For experienced bodybuilders, weightlifters, or powerlifters, using a tactical approach to gaining strength and working out will always be more efficient.
Sure, some people like to devise their training routines based on instincts. And while they may progress to some extent using this technique, they will eventually hit a performance plateau.
Therefore, it’s always good to program your training schedule on the basis of proper methodologies.
Two of the most effective approaches to designing proper training programs involve using either the Rate of Perceived Exertion or going with percentage-based training modules.
Both RPE-based training and percentage-based training offer their own set of advantages. They both share some limitations as well.
So, which one is more effective for your fitness goals? Let’s find out.
RPE vs. Percentage Based Training: The Differences That Matter
It’s unfortunate that you can’t have a perfect training program. You have to devise your workout routines based on your own requirements.
Going with percentage-based training does not mean that you are guaranteed better results. Similarly, RPE-based training has its own share of faults and shortcomings as well.
Thus, the perfect training program for you will depend on your goals and requirements.
To pick the best one, understand these key differences between the two:-
Basis of Comparison
Percentage Based Training
RPE-based training is pretty versatile as you can measure the intensity of virtually any type of physical activity using this technique, be it compound movements, accessory movements, or even HIIT workouts.
Percentage-based training is less versatile as it’s only useful in selecting loads for primary exercises like deadlifts, squats, and bench presses, where the lifter’s 1RM capabilities are known.
Even professional lifters sometimes struggle to use the RPE method as it is pretty difficult to assign a numerical value to the amount of effort you are putting into your workouts.
Using percentages is pretty simple and convenient. Using a simple percentage of 1RM in compound exercises like deadlifts, a lifter can pick their loads and devise their training routine for the day.
RPE-based workouts are more effective in the long run as they allow even experienced lifters to track their progress, which may not remain as linear as it is for beginners and intermediate-level athletes.
Percentage-based workouts are less viable for the long run as experienced lifters are bound to hit performance plateaus after a while, and tracking progression based on weights might be rendered ineffective.
Using RPE to measure the intensity of workouts can prove to be less precise. This is because a lot of people can judge the extent of intensity incorrectly as the difficulty faced by the lifter is subjective.
Percentage-based training provides precise results as you will be devising your workout routine based on your 1RM percentages, which are objective in nature.
RPE-based training is most effective when the main goal of the lifter is hypertrophy or muscle growth. This is because RPE allows you to progress linearly, making each week of your current mesocycle more intense and productive than each week of the previous mesocycle.
Percentage-based training is mostly used by powerlifters and weightlifters for meet preps and training for a professional competition. In some cases, pro athletes use a combination of RPE and percentages to devise their routines.
Understanding how to differentiate between the Rate of Perceived Exertion and 1RM percentages for selecting loads and designing effective training programs is essential.
At the same time, it’s also important to know which training technique is more suitable to meet your goals and requirements. After all, no method is perfect – they all come with their pros and cons.
The Rate of Perceived Exertion or RPE is an old technique meant for measuring the intensity of different kinds of physical activity. But it has been adopted by the fitness community only recently.
The concept of RPE-based training is simple to understand. It basically assigns a numerical value to the difficulty faced by the lifter in completing each set of any exercise that they might be performing.
The primary goal of this method is to quantify the intensity of each workout session.
It all started with the Borg RPE scale, which was used to measure the intensity of physical exercises like running. The Borg technique used a scale with numbers between 6 and 20 to define the difficulty level of the activity.
If the exercise was too easy for the athlete, they would rate it as a six. If it was too intense, almost to the point of failure, they would rate it as a twenty.
The strength and fitness industry adopted this technique but used a different scale. Now, the RPE scale uses numbers between 1 and 10 to quantify intensity levels of different exercises, with 1 being “little to no effort” and 10 being “maximum effort”.
While the RPE scale is pretty convenient and effective, it also received a huge amount of criticism as it depends on the interpretation of the lifter. As such, there is no universal objectivity attached to this system of training.
- More effective for experienced lifters who cannot progress too much based on weights and loads.
- Can be used to measure the intensity of any kind of physical activity, including skipping, running, jogging, or HIIT workouts.
- Allows lifters and bodybuilders to adjust their training routines based on how they are feeling.
- Can be used for accessory exercises as well.
- It ensures that the athlete is not overexerting their body.
- Does not offer any precise insights as intensity level is up to the interpretation of the lifter.
- RPE-based training can make athletes slack off and not give maximum effort.
- It takes time to understand and get used to the concept of training using RPE.
Percentage Based Training
Percentage-based training uses a different set of principles to help lifters track the intensity of their workouts. It is an objective metric for measuring the difficulty of any exercise, unlike RPE.
The main goal of percentages is to help lifters pick the loads that they will be using for training. The percentages are based on the lifter’s one-rep maximum for a specific exercise.
All kinds of workouts that require percentages rely on one primary requirement – that the lifter has provided accurate information about their 1RM capabilities.
- Percentages act as a precise metric for choosing training loads and preparing effective workout routines.
- Percentage-based training takes the guesswork out of the equation and provides concrete programs.
- It provides motivation to lifters and prevents any slacking off.
- Percent-based training routines are more efficient, they offer better results and have less workload.
- For efficient results, the lifter will need to know the accurate value of their 1RMs for different exercises.
- Percentage-based training is not flexible and is only fit for compound movements like deadlifts, squats, bench presses, and so on.
- You cannot track accessory exercises with 1RM percentages.
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Which is Better: RPE or Percentage?
Both RPE-based training and percentage-based training methods are equally popular within fitness and strength circles all around the world.
But from a general standpoint, is there one that is better than the other?
Unfortunately, both of these training methodologies are not perfect, and we cannot label one better than the other.
For some people, RPE can be a more effective and useful metric. For others, their 1RM percentages can be useful for devising efficient training programs. Ultimately, it all boils down to the needs and objectives of the individual.
When is RPE Better?
RPE-based training is more effective when the priority of the individual is to achieve maximum muscle hypertrophy.
This is because the methodology allows the lifter to regulate their rep ranges to the point where their training sessions are intense, but they don’t work out to the point of failure and exhaustion.
As such, this sort of training yields maximum results in case of hypertrophy gains.
When is Percentage Based Training Better?
Strength training may also require some of the applications and benefits offered by RPE/RIR-based training.
However, it will reap maximum benefits from percentage-based training. This is because such a methodology allows individuals to track and predict their performance metrics effectively, allowing maximum strength gains in the process.
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Putting RPE and percentage-based training against one another might not yield any tangible conclusions in a general sense. They both offer tons of advantages but share some slight shortcomings as well.
As such, the effectiveness of each type of training depends on the requirements and goals of the individual. In some cases, many athletes even combine the use of RPE and percentages to maximize training efficiency.