings or our emotional response to the lift. That's one of the main points behind RPE training, which is to be subjective about the performance!

Four - Scared that I won't be Good Enough to Use it:

This falls in line with the first point as well. Using RPE is like any other tool on the planet. Whether that is a physical tool, mental tool, or language tool in this case. The more you use it, the better you will get with using it. None of us started off being great using RPEs to rate our lifts. It took some effort and practice along the way and we were able to get better at it. It's something we're always looking to be better at in our training so that we are making smart choices that support our efforts!

Five - Your Gym Partner Doesn't Understand what an RPE is:

Another mindset check here for you. This isn't about other people, this is about YOU and YOUR training. Never let someone else define what you do or do not know and understand about your training. RPE might not be for them, that doesn't mean it isn't for you or that it cannot add value to your training. It's important that we all take a look at the tools at our disposal and pick up the one that allows us to do the best job that we are capable of.

In closing, your RPE scale will evolve over time. In the early stages, it will be a rough draft. There's going to be some ebb and flow to getting it right. It's ok to make some mistakes along the way. Those provide us with great learning opportunities. As you narrow in on your accuracy and ability with them, you'll begin to learn little nuances with things. How technical adjustments, miscues, and efficiencies impact where the RPE is. Remember, you are rating how you ACTUALLY performed that set. In the later stages, you'll begin to tweak the RPE based on the exercise. Different exercises have different failure mechanisms. The 'speed' of a comp pause bench press with a x1 @8 will look and feel differently than it does for a 3 count pause bench press. I would also add that in the most advanced stages, you might make some fine-tuning adjustments based on what your current ability is to push hard on training with a focus on progress or to peel back and be more recovery focused.

Embrace the process like it's refining a piece of artwork. That will create more ease and flow for you in the application of RPE's to your training.