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Lowering RPE

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  • Lowering RPE

    Almost 10 months in managing some radicular pain down the leg, believed to be from what an MRI found to be a herniated disc at L5. Things are finally going well on a more regular basis - trying to focus on the wins workout to workout and week to week to build more confidence.

    Now, while i do plan on in the next 6-8 weeks or so to begin gradually returning to "normal" training - There is some exercise selection involved (such as moving within a tolerable range of motion) but I did want to explore the idea that has been mentioned a few times of lowering RPE of each exercise by 1. Some clarification however: Does this mean lowering across the entire exercise or just the top set?

    Ie: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] becomes:
    A) [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]
    B) [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] drop the highest RPE by 1
    C) Either really, its a small difference.

  • #2
    Basically C, but since this will be your first foray back into "normal training," really consider the difference between option A and B as not a completely insignificant one. The way I look at it is option A is the slightly easier, lower volume option of the two, since RPE 5 is difficult to gauge and essentially would be covered by a warmup set that you'd be doing in option B anyway, and you're obviously doing fewer top sets @ 7. I suppose it will also be lower in average intensity as well with fewer sets @ 7, but ever so slightly. Choose your plan of attack based on how sensitive your pain response is to volume and intensity and what your training has been like recently. Ultimately, you know yourself better than I do, so if you feel you're ready for B right away, then jump right in. Otherwise, maybe do A at first, then (if it went well) do B the following week and slowly keep working up to higher volumes and intensities.

    Remember to keep the process gradual and don't try to do too much more than you've been doing right away - seems like you've been doing a good job at that, though. Good luck!


    • azeemqwerty
      azeemqwerty commented
      Editing a comment
      thought so, just wanted some sort of confirmation. TY!

  • #3
    I'm not sure I'd think about the process of getting back into training by "lowering" your RPE this way.

    I'd stick with the RPE as programmed and modify the weight on the bar (and for injury recovery, modifying your range of motion to what is tolerable). Let's say, when you had been training for a solid year, 6 reps @ RPE 6 was 315 lbs. After taking time off, you need to determine the correct weight that is currently an RPE 6 for 6 reps (maybe it is now 100 lbs). Modifying the weight to a tolerable level (your RPE) already takes into account easing you back into regular training. If the weight you chose for your 6 @ 6 feels too heavy, then you overshot. Reduce the weight for the next set so you comply with the RPE prescription of the program.

    When choosing the weight for your target RPE, you have to take into account your current strength level and your injury recovery. Make sense?

    If you were training regularly and making some nice PR's, but then experienced a set-back, reading a program that includes a set of 6 at RPE 8 could cause some anxiety. It would be natural to think, "I am not ready to go for my previous standard of 405 for 6 reps!" The beauty of RPE training is that you get to choose the exact weight that feels safe. It doesn't matter what you could lift before. Start now with what feels safe and progress from there. Training with any weight is better than not training!
    Last edited by sjalbrec; 12-20-2019, 09:36 PM.


    • azeemqwerty
      azeemqwerty commented
      Editing a comment
      The problem with this is: there is strength level and there is what load that is tolerable that does not increase symptoms to the point of being debilitated. RPE does not equate to what is tolerable in terms of symptoms. I can squat 225 for 10 reps at 8 even with this injury, but in doing so increase symptoms very much for a few days - so instead i drop the weight to say 185, add tempo, and lower the RPE to 6 or 7 for the top sets. Then after a few weeks and gaining momentum, increase the RPE a little (and by nature, the load), so long as it also does not increase symptoms too much. Its about symptom management, not a concern for overshooting RPE. Something can feel very light and still increase symptoms too much.

      The concern for anxiety is valid, but can be worked through and it helps to set the expectation of lowering temporarily. The concern for not training at all is not applicable since that is not even on the table.

      When dealing with an injury - it is not necessary to marry oneself with the prescription of the program. I am exploring the idea of lowering RPE based on the doctors' recommendations in dealing with an injury (they have mentioned a few times the strategy of lowering RPE temporarily to manage symptoms).