Understanding the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale is like having your own intensity meter providing constant feedback on your exercise routine. The Borg RPE scale (see chart below) gives you an idea of how hard you are training and whether you need to pick up or slow the pace. Having a good approximation of how fast your heart is beating during exercise is a way to ensure you are exercising to reach your goals.
The Borg RPE rating scale ranges from 6 to 20 and provides an indication of your workout intensity level. A rating of 6 means you are not exerting yourself at all, while a rating of 20 means you are at maximal exertion.
This perceived exertion is based on how your body feels during exercise. The subjective test relies on bodily sensations during exercise, such as muscular fatigue, increased breathing and heart rate, and increased sweating.
Choose Your Intensity
Using the RPE scale on a regular basis helps you understand the scale, to recognise your body's signs of exertion, and to modify your normal workout intensity. Rating yourself between 12 and 14 during exercise suggests you are exercising at a moderate intensity (somewhat hard). Once you feel you are exercising "somewhat hard," you can increase or decrease your efforts depending on how you feel and the intensity you require.
Know it, and make it yours
Use the RPE scale to adjust your intensity level and improve your own workouts.
Focus on all aspects of the exercise to determine your RPE. Don't base your exertion level on another person's intensity level. Jogging at 8.5kph may be somewhat difficult for you, resulting in a RPE of 16 or 17 while the person on the next treadmill runs easily, RPE of 11 at 8.5kph. Similarly, a 120kg bench press for you may result in the same RPE as 40kg for someone else.
So the next time you're working out, or planning a programme, think about what stage of training you're in, and what level of intensity you want or need to work at, and use the Borg RPE scale to your advantage.