What is Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

Rate of Perceived Exertion or the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)  is a way of measuring physical activity intensity level. In medicine this is used to document the patient’s exertion during a test, and sports coaches use the scale to assess the intensity of training and competition.

The original RPE scale – A.K.A. Borg scale (6-20)

Dr. Gunnar Borg
Dr. Gunnar Borg

The original scale introduced by the Swedish psychologist Dr. Gunnar Borg, rated exertion on a scale of 6-20; as a simple way to estimate heart rate—multiplying the Borg score by 10 gives an approximate heart rate for a particular level of activity. It is based on the physical sensations a person experiences during physical activity, including increased heart rate, increased respiration or breathing rate, increased sweating, and muscle fatigue.

The seemingly odd range of 6-20 is to follow the general heart rate of a healthy adult by multiplying by 10. For instance, a perceived exertion of 12 would be expected to coincide with a heart rate of roughly 120 beats per minute.

How you might describe your exertionBorg ratingExamples (for most adults under 65 y.o.)
None6Reading a book, watching television.
Extremely light7 to 8Tying shoes.
Very light9 to 10Chores like folding clothes that seem to take little effort.
Fairly light11 to 12Walking through the grocery store or other activities that require some effort but not enough to speed up your breathing
Somewhat hard13 to 14Brisk walking or other activities (like riding a bike at an easy pace) that require moderate effort and speed your heart rate and breathing but don’t make you out of breath.
Hard15 to 16Activities that take vigorous effort and get the heart pounding and make breathing very fast. Like climbing with a bike at a moderate pace.
Very hard17 to 18The highest level of activity you can sustain: like time-trialing or climbing with a bike at your highest sustainable pace.
Extremely hard (Maximum exertion)19 to 20A finishing kick in a race or other burst of activity that you can’t maintain for long.
Strength & Power Indoor Cycling Workout – 40 Minute High Intensity Training

The simplified RPE scale (0-10)

The Borg scale is good to follow but it’s a little clumsy using the numbers 6 through 20. There are other RPE scales based on the Borg scale, one common version uses a simplified scale of 0 to 10:

How you might describe your exertionratingExamples (for most adults under 65 y.o.)HR%[1]
None0Reading a book, watching television.0
Extremely light1Tying shoes20-30
Very light2Chores like folding clothes that seem to take little effort30-40
Moderate3Walking through the grocery store or other activities that require some effort but not enough to speed up your breathing40-50
Somewhat hard4-6Brisk walking or other activities (like riding a bike at an easy pace) that require moderate effort and speed your heart rate and breathing but don’t make you out of breath.50-70
Hard7-8Activities that take vigorous effort and get the heart pounding and make breathing very fast. Like climbing with a bike at a moderate pace.70-80
Very hard9The highest level of activity you can sustain: like time-trialing or climbing with a bike at your highest sustainable pace.80-90
Extremely hard (Maximum exertion)10A finishing kick in a race or other burst of activity that you can’t maintain for long.90-100

Notes

[1] How to calculate your heart rate percentage? First you have to learn your resting and maximum heart rates. Then we can calculate P% of heart rate as below:

HR = min. heart rate + ((Max. heart rate – min. heart rate) x P / 100)

Let’s assume that your max. heart rate is 180 and resting heart rate is 60. We can calculate 80% heart rate as:

HR = 60 + ((180 – 60) x 80 / 100) = 156

Your heart rate at 80% should be 156. The formula gives your min. heart rate at 0%, and your max. heart rate at 100%.

Sources

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