Improving Intensity: How Rate of Perceived Exertion Can Positively Affect Your CrossFit Training Experience

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is a valuable tool originally developed in exercise science to measure the intensity of exercise based on individual feelings of effort. While traditional percentage-based programs are effective, they often overlook daily physiological and psychological fluctuations. RPE has been adapted for use in various training regimes, including the dynamic and varied workouts involved in CrossFit. This approach offers a tailored method that respects the body’s daily variations in performance and recovery needs, moving away from strictly percentage-based work.

Understanding RPE

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) gauges how hard you feel your body is working during exercise. This is a self-reported scale that varies for every person. Typically this scale runs from 1 to 10, where:

  • 1 indicates virtually no effort, think of it as 10% of the most effort you could muster. This is a very light activity.
  • 2-3 indicates something you could maintain for hours. Taking a casual walk or light bike ride would fit this level of effort.
  • 4-6 indicates moderate activity. This is like our Zone 2 work. You’re breathing heavily, but you still hold a short conversation.
  • 7-8 indicates moderate-to-tough activity. This is like our Zone 3 work. You’re becoming borderline uncomfortable, but you can still speak in short sentences.
  • 9 indicates submaximal, very difficult exercise. You can only speak in a few words at a time. You’re working out just under the redline.
  • 10 signifies maximal effort, like during a sprint finish or a heavy lift that you can barely complete. You can only maintain this effort for a VERY short period.

In CrossFit, adapting the RPE scale to include descriptions specific to common workout elements (like weightlifting, sprinting, or bodyweight exercises) can help athletes more accurately assess their effort levels.

Benefits of RPE in CrossFit

Customization

RPE empowers athletes to tailor each workout to their current physical state, which can fluctuate daily due to factors like sleep, nutrition, and stress. This personalization helps in maximizing training effectiveness without the risk of undertraining or overtraining. For instance, an athlete focusing on endurance could adjust their workout to maintain a consistent RPE of 4-5 over longer sessions, whereas strength-focused athletes might target shorter bursts at an RPE of 9-10.

Prevention of Overtraining

By allowing athletes to adjust their workout intensity based on how they feel on a given day, RPE can help prevent the common pitfall of overtraining. This is especially crucial in a demanding sport like CrossFit, where the risk of injury from excessive training is significant. For example, using RPE, an effort of 90% of a one-rep max for a lift can be self-regulated to accommodate the athlete’s external factors from their daily lives.

Progress Tracking

While CrossFit often focuses on measurable outcomes like faster times or heavier lifts, RPE offers a qualitative measure of progress. Athletes can track how a certain weight or workout feels over time, providing insight into improvements in fitness and strength that aren’t always visible through numbers alone. Taking 20 mins to run a PR 5K versus taking 20 mins to run a 7-8 effort level RPE is one such measure of progress.

Implementing RPE

Integrating RPE into your CrossFit training regimen can be straightforward:

  1. Educate Athletes: Ensure that every athlete understands the RPE scale and how to use it.
  2. Start Simple: Begin by asking athletes to rate their perceived exertion in familiar workouts to help them calibrate their internal scales.
  3. Adjust Workouts Based on RPE: Encourage athletes to modify their intensity based on their RPE, possibly increasing or decreasing weights or altering the speed of reps.
  4. Coach Feedback: Use RPE values provided by athletes during workouts to guide coaching decisions and feedback, helping to tailor advice and scaling options more effectively.

Conclusion

Incorporating Rate of Perceived Exertion into your CrossFit training can significantly enhance the personalization and safety of your workouts. By tuning into your body and adjusting your effort based on how you feel each day, you can optimize your training effectiveness and enjoy a more balanced, sustainable fitness journey.


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