Two of the most important factors required for progressing in strength-based training are intensity and volume. While training volume can be regulated by counting repetitions and sets, intensity is more subjective and hard to track.
Fortunately, some new techniques, like the RPE and RIR methods, are quite useful when it comes to measuring the intensity of training.
RPE stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion. It is inspired by a scale that was created by Gunnar Borg in the 1970s to measure the intensity of any kind of physical activity. Later, it was adopted by powerlifters to track their training routines.
Now, bodybuilders, olympic weightlifters, and powerlifters use the concept of RPE to measure the intensity of their workouts. They do so by rating how difficult it was to complete all the repetitions of the exercise on a scale of 1 to 10, where one is ‘effortlessly’ and ten is with ‘maximum effort.’
Similarly, you can also use the concept of RIR, also known as Reps in Reserve, to track the intensity of your workouts. This scale measures intensity based on the number of repetitions of a particular exercise a person can still perform after completing their entire set.
Both techniques are quite similar in the sense that they both serve the same basic function – to help lifters measure the intensity of the exercises that they perform.
As such, RPE and RIR are even more effective and precise when used in combination. Let’s figure out how by discussing the advantages of using the RPE/RIR combination while training.
6 Benefits of Using RPE/RIR in Training
The traditional method of counting repetitions is still at large. However, many powerlifters and weightlifters are adopting the more effective technique of using RPE/RIR to track their workouts.
Here are the benefits that they enjoy by doing so:
RPE/RIR Measures The Effort, Not Performance
The primary advantage of using RPE/RIR is that these techniques are good for measuring the difficulty of the exercises based on how you feel.
People who count repetitions to track their training intensities often don’t get precise results as their bodies are not ready to perform at their maximum potential every day. So, while it may be easier for them to squat 240 pounds on a regular day, they would struggle to do the same when they are still recovering from a previous workout.
Does that mean they didn’t work out at the same intensity? They probably did, as the amount of effort they put in was maximum. But they won’t count it as an intense workout session because they couldn’t complete all the repetitions.
Using RPE and RIR, however, training intensity can be measured by taking into account additional factors like fatigue so that lifters can track their workouts fairly, even on off days.
RPE/RIR Techniques are Flexible
People who use 1RM percentages or count their repetitions to keep track of their workouts fall short in the case of HIIT workouts or other cardio-based activities.
Here, the Rate of Perceived Exertion can be used exclusively to measure the intensity of exercises like running or jogging.
RPE/RIR Techniques Offer Objective Insights
One of the primary criticisms of using the RPE technique was that it does not offer objective or precise results. Instead, it is based on the judgment of the lifter.
For instance, many professional powerlifters don’t rate the intensity of their exercises as 10 RPE even if they continue performing until failure. This is because they do not feel that they performed to the best of their capabilities.
But with the combination of RIR, or Reps in Reserve, the use of RPE has become more objective. The former acts as an anchor for the Rate of Perceived Exertion, allowing bodybuilders to measure training intensity not based on the amount of effort they are putting in but on the basis of how far they are from achieving failure.
Thus, 8RPE/2RIR is a clear indication that the lifter is working at RPE level 8 if they have only 2 reps in reserve; that is, the lifter can only complete two more repetitions with proper form after having completed their sets.
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RPE/RIR Allow Training Adjustments
Using percentages and repetitions to track training intensity is quite rigid. Even professional athletes and powerlifters cannot perform to the best of their abilities each day. They have some off days when the body is simply not prepared to complete strenuous exercises.
In such cases, the use of an RPE/RIR combination can be highly useful for you. It would allow anyone to auto-regulate the intensity and load of their workouts based on how they are feeling that particular day.
So, if the lifter is suffering from fatigue or recovering from a previous workout, they could still be working on the same intensity level but with lesser weights.
Thus, they can be pushing in workouts consistently even when their bodies are not fully capable of performing well.
Good for Experienced Lifters
If you’ve been working out for a while, you would understand that linear progression in training becomes difficult once you reach that advanced level.
So, experienced lifters have a hard time keeping track of their progress by simply counting their repetitions and the weights they are lifting. In such a case, the use of Rate of Perceived Exertion and Reps in Reserve can help them track their workouts and progress continuously, even if they are not increasing the weights as regularly as before.
Similarly, these two techniques are also good for lifters who are not advanced to the level where they know their precise 1RM capabilities. Training with RPE/RIR can, therefore, allow them to find their 1RM so that they can start working with percentages to progress further.
Useful for Accessory Exercises
Apart from compound movements like squats and deadlifts, the importance of accessory movements like leg extension, lat pulldowns, and dumbbell bench presses is immense.
But lifters often don’t know about their 1RM in basic accessory exercises like a triceps extension. So, in these cases, using RPE and RIR together would be good for measuring the difficulty of the exercises, allowing the lifter to progress with a conservative approach.
The use of 1RM percentages for tracking training intensity is still quite popular, especially among professional and advanced powerlifters. However, the added benefits of the RPE/RIR combination can still help them in many avenues.
When used with the right training program, the Rate of Perceived Exertion and Reps in Reserve can allow people to track their training intensities clearly and precisely.
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Both RPE and RIR techniques share a common goal – tracking the intensity of a person’s workouts. When used in combination, they provide efficient and precise data on how one is progressing in their training.
These techniques offer several advantages over the traditional methods of using 1RM percentages or measuring intensity based on the amount of weight one is lifting. But for that, you must know where exactly to deploy the RPE/RIR techniques.