What Is RPE?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 27, 2021
3 min read

The Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale was developed in 1982 by Swedish scientist Gunner Borg. The scale is a subjective physical measurement designed to help track the intensity of your physical and mental capabilities during strenuous activity. Although the RPE scale is most popular in sports and workout routines, it’s also used in a variety of physically strenuous situations.

‌The RPE scale is important in areas such as:

  • Workplaces 
  • Clinical studies 
  • Scientific studies
  • Households

Thus, the scale can be used in a variety of situations and all levels of physical activity, which benefits:

‌The RPE scale requires you to be self-aware and in tune with what your body is telling you about your physical and mental limitations. It’s a subjective rating that enables you to control, track, and adapt your physical routine. Each measurement on the RPE scale will be unique for every person, depending on their physical condition. Here are some examples:

  1. ‌RPE is a quick and accurate way to measure heart rates and exertion rates for those who need certain medications. As health issues can pose added risks, RPE lets you adjust the stress you’re placing on your body during exercise or at work.
  2. The RPE scale is helpful for measuring work intensity, because it helps people measure the risks for musculoskeletal injuries. These injuries commonly happen when your physical abilities can’t keep up with the physical demands of your job.

The RPE measurements are based on a quantitative scale to help you judge your body’s response to an activity. A number of things are taken into account, such as: 

‌To begin using the RPE measurement, you create your personalized assessment scale. While doing this, individual things such as muscle pain are secondary to focusing on the combination of all the measurements together. This allows you to judge the speed of your movements. Such things include, but aren’t limited to:

  • ‌Physical stress
  • Fatigue
  • Mental vitality levels
  • Shortness of breath

‌Other tests, such as the “talk test,” can be used to help with your self-assessment, during an activity such as walking, for instance. If you can walk and talk, but not sing, during your activity, you’re experiencing moderate intensity. However, if you begin jogging and you need to pause for breaths in between saying a couple of words, you’d be experiencing vigorous intensity.

There are two RPE scale systems: the original RPE scale created in 1982 and a modified RPE scale. Both versions use a simple numerical list. 

1. Original RPE “6 to 20” scale:

The original Borg RPE scale begins at 6 with the extreme measure ending at 20. The point of 6 correlates to a heart rate of 60 beats per minute in a healthy adult, 7 for 70 beats per minute, and so on. The scoring system measures the extreme ranges of exertion on a scale of 6 to 20. 

  • 6: rest
  • 7: extremely light
  • 8 to 11: very light to light exertion
  • 12 to 16: somewhat hard to hard exertion
  • 17 to 20: very hard to maximum exertion

2. Revised RPE “0 to 10” category-ratio scale:

The revised Borg RPE scale, known as Borg Category-Ratio (CR), is scored from 0 to 10. The CR scale provides short descriptions of each number. This scale mainly monitors breathlessness over a 24-hour period. The starting point of 0 is described as “no effort” and “very light” exercise, while the end point of 10 is described as “maximum effort” and “very hard” exercise.

  • 0: rest
  • 1 to 3: very easy to light exertion
  • 4 to 6: moderate exertion
  • 7 to 8: vigorous exertion
  • 9: very hard exertion
  • 10: maximum effort

Many factors affect your RPE measurements, such as:

As with all physical activity, if you have a pre-existing condition, check with your doctor before performing strenuous physical work.