What is rate of perceived exertion?

Man running on athletics track
Rate of Perceived Exertion refers to how you are feeling while running (Image credit: Getty)

If you are a runner and you have taken part in any kind of training session or coaching, you will probably have heard of 'perceived exertion' as a way of determining how hard you worked during a workout.

The term was coined by Swedish researcher Gunnar Borg, of Stockholm University. Borg first introduced the concept in the 1950s, and his rating of perceived exertion scale is now used by coaches and athletes around the world

Rate of perceived exertion (also known as rating of perceived exertion or RPE) is a useful tool for assessing the intensity of physical activity.

While your best GPS watch to measure speed and pace, this can’t tell you how you’re feeling. For example, there are days when we have different levels of motivation, willpower, or fatigue. RPE allows you to give a subjective assessment of your efforts.

Woman running on desert trail

RPE can be a useful tool for assessing running performance (Image credit: Getty )

How to measure RPE

Rate of perceived exertion is a subjective measure, because it is what a runner perceives their exertion to be. In other words, perceived exertion is how hard you feel like your body is working. This is different from running power, which us an objective measurement of power output (see our our guide to running power and how it can benefit runners for more details).

Borg's rating of perceived exertion scale is based on the physical sensations you might feel during a workout, including increased heart rate, harder breathing, sweating and fatigue.

After a workout, you rate your effort on a scale from six to 20. A rating of six feels like no exertion at all, while 20 is maximal exertion. Sports coaches and professionals generally agree that ratings between 12 to 14 on the Borg scale represent moderate exertion.

There is a strong correlation between rate of perceived exertion and your actual heart rate during physical activity, and Borg believed that a person’s exertion rating could provide a fairly good estimate of actual heart rate (opens in new tab) during a workout.

You can use RPE in your own training by monitoring how hard your body is working to help you to adjust the intensity of your running by speeding up or slowing down your movements. Many coaches will also use RPE in training sessions. 

Using RPE stops you being too prescriptive about your running pace. Some running days will feel better or worse than others, and it can be counterproductive to always be trying to hit a set pace.

It's a way of listening to your body and understanding how it feels, then adjusting your perceived effort to suit each training day. RPE, as part of an overall training plan, can be a very useful way to build the blocks to becoming a better and faster runner.

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, who is better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favourite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing, both downhill and back country. Her target for 2021 is to finish the final nine summits in her first round of all 282 Munros, the Scottish mountains of more than 3,000ft high. Aside from being outdoors, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy the great outdoors, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors (opens in new tab).