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  • Help me understand RPE

    Dear Barbell Medicine Crew,

    I hope this is not seen as a stupid query (yes, Virginia, there are stupid questions), but I am just not getting how to apply the principles of RPE. I am thankful for any answer you provide, in full knowledge that I'm getting free service from coaches who deserve compensation (some day I may be able to afford your full services).

    I'll be forthright, and say I was skeptical of RPE, at first, because I thought it was too subjective. However, in the last 6 months my ability to progress on the lifts, primarily the squat, has kind of ground to a halt, and that has caused me to re-examine the approaches I have been taught in the last three years, since I have begun my strength training. All that is to say is that I think I am finally understanding what you guys are really saying in regard to volume, percentages, and intensity. All that said I still don't think I get RPE.

    First off, it may just be my ego, but I just can't seem to dial in the difference between 7,8, and 9's--they just seem too heavy, but then again it seems to calculate. Do you think that there is a tendency to overestimate the initial values of what you can actually lift? Is it just a misunderstanding of the post-novice training variables you are proposing? I feel like I need to grind it out, and I do it, but I found that when I was following your conditioning template, I had very little left for the remaining lifts, I still ground it out, but then the program became something different from what I thought it was going to be. I didn't expect it to be easy, but man, I was longing for 5x5's. This would be a second part of the question, but do subsequent competition or supplementary lifts have a relative value of fatigue that is applied to them (yes I read the template instructions--usually I think of myself as moderately smart, but, sometimes things just don't "click" right away)? If my first lift is a competition squat and my second lift is a paused squat do I have different 1RM values from which I gauge things?

    Secondly, how subjective is RPE?
    • Can it be true that while I think something is an 8 or 9, you would view it, as a coach, and say, based on all of the data you see, that it is a 6 or 7?
    • I know that there are a lot of things that could effect RPE percentages/values, but barring the flu and an ischemia, how much fluctuation and variance is acceptable?

    I know that there are more questions, but maybe you could devote a podcast to the principles of RPE and how you go about, ahem, moving out of the novice phase of understanding and apply it. (I don't think you've dedicated a full podcast to it, have you?)

    Again, I truly appreciate all your work, information, and effort that you give us. Please forgive any wrong assumptions or inadequately formulated questions? I'm an IT guy, not a physician.
    slhuckstead
    Junior Member
    Last edited by slhuckstead; 04-18-2018, 07:08 PM.

  • #2
    Hey Slhuckstead,

    Thanks for your comments and thoughtful post. I will respond in order of your questions:

    Q: Do you think that there is a tendency to overestimate the initial values of what you can actually lift?

    A: I think that the further one is from a maximal effort performance, both in time and previous training experiences, the less accurate any estimation of a 1RM is. A max done a month ago is less accurate than one done 2-3 days prior and a set of 10 @ RPE 8 is less accurate than a set of 3 @ 10, for instance. That said, I find that people tend to refine their maxes within a few weeks provided they are logging things and analyzing it.

    Q: Is it just a misunderstanding of the post-novice training variables you are proposing?

    A: I think that introduction of a novel way to rate effort levels has some slop in the measurement initially. I think that for as many people who are in "danger" of going too heavy based on inaccurate expectations of their performance there is another group of people who underestimate their capability. I think this is multifactorial.

    Q: This would be a second part of the question, but do subsequent competition or supplementary lifts have a relative value of fatigue that is applied to them (yes I read the template instructions--usually I think of myself as moderately smart, but, sometimes things just don't "click" right away)?

    A: Yes, there is intraworkout fatigue that can alter your performance within a given workout though the degree in which fatigue alters performance varies wildly.

    Q: If my first lift is a competition squat and my second lift is a paused squat do I have different 1RM values from which I gauge things?
    A: Yes, but not because of the order of the lifts per se'. Rather, they are different lifts and they have different 1RM's


    Q: Secondly, how subjective is RPE?
    A: I'm not sure how to answer this without a validated scale.


    Q: Can it be true that while I think something is an 8 or 9, you would view it, as a coach, and say, based on all of the data you see, that it a 6 or 7?
    A: Not really and in fact, this is one issue with having an outside person give you feedback on your RPE without a long history of coaching you. People have a significant difference in their ability to grind out reps, bar speeds at relative efforts, and a host of other things that change how a rep or series of reps look RPE-wise. If there is confusion about the scale for RPE then that is one thing that a coach can help with, but I cannot tell you your RPE. To do so represents a misunderstanding of what RPE is and would identify people who should consider using another tool for prescribing intensity.

    Q: I know that there are a lot of things that could effect RPE percentages/values, but barring the flu and an ischemia, how much fluctuation and variance is acceptable?
    A: There is no set amount of accepted variance in performance on a given task in strength sports, as we expect performance to vary WILDLY compared to endurance sports. Illness, motivation, existing fatigue, environment, time of day, expectations, etc. all influence performance and these things are in flux in humans since we're not just oxygen exchanging robots. Knowing this, it would seem rather short sighted to suggest subjective feedback has no place in managing training.
    Barbell Medicine "With you from bench to bedside"
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    • #3
      Dr. Feigenbaum,

      I think you hit on why I am having difficulty with the transition to RPE. I am looking at this like a computer program or a robot, and not considering that we are complex biological beings with a litany of expressive factors influencing our training. I just want to plug in a percentage and hit it every week. I'm experiencing the adage of the old dog, new tricks, even though I've only been lifting for three years and I think I'm still viewing programming as something more simple than as it has been presented to me via other practitioners. This is not saying that RPE and your methodologies are too difficult to understand, it's just that it seems to incorporate more factors the effect an individual's training as they enter the post-novice spectrum you and Dr. Baraki have posited.

      It just may be time for me to join one of your group cohorts, just so I can get some feedback on my lifts and programming. It's hard to admit, for whatever reason, the programming method I had been using before simply is not effective.

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      • #4
        I've been following the Starting Strength model for a little over 2 years now. My daughter was born last July and while she's amazing, her presence as a new born added stress, and subtracted sleep. So for the first 6 months or so, my training suffered greatly. I lost a ton of strength and I was lucky if I made it in to the gym once per week. We also have a high energy 3.5 yo boy who requires a lot of attention on his own.


        Fast forward to the last 60 days, my wife & I worked out a schedule of covering each other on alternating nights & mornings so we can both have our time in the gym with proper rest. I did another NLP till I got stuck and switched to the Texas Method 3 weeks ago. I'm keeping a training log for the first time and I've been tracking my RPE on the last set of each lift. Yes, it's a subjective, personal perception. I think you get better at gauging your effort over time. It's also adds color to how you did last time whether it's volume day or intensity day. Filming yourself can also help you determine your RPE. What might have felt awful might not have been so bad on instant replay re: bar speed.

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        • #5
          I get it; it clicked. I reread what you said and saw some training advice from Dr. Baraki applying RPE to a squat (https://forum.barbellmedicine.com/fo...sting-warm-ups) and suddenly angels starting singing and light shined from above. I am used to just inputing a formula and lifting. This is a bit more work, but not much. Now to implement it. (Now that I get it, does this mean I'm suddenly granted 100lbs instantly on my squat?)

          It's strange how variable programming can be for different lifts in the same human body. My DL's are pretty easy to train, I can add weight regularly, and only a few times has the set percentage approach failed me (I can hit 615 +/-, on a good day). But with squatting, every time I hit 405, it just goes sideways. I should easily be a mid 500 squatter by now, but I've been hampered by what I thought I had to do to get there--the prior model to the SRA method doesn't work. Well, time to experiment and change.

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          • #6
            Awesome. Good luck!
            IG / YT

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