No matter what your training goals are, a couple common terms should be understood so you are aware of how your program will be designed!  Below I included some common terms or abbreviations that will be mainstays in your programming.  Please take a moment to review these.  I cannot overstate the importance of understanding how to implement the RPE scale and RIR into your training.  As time progresses we will gain a clear understanding of where your capacities lie and ultimately increase upon them!

For the strength and conditioning nerds, it is important to know that volume, frequency and intensity are foundational characteristics of program design.  In order to measure those, we will be implementing the RPE model and RIR to govern that.  Here are a few terms that you should familiarize yourself with:

VOLUME: refers to the total work performed. Total training volume is calculated by either reps accumulated over a session or a week, or by calculating tonnage accumulated over a session or week.  This is an important factor when programming responsible progressions for each muscle group or exercise over a given cycle.

  1. Reps accumulated: sets x reps (i.e. 5 sets x 10 reps = 50 reps accumulated)

  2. Tonnage accumulated: sets x reps x load(i.e. 5 sets x 10 reps x 100# = 5000# moved)

FREQUENCY: refers to how often each muscle group or exercise is trained over the course of a training week or cycle.

INTENSITY: refers to the load.  This can be expressed as the intensity of the load which can be refers to a percentage of a one-rep max (1RM), and the intensity of the effort of the set, which is expressed by RPE.

RPE: refers to rate of perceived exertion.  Using this scale a 10 RPE corresponds to 0 reps in reserve, a 9 RPE to 1 rep in reserve, and onward in that fashion.

RIR: refers to reps in reserve.  A program directive that says ~2 RIR would dictate that a set should be performed until a lifter believes they only have 2 reps left before hitting failure.  Like the RPE directive, this allows lifters to manage fatigue levels and not push past a point that would ultimately limit performance over a given training week or cycle.



Often times we see that athletes become attached to certain percentages or past training performances.  As a coach, I am constantly reminding athletes that there are certain times in the year (or training cycle) for certain efforts.  Also I must note that training experience is an important factor to be considered.  Novice or intermediate lifters will not require the same level of training intensity as advanced lifters.  For most, adaptation can be achieved with simple progressions that take into account volume, frequency, and intensity over a given week.

This begs the question, is there really a secret ingredient that all training programs share?  Sort of.  Relative intensity of a session is paramount.  In order to elicit adaptation, we must train in a manner that will promote that.

Below, Dr. Eric Helms provides a clear example of intensity and how it relates to the RPE scale:

When expressing intensity, the distinction between ‘intensity of load’ and ‘effort’ is important.

85% of your 1RM is a specific number, but it does not describe effort.

1 rep with 85% 1RM requires less effort than 5 reps with 85%, which is near your repetition maximum at that load. Meaning, 5 reps with 85% 1RM might be a 10 RPE, but 1 rep would likely be ~6 RPE.

Also, strength is dynamic. You hit the gym some days and they’re unusually kick-ass, or unusually poor, right? Sleep, nutrition, stress and prior training all impact your current strength. You can use RPE to ensure you are training at the appropriate intensity of effort when your strength is higher or lower than expected. This is important for managing fatigue, and better fatigue management is going to net you faster results.



We have all been in that place before when we get to the gym ready to train.  Everything leading up to your first set would indicate that you are about to have a great session - then reality hits.  60% of your 1RM feels like 100%.  So what do you do?  Push through or pack it up?  

I believe that the RPE model provides some great framework for continuing training even though we may be fatigued.  As I tell all my athletes, it's important that you are brutally honest with how you feel on a daily basis.  This will preserve movement quality as well are ensure that your progress remains steady. Remember, volume is a key component for hypertrophy training, but training to failure often is not!

Here is a quick example of how fatigue and training too heavy can limit overall performance:

  1. Back squat: 3 x 10 @ RPE 8 

Let’s say an athlete decides to use their 10RM to see if they have improved, and in fact they complete 10 reps in their first set at their 10RM weight.  But the following two sets only yield 7 and 6 reps.  

In terms of total volume accumulated that’s only 23 reps!

Now, if that same athlete performed their first set at a weight that was slightly less AND correlated to the RPE 8 AND they completed 10 reps over 3 sets, that would be 7 additional reps accumulated, thus increasing the intensity and effectiveness of that session.

Fatigue management is vital if you want to continue to make progress in a training.  The RPE scale allows athletes to train at moderate volumes with a higher frequency over a given week or cycle.   


In an upcoming blog I will touch on the specifics of RPE and how you can use that in a more focused manner during your training.

Happy Monday Everyone!