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# Determing RPE

Posts: 555Member Member
I've started working with a new trainer who uses RPE to determine weights and sets in our workouts. She and I work together one day a week and then I work out two more times more or less on my own. I am just starting out using RPE as a measure and just don't understand how to estimate or calculate it.

Today I thought I was working at an RPE 8. My plan was to do 4 sets of 6. The first two sets were fine. The third set I only got 5 and on the fourth set I tried for a 6th rep and completely failed. Had to have the bar pulled off of me. I used past lifts to estimate what I needed to be doing, but clearly I was very wrong about what equals an RPE 8 and how to determine it without actually failing.

I know that an RPE 8 would mean I have two reps left in the tank, but I'm having a hard time understanding how to determine how many reps I have left without doing reps to failure. I'm working hard to increase my bench right now, so I want to give my best to my workouts to keep progressing, but there's something I'm just not getting when it comes to figuring out how to choose my working weights.

Are there any tips or tricks to determining RPE? Even better--a formula?? I feel like RPE is too "squishy" a thing to have a calculation or formula to support it. In a scenario like today where what I thought was an RPE 8 clearly wasn't, should I have changed the sets and reps? Changed the weight? I've typically done training cycles where load and sets/reps were based on an estimated 1RM, so this new system is really confusing me. I've talked about it some to my trainer and I think it's one of those cases where we're talking past each other, so I'm hoping someone can explain it in a way that clicks for me.

## Replies

• Posts: 8,128Member Member
I get this question quite a lot from people who are not my clients and it comes down to communication between you and your trainer. I would certainly ask the trainer for a better understanding of the dosage within the template.

RPE is not perfect, but in my opinion it is the best option for most people especially when we are communicating with a coach or trainer.

If I were to guess, you were not start with a RPE 8 but a weight that would equal RPE 8 on last set after you accumulate stress.
If so you might want to use a weight that is RPE 7. After four sets that would very close to RPE8 in most cases.

Doesn't surprise me in the least you failed your third set rep dosage. The weight at the very least should of been adjusted on that set and you probably had indications the set before.

There are charts out there that can help determine a good estimate of weight to use.

I highly suggest you seek out how to use a RPE chart to do just that. Perhaps ask your trainer how.

One thing for certain is RPE just like anything is a bit rough at first but as we practice with it we hone in on the benefits of how to use it to put the right weight on the barbell.

I would say take what you learned by going to failure and apply it to subsequent workouts, because now you know what RPE 10+ feels like. Honestly, I think it's almost impossible to do the whole RPE thing until you have some experience, including, possibly, occasionally going to failure. As Chief said, it takes practice and becoming familiar with your body when performing a lift.

And don't fear going to failure on accessory lifts, like bicep curls, or tricep kickbacks, for example. The main reason to avoid going to failure is to avoid hurting yourself, and hurting yourself is difficult on accessory lifts if you're even minimally paying attention to form. Going to failure all the time on any lift, barring injury, tends to lead to fatigue and doesn't really give you any additional gains over going to RPE 7, or 8. But going to failure once in a while does allow you to get better and figuring out RPE.

I would reiterate that going to failure on accessory lifts, occasionally, is probably fine. However, going to failure on big compound lifts is dangerous due to the high possibility of injury. I would avoid even thinking about trying to go to failure on something like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, etc.
Good recommendation above. I would also recommend you time your rests between sets to ensure you are getting a long enough rest. For me at least, I know I get impatient and try to start the next set too soon which will impact my ability to complete the set.
• Posts: 474Member Member
COGypsy wrote: »
I've started working with a new trainer who uses RPE to determine weights and sets in our workouts. She and I work together one day a week and then I work out two more times more or less on my own. I am just starting out using RPE as a measure and just don't understand how to estimate or calculate it.

Today I thought I was working at an RPE 8. My plan was to do 4 sets of 6. The first two sets were fine. The third set I only got 5 and on the fourth set I tried for a 6th rep and completely failed. Had to have the bar pulled off of me. I used past lifts to estimate what I needed to be doing, but clearly I was very wrong about what equals an RPE 8 and how to determine it without actually failing.

I know that an RPE 8 would mean I have two reps left in the tank, but I'm having a hard time understanding how to determine how many reps I have left without doing reps to failure. I'm working hard to increase my bench right now, so I want to give my best to my workouts to keep progressing, but there's something I'm just not getting when it comes to figuring out how to choose my working weights.

Are there any tips or tricks to determining RPE? Even better--a formula?? I feel like RPE is too "squishy" a thing to have a calculation or formula to support it. In a scenario like today where what I thought was an RPE 8 clearly wasn't, should I have changed the sets and reps? Changed the weight? I've typically done training cycles where load and sets/reps were based on an estimated 1RM, so this new system is really confusing me. I've talked about it some to my trainer and I think it's one of those cases where we're talking past each other, so I'm hoping someone can explain it in a way that clicks for me.

Have a look on the barbell medicine website. There’s a podcast that explained it in a way that made sense to me. I don’t know how to link from my phone
• Posts: 1,107Member Member
RPE using RIR (reps in reserve) is something that gets better with experience. The more advanced a lifter, the more their estimate of their RIR is in line with taking them to failure.
There are formulas out there for a rule of thumb for taking 1 rep max and coming up with what someone's max reps with a lighter weight might be. They're pretty variable, and most of the rules come from training in men, while women have a tendency to have more rep endurance than men - typically a man's 1RM is pretty different from 2RM, but what a woman can do for 1RM, they can probably do nearly as much for 2RM.

If you have appropriate safety, and particularly if you have someone knowledgeable in the lift like your trainer watching you, try going to failure on your last set of an exercise so you can recognize what it feels like in the reps right before it. Just try to reserve it for your last sets because failure tends to generate excessive fatigue in comparison to stimulus.
• Posts: 2,937Member Member
Instead of reps left in the tank, I've always thought of it more as a percentage base. RPE 10 is 100% maximal energy, your 1 rep max. You can't squeeze out another. RPE 9 is like 90% max expenditure, you might get 2-3 reps out. RPE 8, I'm probably in the the 5-6 rep range, etc. In order to get the "feel" for that you have to just experiment with different weights. You will slowly build a baseline over time so that you know what a certain weight will feel like for a certain rep range. It also allows for you to adjust as @Chieflrg alluded to. If your first set felt like an RPE8, then your second set felt like an RPE9, you can take off some weight so that your third set is back down to an RPE 8. It is also probably beneficial to see what an RPE 10 feels like as @GaryRuns mentioned.

It's going to take a while for you to figure it out, so just be patient and take good notes.
• Posts: 8,128Member Member
Here's a vid Mike Tuchscherer that might help. He is the one responsible for bringing RPE to the powerlifting community.

Extremely smart guy I had the pleasure to bump into for a few hours when I was competing at Raw Nationals last year.

• Posts: 555Member Member
Thanks all--you've all confirmed pretty much what I expected, time and experience. I really appreciate the different explanations. Sometimes I just need to hear something a different way to master the concept. I'd say I'm a fairly experienced lifter, but I've typically done periodization training so I feel like I'm learning a new language with this different style. I've lifted off and on since my 20's (45 now), I've been lifting regularly since probably mid-2015. I think that's part of the problem: my trainer knows I've lifted for a long time and assumes I'm as familiar with her style as she is. This is the first time that I've lifted in more of a powerlifting style, though. I'm even considering a powerlifting competition, although I need to get my bench up before I do that.

I had a quick call with my trainer and we've figured out a more concrete program for days I don't work out with her. Still pretty much straight sets for the next couple of weeks, but we're going to work more on feedback after each set and/or workout so that I can get a better idea of where I'm at and what I'm feeling in real time to improve my ability to determine RPE.

Looking back, I was definitely sore from my Monday workout and didn't have a lot of leg drive. That's my weakness with bench and we did a lot of work specifically on developing leg drive on Monday. I should probably have been taking longer rests. I was at a minute fifteen to a minute thirty between sets. And I definitely should have adjusted the weight after the first couple of sets, if not after the first one. I think that's the periodization habit--do the prescribed sets and reps at the stated percentage of max, not too much adjustment within individual sessions.

Thanks too for the resources--I'm checking out some RPE charts and downloaded the podcast recommended upthread. I'll check out that video tonight (apparently my boss prefers I do work stuff when I'm at work, so I try to indulge him from time to time )