Why you suck at RPE

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mgil
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Why you suck at RPE

#1

Post by mgil » Thu Jan 31, 2019 6:48 am

This is intended as a short commentary...

Well, this isn't really why you suck at RPE, or (even worse) why RPE is not for you, but rather "some thoughts about why RPE is hard for you to assess across your various lifts". That title wouldn't be as catchy though.

For a while I've been seeing posts on various forums (including here), Facebook, Instragram, Myspace, etc. with people having issues with RPE. Often times it's the issue that they are having a hard time coming up with an internally consistent "feel" for RPE across different lifts. More specifically, RPE error varies from lift to lift, and they are left wondering why or feeling as though RPE doesn't work for them.

So let's think about this a bit...

Tangential Analogy

When I was in high school, I played tuba. I was okay; good enough to get a scholarship to college to play. My proficiency was ok, but limited to what I had been playing in high school and further constrained by the fact that I had only been playing BBb (the fundamental key) tuba. Not out of the ordinary, but something to consider nonetheless.

As a result of that experience, I struggled playing with major/minor keys that had lots of flats or sharps. I was really lazy about forcing myself to practice scales in various patterns, and things didn't improve much, e.g. E major was still an ugly key for me to play in. About a year into college, a good friend of mine (and currently a professional tuba player) convinced me to get a CC Contrabass Tuba. Basically a tuba in a different key. In doing so, I was still playing similar music, but my scale proficiency began to grow, since I was forced into fingering patterns I hadn't been using before. Then I started reaching into the orchestral literature and gained more proficiency. In another year or so, I picked up an F tuba, forced myself to play through all of the same literature, and gained even more proficiency. Blowing through scales on a tuba in any given key became pretty darn easy. Why? Well, mainly because my exposure to those patterns started to converge or at least flatten out.

Application of the Tangential Analogy

Thinking of each lift as simply a movement pattern, I see a similar problem with folks that have come off of NLP and are trying something like "The Bridge" that @JordanFeigenbaum and @Austin have put together. A common theme is that squats are pretty easy to gauge whereas other lifts are often different.

Well, let's assume this person just departed the SSNLP.

They were doing 45 reps of squats per week.

Roughly 23 reps of bench or press per week.

Maybe 5-10 deadlifts per week with some other pulls (that might not translate well to developing RPE) per week.

So squat proficiency would roughly be double either of the pressing movements. Squat proficiency as compared to deadlift is at least a factor of 3 (45/15) possibly being as high as a factor of 9 (rare).

While I admit that there are other factors that would affect RPE assessment, mainly whether or not the lift is started in an eccentric or concentric phase along with the size of the musculature involved, I think that those with this RPE concern should consider the concept of total reps as a first order of correction when trying to dial in RPE. I am aware that programs like The Bridge do even out the reps per week, but this will take some time to converge. Knowing that, proceed with the post-novice programming and allow yourself time to calibrate RPE on each lift accordingly.

tl;dr:

Your RPE difficulties may be well-explained simply by your differences in exposure to the various lifts.

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Skid
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Re: Why you suck at RPE

#2

Post by Skid » Sat Mar 09, 2019 8:12 am

If I gauged my workouts on my first set I wouldn't get an accurate "reading" so to speak, at least with squats and deadlifts. For example yesterday my first set of deadlift singles the weight felt like 9 out of 10. The last set which flew up was the best at perhaps rpe 6.

Same with squats. I don't really get going until the 3rd workset or so. I can have a rpe 9 first set and the 3rd and 4th sets will look like warm up sets.

It's not an issue of warming up either. Since tearing my hamstring last year I make sure I make small jumps and am fully warmed up and ready to go.

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Re: Why you suck at RPE

#3

Post by mgil » Sat Mar 09, 2019 8:29 am

Skid wrote: Sat Mar 09, 2019 8:12 am If I gauged my workouts on my first set I wouldn't get an accurate "reading" so to speak, at least with squats and deadlifts. For example yesterday my first set of deadlift singles the weight felt like 9 out of 10. The last set which flew up was the best at perhaps rpe 6.

Same with squats. I don't really get going until the 3rd workset or so. I can have a rpe 9 first set and the 3rd and 4th sets will look like warm up sets.

It's not an issue of warming up either. Since tearing my hamstring last year I make sure I make small jumps and am fully warmed up and ready to go.
Yeah, I’ve noted similar as I get older. I can have a 8x4x70% session lined up and set one is “@9”. Sets five through seven are “@5” or sometimes less. Scar tissue takes a long time to warm up, especially when the garage is just above freezing!

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Re: Why you suck at RPE

#4

Post by mgil » Wed Nov 18, 2020 5:41 am

An update to this commentary. Some thoughts on how RPE/RIR will evolve through training.

As you advance in training age, RPE/RIR becomes more valuable to gauge day to day fluctuations. If we separate lifting adaptations into two separate categories, it makes a little more senses.

Category 1: Display of strength
Category 2: Hypertrophy/anatomical response

For category 1, this mainly requires mental awareness and pattern training. There are some other aspects to this, such as form adjustment over time and maybe some muscle fiber conversion, but let's not worry about those. Max Aita once stated that someone was a novice in the Olympic lifts for about a year. I used to somewhat dismiss that with regards to the slower lifts, but the older I get the more I think it applies pretty well across many movements. It sometimes takes a great deal of exposure to a muscle pattern to figure the basic concept out, get some initial comfort with the movement, and then refine the movement as one progresses for efficiency.

Things like this can affect RPE/RIR. If you're bench pressing and you're not consistently forming a tight upper back and remaining kinetic chain for every set, you're going to experience variance in your performance. And yes, that is okay. While this will lead to error in the adjudication of RPE/RIR, it doesn't render it invalid. Rather, it illustrates how consistency of form is needed to make this feedback tool as useful as possible.

Category 2 is where RPE/RIR comes in as a crucial tool for people that have a significant training history. Day to day physiological variance like fatigue, hormones, glucose levels, etc. can greatly impact training while not impacting regular (i.e. low effort) day-to-day functions. But in the context of training, if what should feel like an RPE7/RIR3 feels like a 9/1, then we know that it's a good day to throttle back and focus on proficiency of movement in the lift and accumulation of volume (assuming nutritional support is inline with goals).

The issue with applying category 2, in my opinion, is the ideological model of relatively smooth and monotonic trends in maximal strength. What is nice counter-evidence to this notion are the data like RTS (Mike Tuchscherer) and the Data Driven Strength (Zac Robinson/Josh Pelland) crew have been providing.

Further, I think that the DDS crew are starting to tease out something where monitoring sequential RPE/RIR values in a training set might also be useful in determining per-session training volume. For example, in there is residual inflammation, an early set might feel difficult, but a lighter load and subsequent volume may be beneficial for both hypertrophy and possibly even aiding in getting some useful movement in the joint(s). If there is residual systemic fatigue, then subsequent sets might still feel more difficult than they should and that is a sign to reduce the session overall.

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