How to Use the Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale for Cycling?

How difficult was yesterday’s training? How is your training this month compared to previous month? Many cyclists look at their mileage or power statistics to determine how difficult their training is, however both of these training indicators may underestimate how difficult you are genuinely training.

There are several ways to quantify this rate of intensity. The talking test, assessing target heart rate zones, and utilizing the Borg rating of perceived exertion scale, or RPE for short, are all common procedures.

The speaking test entails just conversing while exercising: The more intense the physical exertion, the more difficult it should be to speak. On the other hand, target heart rate zones take into account how rapidly your heart beats in response to your degree of physical exertion, and their measurement necessitates the use of a heart rate monitor. However, what is RPE?

The rate of perceived effort is sometimes the easiest approach for determining the intensity of a bout of physical exercise. As a result, it’s a technique worth mastering prior to beginning your next workout.

What Is the Rate of Perceived Exertion?

You might be perplexed by the Borg scale of perceived exertion. After all, who is Borg?

Borg is a reference to Gunnar Borg, a Swedish academic who popularized the concept of effort in the 1960s. He later received international praise for establishing ways for correctly measuring the intensity of a workout session as a consequence of his study. Both the Borg Scale and the Borg cr10 Scale, a distinct scale for measuring perceived breathlessness, have since been widely used to quantify the sensation of effort.

Perceived exertion is just the amount of effort you believe your body is exerting. We may use the several components of exercise that vary in response to our intensity to gain a better understanding of how difficult that intensity may be. For example, when perspiration accumulates and muscles get more exhausted by the minute, our breathing grows quicker in order to deliver more oxygen to the heart. These and other variables help us determine the intensity of our physical exercise.

While examining these characteristics is not as precise as monitoring target heart rate zones, when the rate of perceived exertion scale is used, it can nevertheless give us with a quantifiable value.

To ascertain our rate of felt exertion, it is necessary to first comprehend the Borg scale of perceived exertion. When using this scale, it is beneficial to be engaged in some type of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity. Only then can we concentrate on the numerous physiological aspects of exercise, paying close attention to how we feel in the time.

The scale is straightforward in design and consists of fifteen distinct ratings, each of which indicates the degree of difficulty associated with your workout intensity. Beginning at six (a number chosen to correspond to heart rate readings), the scale gradually increases in intensity until it reaches twenty, or what we refer to as maximal effort intensity. Often, the different zones of the scale correspond to the type of activity being done.

For example, as previously stated, a rating of 6 for activity intensity is comparable to no exertion at all. However, as the scale ascends, the intensity increases proportionately. A nine is regarded to be of relatively low intensity, and is sometimes associated with leisurely strolling along the street. A grade of 13 may be interpreted as requiring persistent effort that is both tough and feasible. And at 15, things get much more difficult, until the scale gradually creeps up to 20 — the threshold at which all available energy is used and likely cannot be sustained for an extended period. At this stage, anaerobic energy consumption begins, and the organism must eventually shut down.

However, what about the digits in between? Here is a more extensive description of each of the Borg RPE levels of effort.

6: No energy required with minimal movement
7: Extremely light and straightforward motions while stationary
Physical motions made in a casual manner
9: Extremely low effort, such as walking along the street 10: Effort gradually increases but stays painless
11: Running at this level is effortless, and you can speak clearly 12: Low-intensity exercise that improves aerobic endurance
13: Moderate exercise; you can feel the intensity increasing but can continue nonetheless.
14: Breathing becomes more intense
15: As shortness of breath sets in, speaking becomes difficult and responses become limited to one or two words.
16: The point at which a condition of equilibrium is reached. This is defined as “activity that strikes a balance between the energy requirements of working muscles and the rate of oxygen and carbon dioxide supply necessary for aerobic output.”
17: The anaerobic threshold is crossed, and the intensity becomes extremely difficult.
18: Breathing becomes erratic, and speaking becomes difficult.
19: Extremely tough intensity; you’re hoping the agony would pass quickly.
20: Maximum effort or maximal exertion

What distance did you ride?

Distance is a typical method to communicate how hard you’re training in a variety of endurance sports, but if you’re riding a mountain bike in a mountainous location during a heat wave, it’s much different from a flat ride on smooth pavement in autumn temps on a road cycle. Additionally, a 100-mile ride for a pro is not the same as one for a beginner, therefore in order to truly appreciate how difficult a ride is, you must use a different statistic such as rate of perceived effort. Numerous elements, including stress, sleep, and recuperation, contribute to how an athlete feels throughout a training session.

How difficult was that ride?

With the external data sources available to athletes, such as power meters, GPS, and other smart equipment, it might be tempting to outsource and so miss out on developing emotion. Utilizing feeling rather than facts requires effort, but by reflecting on how difficult a ride was, you may gain a better understanding of your training and, eventually, your outcomes. By determining if you can attain a higher sRPE during your interval exercise, you may determine whether you require extra recuperation or further work to increase the rating and meet the goals of your training plan. Similarly, if each ride is a moderate sRPE (e.g., 5/10), you may discover why you are frequently tired and slow during interval workouts, why an injury occurred, or why you feel refreshed following a planned big week of training that ended up being flatter, cooler, or during a low period of life stress.

How many intervals did you do?

The difficulty or benefit of a session is not necessarily directly related to the number of intervals or the duration of the ride. In one study, the shortest set of intervals (4 x 4 min) consistently led in a higher session RPE compared to a longer set (4 x 16-minute intervals). Thus, the overall time spent doing hard activity was much shorter, but the sRPE was significantly higher, as the intensity (power) is higher and needs significantly more effort to sustain than the longer and comparatively less intense 16-minute efforts. You’ve probably encountered this notion after doing a brief but intense group ride or race and feeling exhausted for days, but then feeling fully fine the next day after completing a multi-hour, low-intensity ride or set of moderate intervals.

How to Use the Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale for Cycling?

The research stated previously utilized the following approach to determine the sRPE of a specific workout: “Thirty minutes following each training session, each athlete rated their perceived effort rating for the duration of the session […]. In a nutshell, this approach was created to offer a worldwide assessment of the perceived intensity, or physical stress, of an entire training session.”

Those rides that have you collapsing at the finish line or forcing you to spend the remainder of the day on the couch may be a ten. However, many difficult exercises are likely 6–9 if you can commute to work and operate normally the rest of the day. Numerous endurance rides are in the 1–4 range, which is sometimes a difficult grade for athletes to assign since they don’t want it to appear as though they accomplished nothing, but this is the heart of polarized training – making easy days easy and hard days hard.

This is an example training week, where the total load for the week is calculated by multiplying time (in minutes) by perceived exertion.

Your week may look something like this:
Monday: 60 minutes of low-intensity spinning/RPE 1/10 = 60
Tuesday: 90 minutes of high-intensity interval training or group/RPE 6/10 = 540
Wednesday: 90-minute endurance test with an RPE of 4/10 equals 360.
Thursday: 60-minute easy cycle with an RPE of 2/10 equals 120.
Rest-0/10 = 0 on Friday
Saturday: 180-minute group cycle at a moderate pace/RPE 6/10 = 1,080
Sunday: 180-minute ride/RPE of 4/10 equals 720
Total Weekly Load: 2,880

The previous week’s load totaled 2,880, therefore plan to increase, maintain, or reduce the training load next week and then evaluate your performance. If you discover that you missed your desired load progression, you can alter your loading the next week or increase the difficulty of your weekend rides.