Do You RPE? (As In Rate of Perceived Exertion)

Have you ever decided to go for a swim, jog or a run.....

.......and you started out at a seemingly "EASY pace"

....and you felt really good....

....for about the first 5-10 minutes

......after which your entire body seized

.....and you wanted to die?

Yeah.  I've been there too. It's not fun.

If you're anything like my younger self (which is still sometimes my current self), this unfortunate experience is likely the result of a little bit of over-confidence, mixed with an over-estimated fitness level and topped off with a poor understanding of how to judge the intensity of your workout.


The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)*

The CDC defines the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) as a way of measuring activity intensity level and Perceived Exertion as how hard you feel your body is working.  Full CDC page can be found here.

I like to think of it as a way to distinguish between how you "feel"

(I feel like sitting on my rear-end and doing nothing),

what you "think" 

(I think I can still hold the same pace from 5 years ago),

and what your actually physically doing.

(I'm breathing hard, but my muscles feel good. I can hold this pace).

If used properly, the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) can become an invaluable tool for taking your fitness and competition training to the next level.  You won't need to purchase any fancy equipment or expensive monitors.  All you need is your brain (please remember to bring your brain with you when training) and the ability to honestly assess yourself.

Below you will find the original scale provided by the CDC (In Green) along with my own interpretation of the numbers (In Blue)...and what they might feel like for swimmers (I must give credit where it is due - the language of my interpretation is heavily influenced by my brilliant colleague, Professor Davis of Bergen Community College).

Coach Meg's Favorite Scale for Rate of Perceived Exertion:


9.   Borg: Very Light

      Coach Meg: I'm on deck staring at the water...sweat isn't happening here..


10.  Coach Meg: I'm in the water....:::pats self on back:::


11.  Borg: Light

       Coach Meg: Easy warm-up speed.  My limbs are in motion - that's about it.


12.  Coach Meg:  Still warming up - mixing up the strokes - not yet training


13.  Borg: Somewhat Hard

Coach Meg: I'm training, but keeping an easy interval - I need to pick up the pace


14.   Coach Meg: I'm working, but this is a good tired.  


15.  Borg: Hard (Heavy)

       Coach Meg: OK. This interval is I might push it a bit further


16.  Coach Meg: If I stay here much longer, I won't be able to walk tomorrow


17.  Borg: Very Hard

       Coach Meg: I am living Lactic Acid Threshold - NOT happy. IT. BURNS. 


18.  Coach Meg:  I immediately regret this decision


19.  Borg: Extremely Hard

       Coach Meg:  I hope there's a trash can near me - like NOW

Chance of barfing: 99.9%


20.  Borg: Maximal Exertion

      Coach Meg: ::GASPING::: My chest cavity just exploded - Air? CPR!!


 Feel free to share your thoughts 🙂

Keep On Swimming,

Coach Meg

Referenced Material:

* BORG, G. (1982) Psychophysical bases of perceived exertion. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 14 (5), p. 377-81


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