What Does RPE Mean?

What does RPE mean? How to

apply RPE into your training…


You constantly ask yourself these questions, yet no one seems to have an answer…


“How do I know when I should be adding more weight to the bar and when I shouldn’t?”


“Do I need to be taking my working sets to failure?”


“That set was easy, do I go up in weight or stay the same?”


Enter RPE.

First, what does RPE mean?

RPE (Rate Of Perceived Exertion)

In short, RPE is a way where you can gauge how difficult or easy the last rep of any given set should feel.

If you’d prefer to watch the VLOG I did on this topic click HERE.

The image represents the RPE scale. RPE ratings stem from 0-10, with 0-5 usually being your warm up reps.

0-5 – Relatively easy. Warm up sets should feel like this.

6 – Ok, so things are beginning to get serious. But I had 4 more reps in the tank.

7 – Slightly tougher, but I easily had 3 more reps.

8 – Oush, I felt that. But I had another two reps in me.

9 – Wow, that was tough. I maybe had one grind of a rep left.

10 – I sharted throughout that rep. No more left. Get me home.

How to apply RPE to your training.

Here’s an example on how you can use the RPE scale to ensure you don’t end up doing something dumb like, oh I don’t know, heading to failure in your first working set.

Let’s say your program has you doing 3 sets of 12 reps on the leg press.

The leg press is loaded with 100kg.

You only manage 5 reps. 7 reps short of the target you were aiming for. You went too heavy.

On the second set you reduce the weight to 80kg. You manage to complete the whole 10 reps. On the last rep you felt you could have completed 1 more rep. That’s an RPE of 9 you just worked at.

Still with me? Good.

“But when do I know if I should be increasing the weight?”

Let’s say your program calls for you to do the leg press for 3 sets of 12 reps.

Ensure progression is met throughout a session by aiming to complete the total number of reps and sets with a given weight.

In this case it’s 80kgs x 12 reps x 3 sets on the leg press.

Once you can complete all reps with the given weight, increase the weight you’re lifting and then aim to hit the same number of sets and reps prescribed in your program. 

Week 1: 80kg Leg Press

Set 1 – 12 reps

2 – 10 reps

3 – 6 reps

Wk 2: 80kg Leg Press

Set 1 – 12 reps

2 – 12 reps

3 – 8 reps

Wk 3: 80kg Leg Press

Set 1 – 12 reps

2 – 12 reps

3 – 12 reps

Congratulations. You have completed 80kg, let’s add more weight to week 4.

Wk 4 – 90kg Leg Press

Set 1 – 12 reps

2 – 10 reps

3 – 9 reps.

Different ways and methods can ensure progression. Another way could have been increasing another set (4 sets of 12 @ 80kg).

Whilst there is some truth that there’s an ‘optimal’ rep range for muscle growth, and strength, the internet will have you believe there’s a ‘perfect’ method. There isn’t.

Optimal Rep Range & Accumulating Fatigue

  • If you’re looking to get stronger, working between the rep ranges of 1-6 will yield strength gains.
  • Reps between 7-15 will yield muscle mass
  • 16+ is muscular endurance as well as muscle mass

Accumulating fatigue too soon in your session (i.e. hitting an RPE of 10 on the tricep press down as soon as you walk through the gym door) is:

a) Dumb AF

b) A way of training that’s going to impact the rest of your session

Think of it like this.

Preform compound movements first. No, you don’t have to perform compounds but you should (unless injuries/gym equipment prevent you in doing so).

Fatiguing your triceps by hitting an RPE of 9 in your first exercise, followed by the bench press, your triceps (the muscle that supports the chest through the bench press) is taxed, meaning you won’t lift as much throughout the session.

Which is why my general recommendations for building mass are:

  • Warm Up (Bike 5 Mins,) 5 RPE
  • Compound specific warm up (e.g. stretching the hip flexors prior to squatting) 5 RPE
  • Compound lift (e.g bench, squat, deadlift – 3-6 reps) 8-9 RPE*
  • Accessory lifts (e.g leg press, incline chest press, seal rows – 8-12 reps) 7-8 RPE
  • Isolation lifts (e.g lateral raises, bicep curls – 10-20 reps) 7-8 RPE

*depending on what stage of their training phase they’re currently at.

RIR (Reps In Reserve)

Personally, I find RIR is easier to use with beginners. Similar to RPE, RIR outlines how many reps an individual should have in reserve when completing a set.

Demonstrated below is a chart my clients receive when given their training program outlining how it works.

I hope this articles given you a better insight into how you can apply the RPE or RIR scale into your training.

If you’d prefer to watch the VLOG I did on this topic click HERE.

Otherwise, maybe my FREE Facebook group is what you’re after, where you get:

Home Workout A Week – ideal if you’re a busy, hardworking individual, with responsibilities where you struggle to hit the gym

Gym Workout A Week – to help support you build muscle and burn fat when if you want to ensure what you’re doing in the gym is effective and aligns with your goal. Outlined will be exactly how many: reps, sets, weigh you should lift, how long you should rest for and what exercises to perform meaning you never have to second guess yourself again

A video demonstrating how to perform those exercises with coaching cues I use with clients – ensuring you never hurt yourself nor do anything stupid in the gym

Opportunity to have your technique critiqued by video analysis – again, to ensure you don’t do anything stupid

That link can be found here