What Is RPE In Cycling?

Burning lungs and aching muscles are no fun, but knowing how to push your body can give you an edge when it comes to cycling.

If you’re looking for an efficient way to measure your exertion and progress, understanding your RPE can help you optimize your cycling workouts and achieve your fitness goals.

In this article, we’ll explore what the RPE scale is, how to measure it, and how to use it to improve your cycling performance.

Read on to find out!

What Is An RPE Scale

An RPE scale, or Rate of Perceived Exertion and is a subjective measure of exercise intensity based on how the individual feels. (1,2)

It is used to gauge the intensity of your cycling training and help track training progress.

It measures how hard you feel like your body is working during exercise in terms of perceived exertion on a 1-10 numerical scale.

This makes it easier to accurately rate how difficult each workout is for every cyclist so that appropriate adjustments can be made when making future training plans. (3)

How To Read An RPE Scale

An RPE scale allows cyclists to measure the intensity of their workouts.

The most common version of the RPE scale is the Borg Scale.

Developed by Swedish physiologist Gunnar Borg in the 1960s, this scale provides a numerical value corresponding to how physically demanding one perceives exercise to be (e.g., light, moderate, or intense). (4)

The scale ranges from 6-20, with 6 being no exertion at all and 20 being maximal effort.

However, this scale is quite difficult to understand for most people.

I recommend using a modified version which ranges from 1 to 10.

It’s important to note that everyone will have different perceptions of what each number means because we all experience fatigue differently.

Below is the table on how to interpret each RPE score from 1 to 10.

RPEEffort TypeZoneHow It Feels
0 – 1.5Active Recovery1Very Light Activity
– Optimal pace for the warm-up and cool-down phases
– Recovery between intervals or on days of active recovery
2.0 – 4.0Endurance2Light Activity
– Comfortable pace. Can be maintained over extended periods
– Fatigue is minimal up to a couple of hours at this pace
– Increased breathing rate, but still comfortable
4.5 – 6.0Tempo3Moderate Activity
– Pace can be maintained for an hour or longer but will begin
to feel moderately hard after 30 – 60 minutes
– Steady, but fairly sustainable effort
– Breathing hard, but still controlled
6.5 – 8.0Threshold4Vigorous Activity
– Pace can be maintained for around an hour
– Challenging, difficult, and requires concentration to maintain effort,
beginning of internal dialogue
– Breathing heavily, not as rhythmic
8.5+MAP5Vigorous Activity
– Pace can be maintained for short intervals
– Loud and obnoxious internal dialogue
– Breathing extremely hard
9.0Anaerobic Capacity6Very Hard Activity
– Pace can only be maintained for short max and near max intervals
– Self-preservation instincts kicking in
– Out of breath
10Sprint7Max Effort Intensity
– Sprinting pace and shortest max intervals
– Can feel effortless if rested or impossibly difficult if tired
Interpretation of RPE Scale (from 1 to 10)

How Do You Calculate RPE?


The most common way to measure RPE is with a numerical scale ranging from 0-10.

A score of 0 means no physical exertion, while 10 represents maximum effort or exhaustion.

To calculate your RPE, simply rate how hard you’re working on a scale from 0-10 as you go along.

It’s based on your own perception and feelings about how hard you are working out.

This allows you to monitor your progress and ensure that you’re pushing yourself at the right level for maximum benefit.

Using this information in combination with heart rate monitors and other fitness tracking devices will give you an accurate picture of what sort of intensity level works best for you when cycling.

How RPE Helps Athletes In Their Training And Competitions

Athletes usually use the RPE to accurately gauge their effort and performance during competitions as well as to monitor their efforts when their devices fail or energy levels decrease.

Aside from providing general motivation, RPE helps athletes understand how much effort is necessary during different parts of a race – from beginning the event at a comfortable level, working up the intensity in stages, and then placing a finishing kick in place.

In draft-legal settings such as cycling races, understanding RPE rates helps athletes recognize what level of exertion they need to maintain with other competitors, allowing them to utilize others’ strengths and weaknesses as well more efficiently.

Furthermore, being able to hit an intensity in accordance with an RPE can also facilitate better racing conditions because they are not trying to achieve some numbers but instead nailing the right rhythm which is far easier than trying hard to hit a specific time over the finish line.

How Do You Perform RPE Training?

RPE, or rating of perceived exertion, is a simple yet highly effective tool for assessing the intensity of your exercise efforts.

However, it may take some time to get accustomed to its use.

Fortunately, there’s a straightforward way to quickly become adept at utilizing RPE in your training.

Consider a set of VO2 max intervals, in which you’ll perform six sets of three minutes of work at 120% of your functional threshold power (FTP).

Once you’ve completed your warm-up, it’s time to begin.


For the initial interval, it’s important to pay close attention to both your computer and how your body feels.

Focus on the intensity of the effort and take note of it, as this will serve as your baseline RPE for the remainder of the session.

During the second interval, you can periodically check your computer every 15 seconds or so.

Keep track of your RPE and prepare yourself for the remaining intervals.

Your objective should be to match or surpass the RPE from the first interval.

For example, if the baseline effort was rated as 4/10 on the RPE Scale, you should strive to maintain 4/10 or 5/10 during your workouts.

Check your computer every 15 seconds to monitor your progress and make adjustments when necessary.

When To Use RPE?

You should always use RPE should throughout your training process and used as one component amongst other different metrics you might use to evaluate overall performance levels.

The best advice is to always take this measurement into account while logging each workout session.

Use it alongside heart rate, power readings, or other such metrics that you already track in order to get a better overall idea of how you are performing.


Doing so helps you recognize how hard you are pushing your body each time you do a session and can help prevent overtraining which can lead to fatigue, decreased endurance, and even injury.

During competitive races, using RPE can also provide a quick insight into how hard you have been riding and how much stamina you have left in the tank as you won’t have much time to look at a computer.

As a result, equipping yourself with this knowledge beforehand will ensure that you are able to maximize race performance on game day.

Using Perceived Exertion In Training And Racing

Using perceived exertion (RPE) in training and racing has been a game-changer for me.

It allows me to understand the intensity of my workouts without having to rely on external power meter or heart rate monitors.

To best use RPE, you should combine it with other metrics from power and recovery monitors.

Below are 3 ways how to use RPE in training and racing.

Using RPE With Power, Heart Rate, And Pace

To make the most out of your cycling sessions, you can use RPE in combination with other metrics such as power, heart rate, and pace.

Power meters provide cyclists with an accurate and direct measure of their workload, which makes staying in tune with one’s body easier than ever.


Additionally, cycling coaches can use heart rate monitors, continuous glucose monitors, and wearable trackers to view sleep monitoring, recovery status, and hydration levels, as well as blood glucose data points.

Using power meters paired with RPE adds more context to exercise in general as it acts as an early fatigue warning signal.

While 100 watts today is equivalent to 100 watts tomorrow, what matters more is how your body feels at different intensities each day on a scale from 1-10 (Rate Of Perceived Exertion).

When you’re fatigued, the same 100 watts will feel much more difficult.

This helps coaches tailor workouts specifically to athletes’ needs that day so they can stay competitive.

Combine RPE With Recovery Monitors

Recovery monitors, such as Garmin, can provide important data about your training progress.

They track metrics such as sleep quality, rest-heart rate, performance drop-off, and general fatigue.

This data gives vital insight into the body’s ability to recover from hard workouts or competitions.


While this information is invaluable for athletes and coaches looking to optimize their performance gains over time, they are better to be used in combination with RPE.

RPE can help provide additional context to recovery monitor data by allowing athletes to independently measure how they are really responding after intense efforts.

For example, if recovery monitor readings suggest you are prepared for another hard session but your RPE shows that you are feeling low energy and fatigued, it might be wise to back off the intensity and adjust your plan accordingly before pushing too hard.

Measuring Training Progress With Perceived Exertion

RPE provides a subjective measure that evaluates the intensity felt by the athlete.

This can be especially useful during long rides or workouts where power outputs may not be changing significantly or measuring time to complete sections may be difficult.

For example, at the beginning of the training you may find a steady rate of 250 watts average power over 20 minutes on a climb is enough to rate an RPE of 7 or 8—very hard.

However, as your fitness improves through the season and your overall effort level drops, riding at 250 watts up the same climb may feel much easier with an RPE of 6 or less.


Even when there’s no actual change in power output or pace, riding faster and harder with less effort is always indicative of progressing fitness.

Because RPE allows you to compare different periods of time even if they are separate from one another, it can provide increased understanding as to how our bodies are responding to regular training and how it reflects our year-round development.

Additionally, by paying close attention to changes in RPE, you can assess whether or not additional rest might be necessary as well as monitor any potential signs of burnout that could lead to injury or illness.

Final Thoughts

The advantages of using RPE are numerous; it helps you better understand how hard you’re pushing yourself during rides and allows for easier tracking of progress over time.

It also provides insight into whether you’re at risk of overtraining as well as helping beginners learn their limits, so they don’t overexert themselves.

By learning to tune in to your body and recognize your perceived exertion, you can optimize your workouts and reach your cycling goals faster.

Frequently Asked Questions

The benefits of using RPE while cycling are numerous.

For starters, it helps riders stay motivated by providing feedback about their progress throughout the ride.

Cyclists can use RPE to tailor their workouts according to their goals and current fitness level.

RPE gives them insight into how much energy they’re expending relative to the other rides that they have done previously.

Since the rate of perceived exertion relies solely on one’s own perception of effort, its accuracy does not depend on environmental factors such as temperature or humidity levels that may affect heart rate readings.

In addition to all these advantages, using RPE also offers psychological benefits.

Tracking perceived exertion encourages riders to get out of their comfort zone without pushing themselves too far beyond what’s safe and sustainable over long periods of time – this promotes consistency and prevents burnout associated with extreme training regimens.

Moreover, monitoring personal experience is empowering; allowing athletes to take control of their workouts rather than relying exclusively on external data points like heart rate alone.

Yes, RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion) can be used as a tool to prevent overtraining or as an early warning sign for fatigue.

It is a subjective measure of physical exertion that can help athletes monitor their workouts and adjust them to their own needs.

This can help to ensure that athletes do not exceed their limits, thereby reducing their risk of overtraining.

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