Welcome to another post.

As promised, in this article I want to explain in more detail about 10-point RPE scales, what is RIR and how they both can be used in resistance training.

So, let us start from the beginning, quick reminder what is RPE?

It stands for Rating of Perceived Exertion and is subjective feel of how hard your body is working. It is based on the physical sensations a person experiences during physical activity, including increased heart rate, increased respiration or breathing rate, increased sweating, and muscle fatigue. In this post we want to focus on the modified 10-point RPE scale.

And what is RIR you might ask?

It stands for Reps In Reserve (some people call it Reps In Reverse) and is a way of measure how many more reps you could do in each set before failure. In other words, how many more repetitions you THINK you could do if you wanted to carry on with the set, maintaining proper form.

So now let’s focus on applying those 2 methods in sport. It is much easier to use 10-point modified RPE scale in resistance training comparing to the 15-point Borg scale as it is just simpler to perceive the exertion in this range. Instead of thinking maybe it should be 11 or 12, maybe 14 or 15 you got numbers from 0 to 10 which you can also use together with RIR method. I want to show quick example and compare how you can use RPE with RIR:

As you can see from the table above the RIR number goes opposite direction to RPE, as more reps in reserve we have the less effort the activity requires. And this way:

3+RIR – More than 3 repetitions away from failure would be RPE 6 or below

3 RIR – 3 repetitions away from failure would be RPE 7

2 RIR – 2 repetitions away from failure would be RPE 8

1 RIR – 1 repetition away from failure would be RPE 9

0 RIR – 0 repetitions away from failure would be RPE 10

Depending on the reps in reserve you are able to tell how weight should be adjusted prior to the next set, for example:

3 or more RIR – add weight on the next set

1-2 RIR – stay at the same weight

0 RIR – decrease weight

Although there are many training programmes and goals that will require you to go for RPE 9-10 with 1-0 RIR on some sets and sessions (strength and power training mostly), usually RPE 7-9 with 3-1 RIR is more desirable in long term to avoid over fatigue of the body (good for hypertrophy).

Some people might think it would be much better if a trainer could just tell them exactly how many repetitions and at what weight or % of 1 RM should they perform.

I do include % of 1RM in my workout plans as it is important factor and will give a target weight to aim for. Sometimes it will be easy to achieve and, on some days, will not be possible but main reason is to try to aim as close of %1RM for each set and exercise as possible.

But let me explain why using only % of RM is not a good measure to use and why I usually combine this method with RPE and RIR.

I want you to know your body and your limits. You will learn more this way and will gain self-awareness which will help you with your training. You will be able to modify the workout depending on how you feel that day, your readiness, strength and even the mood (believe me, this also plays major role as when you are happy you are most likely to perform better than when you are sad which could cause you to feel sluggish and less motivated).

Let’s say I give someone 4×8 @ 80%1RM on barbell row, but on this day a client have some cold and didn’t sleep well – it might be tough to perform those 4 sets with good form which could lead to client been unsatisfied and disappointed in his performance because did not achieve what was planned (not what I want).

Another example the other way, let’s use the same exercise, 4×8 @ 80%1RM on barbell row, but on this day client is in very good mood, slept well and had good pre workout meal – after first set notice that the weight feels lighter than usual. So why would he just do the programmed 4×8 if he could push at least 4×10 during training?

There is also another reason. Not every 2 people are the same. Some people have their 1 RM (1 rep max) checked some do not, some check it regularly for some it could be long time ago. If a person comes back after long brake that would also make a difference. So, imagine now I design training programme on something that used to be someone’s 1RM that could lead to either overtraining or if that person progressed since then, that could lead to underperformance and not enough stimulus. One more example, a person who never had 1RM checked. How could I say that they should lift that much with each set on each workout? I think it’s just not good idea for the same reasons as before.

That is why when I give clients training programme with RPE and RIR written on the side, it is so everyone knows and be able to make change depending on performance and the days feeling.

Also, I give range of repetitions in my workout so clients know when they should progress from a training to training. If they are consistent during workout and on each set the higher range of reps is achieved, considering proper form was maintained that is a sign that the they are ready to step up with the weights on next workout.

So, to sum this up: adding RPE and RIR to workout plan can give you more personalised and controlled feel during your workout, as not every session is the same and it will be easier to adjust intensity.

Hope this helps and you will go away with more useful knowledge.

Thanks for reading, stay tuned for more!