Blog

What Are RPE & RIR? A Quick Guide

Training Blogs

Justin Jones

September 18, 2023

Have you ever looked at a training program and seen “RPE” or “RIR” and wondered what those are? Maybe you googled the terms and were left wondering how they relate to the program? I personally program RPE and RIR regularly for my athletes, so I want to break them down here in an easy to understand way.

RPE and RIR are used to subjectively describe how hard you are exerting yourself during a given exercise (the intensity of the sets and reps). Using a subjective measurement is important because so many factors outside of the gym influence how you perform on a given day. The goal of training is to keep you in a certain intensity range to elicit the desired adaptation. If my goal for an athlete is to have them complete an exercise at a 7/10 intensity, that might be 200lbs on day 1 but on day 7 that same 7/10 intensity might be 185lbs (due to lack of sleep, life stressors, etc.). Therefore programming the exercise at 200lbs would push the exercise to an intensity (for that day) that is higher than my goal for the athlete. RPE & RIR provide an answer to this problem.

In other words: using RPE allows the athlete to auto regulate the load based on how they’re feeling. If they’re having an off day, they can lower the load to match the desired intensity. If they’re feeling strong that day, they can add weight to match the desired intensity.

What is RIR?

RIR stands for “Reps In Reserve” RIR is fairly straightforward as it is used in rep based exercises. For example: If I programmed pushups as: “bodyweight x 3 x 1RIR” That would be 3 sets of pushups at 1 Rep In Reserve – Meaning that each set you would do as many pushups (with good form!) as possible until you only have 1 good rep left in the tank. Same thing for pullups: “bodyweight x 3 x 2RIR” would be 3 sets of pullups at bodyweight until you have 2 good reps left in the tank.

What is RPE?

RPE stands for “Rate of Perceived Exertion”. It used to be on a 6-20 scale (I’ll spare you the history lesson on RPE), but nowadays it’s mainly used as a 1-10 scale.

RPE For Lifting

For the weight room, RPE provides a solid way to subjectively measure the weight you should use for a given exercise. An RPE 7 would be, at it’s most basic, a 7 out of 10 intensity. 10 being a completely max effort. The below image is a good reference point for the RPE scale which uses RIR to describe RPE. 

(Image credit: revolutionpersonaltraining.com)

It’s also important to note that beginners will most likely not get RPE right at first – and that’s totally fine. Beginners in the weight room will see progress with a wide range of loads. Through training, beginners will learn to accurately judge RPE as they progress from beginner to intermediate. RPE then serves as a learning tool for athletes – it gives athletes time to learn their own bodies – to learn how different loads feel, and how the same load can be two different RPE’s on two different days. As coaches, we shouldn’t seek to give athletes every answer, but provide them the opportunity & tools to learn and find the answer for themselves.

RPE For Running

RPE can also be used for running. I personally don’t use RPE for running unless my athlete doesn’t have access to a GPS watch or heart rate monitor. Prescribing pace guidelines can be useful for certain training session (as can prescribing weights in the weight room), but always prescribing paces to hit can be detrimental for runners for the same reasons prescribing weights can be. Some days will be better or worse than others for athletes, and empowering the athlete to adjust pace to match the desired intensity is preferred. 

Also, some races don’t allow the use of GPS watches (particularly organized sport organizations), so giving the athlete time to learn how different paces feel on a 1-10 scale and learn how to run based on feel can be VERY useful. The below image gives some running RPE guidelines.

(Image source: marathonhandbook.com)

Conclusion

RPE and RIR are subjective methods to measure the overall intensity of a given set of reps, or of a given portion of a run. It is important to me as a coach to use RPE and RIR for athletes as it gives the athlete some autonomy to adjust load/ pace day to day if they need to scale back some on a bad day or add some weight on a good day. RPE and RIR are not the end all be all of programming, and it is important to program certain weights and paces, especially as competition nears. Nevertheless, RPE and RIR can be powerful tools if used correctly and I continue to use them on a very regular basis for most if not all of my athletes.

  1. Hi, this is a comment.
    To get started with moderating, editing, and deleting comments, please visit the Comments screen in the dashboard.
    Commenter avatars come from Gravatar.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *