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An Athlete's Introduction to Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

An Athlete's Introduction to Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

The term RPE is widely used in athletic performance environment. But for an athlete new to the acronym, what exactly does it mean?

Rate of perceived exertion (RPE), is a useful way to quantify your training load and combine with GPS loading. RPE is an excellent tool for gauging both your exercise intensity and how your fitness level progresses over time. It also helps athletes tailor training plans and achieve a high level of fitness for competition.


RPE is single number (out of 10) to rate any given training session or competitive match. For example, by having a global idea of intensity, athletes can modify a drill based on an RPE score and whether they want it to be higher or lower. Naturally a drill with a high RPE is going to mimic match demands, whereas a drill with a low RPE will have a technical/tactical focus. Your RPE score can also be multiplied by the duration (in minutes) of any given performance which will then provide you with an arbitrary score of load.

Scoring System

A classic model of an RPE scale is 1-10 and methods such as the modified Borg Scale (6-20) have also been employed in team sport environments.

As a method of best practice and gaining the most accurate reflection of your session, RPE should be scored directly after the session. It is important to try and think about the session as a whole, not just the most recently completed drills.

Team sport environments present some challenges that you should be aware of when collecting your RPE score or that of others. Specifically, after the completion of a session when athletes might all be in the change rooms sitting next to each other and hearing how others are rating the session. In a perfect world, each athlete would not hear how anyone else is rating the session so that their decision isn't influenced in any way. It is also best practice to present an athlete with a scoring scale like in the image above, so they can read the descriptions and give the most accurate score possible.

RPE & Performance

Performance involves a multitude of factors, some of which can be controlled/regulated and some of which cannot. As an athlete, having another method to understand both training demands and physical state can prove invaluable.

Why you should care?

RPE becomes an easily administered tool that can guide your training practices. In combination with an external load measure such as a SPT GPS device, RPE becomes a simple tool that can guide you towards your desired training outcomes. It would not serve you well as an athlete to always train ‘hard’ or ‘light’. There needs to be a balance of high physical demands blended with skill acquisition and team structures.

Planned RPE vs. Actual RPE

There are a couple of ways you could look to use RPE to assess training outcomes and monitor your total loading. The first and the most simple way is to use RPE to give the total training session a score. In this scenario it is useful to look at an RPE total for the week which include training sessions and match play.

The second way is to have a rough idea of a sessions intensity level before participating in it, plan an RPE and then assess that against the actual RPE of the session. If your planned RPE matches up with your actual RPE of a session, it would indicate that the goal for the session has been met. If your planned RPE is severely different to your actual RPE, this is definitely not the end of the world. But it would definitely be worth looking into further to understand why it happened and then re-adjust moving forward if needed.

The image below displays how this method can be employed to see if your training outcomes are matching up with your training goals. 

GPS performance benchmarks

RPE & Return to Performance

RPE can act as another mechanism to track your return from time off or an injury. If you are an athlete returning from an injury, we would recommend undertaking weekly loads (RPE totals) that are fairly below what you THINK you are capable of.

For example, this may be a session with an RPE of 4 or 5 and shorter durations than what you may be accustomed to. Once you feel confidence within your body again or in the site of injury, you can start to look at undertaking sessions with a higher planned RPE.

The use of RPE and the SPT2 GPS unit is a simple and effective way to track and monitor your weekly performance outputs and if needed, used in combination to quantify your return to play after an injury.

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