RPE Program Overview

The Basics: 

RPE stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion. Originally created to measure aerobic heart-rate, the method was converted for powerlifting athletes (by the great Mike Tuscherer) to measure the difficulty of your set based on how many reps you have left in the tank. 

For example, let's assume you were assigned a single set of five reps on the Competition Back Squat, and you were told to perform your set on a RPE 6 basis. This should be a pretty easy set, as an RPE 6 would mean you would have four more reps left in the tank after completing your working set. 

The RPE scale is as follows: 

  • 10- maximal effort, absolutely no reps left.
  • 9- difficult! 1 rep for sure left. 
  • 8- 2 reps left in the tank, challenging but doable
  • 7- 3 reps left in the tank, relatively straight forward
  • 6- 4 reps left in the tank, easy set
  • 5 (or below): warm up sets / easy as pie

But, I love percentages! Why do I have to do RPE's? 

Fear not- most RPE prescriptions will have a corresponding percentage to it. These percentages are rough guides only, but will give you an idea of what to shoot for. For example, a 5 rep set prescribed at an 8 RPE is 81.10% of your 1RM. Consult the RPE chart found in your programming for estimating target numbers. 

RPE's allow you to auto-regulate your training: 

Let's say you didn't get enough sleep and / or food, and have had a rough week at work. Your heightened stress levels, combined with the lack of recovery via sleep and nutrition, would create an environment where you'd be less likely to hit a prescribed number given in a percentage-based program. This means you'd do one of two things: 

1) attempt the weight anyways, regardless of how much heavier it feels from last week, acquiring exposure to unnecessary intensity / fatigue and increasing risk of injury, or

B) do your set with less weight, and feel terrible that you didn't / couldn't hit your goal weight.

An athlete on an RPE based system would simply prioritize attaining the training effect, regardless of the actual weight that was moved. So, if the rough estimate says you should do 100 lbs. for 5 reps at an 8 RPE, and during your warm up you realize that weight just isn't going to be there for 5, you drop the weight by 5-10% and do, say, 90 lbs. for 5 reps; you've essentially "taken what's there", and move on to the next exercise. 

On the flip-side, if you're having an amazing day, RPE's allow you to auto-regulate upwards! So, if your RPE guide says you should shoot for 400 lbs. on the deadlift for 3 reps at an 8 RPE, but it felt closer to a 7, you'd have to increase in weight to attain the intended training effect of that movement prescription. 

You are always trying your best to "beat" your previous RPE rating. So, if last week you did a 3x3 at a RPE 8 @ 100 lbs., this week you'd attempt to do a 3x3 at 105 lbs. at an 8 RPE (if it's there, of course!). However, it is absolutely imperative to be 100% honest with yourself and with your programming; don't be a hero, and don't focus on moving the weight prescribed by any means possible... always focus on the intended training effect. 

At the end of the day, percentage-based programs try to simulate the training effect / energy system adaptation / feeling of a movement anyways. This just gives you, the athlete, a much more subjective and personal approach. 

What are repeats? Load drops? Etc?? 

You may notice that your program will have a "secondary" recommendation, and those are usually labeled repeat, load drop, or rep out. 


You repeat the last working set. It's common for repeats to progress to a higher RPE (for example, repeating a set of 5 that was just an 8 RPE last working set may turn into an RPE 9).  If you are prescribed more than one repeat after your main working set, and you hit a 9 or 10 RPE on the first repeat with another set up next, take 5% off to stay within the RPE prescription. 

Load Drop

Take 5% off the last working set. This is commonly referred to as a "back off set", as it should be slightly easier than your primary working top set. You will usually see load drops after completing a 9 RPE on your last working set. 

Rep Out

Take the last working weight and do an AMRAP with it for one last set. 

How can I do my best on this program?

  • Be as honest as you can with your RPE ratings and observe strict adherence to them.
  • Fill out your spreadsheet. Tracking your progress and completing the assigned work is most of the battle here. 
  • Ask questions: never do anything you're not 100% sure about. This applies to exercises, going up and down in weight, and literally anything in between. Make sure to come to club sessions for exercise tutorials. 
  • Keep in contact with me. Every lifter on this program will have a dedicated day assigned to them to send me a summary of their week in training. They will receive in-person or video responses within 24 hours (unless I'm at a meet or otherwise arranged a different situation with you). As far as what to say / discuss in the summary, that information / guideline will be emailed out- stay tuned. 

Comments are turned on for any questions or concerns! Please feel free to email me directly or post on the Facebook group. Never hesitate to reach out. Happy lifting!