If you’ve ever worked out in a health club setting, you may have encountered a rating of perceived exertion (RPE) scale developed by Swedish scientist Gunnar Borg in the 1960s. The Borg category-ratio scale starts at 0 with “no exertion” and goes to 10 “maximal exertion.” Individuals can use the scale to identify their level of perceived exertion during exercise.
Although the Alp Fitness training zones differ from a 10-point rating of perceived exertion scale, each Alp Fitness training zone is associated with a description related to a different level of perceived exertion. The idea is similar to any other rating of perceived exertion framework in that you will learn to subjectively gauge which zone you’re in based on internal bodily cues — namely breathing rate and talking ability during exercise.
Why Use Perceived Exertion?
Using perceived exertion, or “training by feel” is one of the most basic ways to measure and monitor your exercise intensity. I view it as both a starting point and an end point for training.
It’s a starting point because subjectively gauging your effort level comes naturally to us and I imagine it is something you already do. If you’ve ever differentiated an “easy” run from a “hard” run; then you’ve used perceived exertion to “train by feel.”
It’s also an end point because the more advanced you become as an endurance athlete, the more awareness you gain about your effort level at any given moment during training or racing. Using a GPS watch, heart rate monitor, or power meter are helpful training tools, but their greatest value may be in providing biofeedback that helps you develop a keener internal awareness to subjectively judge your pacing and dose out your effort during training and racing.
Perceived exertion is also reliable (once you’ve learned to use it) in that you never have to worry about equipment failure and you can use it in all types of conditions and over variable terrain.
Perceived Exertion Complements Other Tools
Even when using other tools — GPS watches for pacing, heart rate monitors, or power meters — every endurance athlete should also have a good sense of where the feedback from these devices falls within a training zone system based on your own perceived exertion. This is why the Alp Fitness training zone system starts by defining intensity levels with breathing and talking cues; then adds heart rate, power, and pace as additional (optional) tools to help you measure and monitor your training intensity.
So, perceived exertion should be every endurance athlete’s fallback method for determining which zone you’re in; and even if you use a GPS watch with a heart rate monitor and/or power meter, you should always be working toward a greater awareness of your level of exertion based on internal bodily cues. You want to get to the point where you can race or complete a workout without needing to rely solely on that watch on your wrist or heart rate monitor or power meter to effectively judge your pacing and effort.
With that said, other methods for measuring intensity can provide valuable insights into the qualitative nature of your training.