Is Perceived Exertion the Most Important Metric?

Knowing how a race or workout feels—aka RPE—is an extremely important sense for endurance athletes. With the help of top cycling coaches, athletes, and researchers, we explore why RPE may be more important than power, heart rate, and other metrics.

Blurred cyclists

There are many ways to measure intensity. This is an episode about the one that is often forgotten: RPE.

Perceived exertion is a standardized way to classify a subjective feeling. We’ve touched upon RPE in many episodes, often referring to the fact that top pros all know “the feel.”

RPE is more important than power or heart rate.

In this episode, we argue that the metric of feeling—perceived exertion, RPE, sensations, whatever you call it—is in many ways the most important metric. Yes, we’re arguing that it is even more important than power and heart rate.

We set the stage by defining RPE. Next we lay out our argument for why RPE may be the most important metric—whether in the training or racing context.

Then we turn our attention to ways to learn how to understand or interpret feelings to determine RPE. It’s not an easy task, but there are certain steps you can take to hone your sense of, well, sense.

Finally, we discuss the best ways to use RPE, from the ability to assess where you’re at to knowing what efforts of a given length “feel like” so that you can then use that to pace in races; from adjusting power and HR in training to how the sRPE scale can be used to integrate off-the-bike workouts into overall training load.

Since this is a summary episode, we pulled from previous episodes to hear from a host of the most prominent coaches, athletes, and researchers, including: Jeff Winkler, Joe Friel, Kristen Legan, Amos Brumble, Dirk Friel, Kristin Armstrong, Ned Overend, Dr. Stephen Seiler, Kate Courtney, Svein Tuft, and Julie Young.

References

  • Agnol, C. D., Turnes, T., & Lucas, R. D. D. (2021). Time Spent Near V˙O2max During Different Cycling Self-Paced Interval Training Protocols. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 16(9), 1347–1353. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.2020-0314
  • Halperin, I., & Emanuel, A. (2020). Rating of Perceived Effort: Methodological Concerns and Future Directions. Sports Medicine, 50(4), 679–687. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-019-01229-z
  • Meckel, Y., Zach, S., Eliakim, A., & Sindiani, M. (2018). The interval-training paradox: Physiological responses vs. subjective rate of perceived exertion. Physiology & Behavior, 196, 144–149. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.08.013
  • Scherr, J., Wolfarth, B., Christle, J. W., Pressler, A., Wagenpfeil, S., & Halle, M. (2013). Associations between Borg’s rating of perceived exertion and physiological measures of exercise intensity. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 113(1), 147–155. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-012-2421-x

Photo: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Episode Transcript

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