“What weight should I choose?” This is a question we hear often, and not just from beginners. Over the years we’ve heard many different responses, and vague answers aren’t very helpful. When trying to figure out how to choose the right weights at the gym, we recommend using the “Rating of Perceived Exertion”, or RPE.
“Grab something light.” This only adds to the confusion for anyone who has asked the question.
Light weight is relative to both the individual and the exercise. A light deadlift would be an impossibly heavy biceps curl.
A little more context is needed.
One approach is to simply start every exercise with 500 pounds. If this isn’t heavy, keep adding weight in 100 pound increments until your spine snaps.
That approach is a little sarcastic, and is more likely to begin and end your fitness journey on the same day. Let’s skip that one.
At No Limits Fitness, we like to use something called RPE or Rating of Perceived Exertion.
This is a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being easy, and 10 being your personal physical limit. What exactly do all these numbers mean?
RPE of 5: This is a weight you can perform all of the prescribed reps with maximal power.
An RPE of 6: This is a weight which requires moderate effort to maintain maximal power. Or about 4 quality reps left in the tank for strength training
RPE of 7: A weight requiring substantial effort to maintain maximal power, or 3 quality reps left in the tank for strength training.
RPE of 8: This weight is hard work, 2 quality reps left in the tank.
And a RPE of 9: Really hard work, near maximal effort, with only 1 quality rep left in the tank for strength training.
Finally, RPE of 10: Maximal effort (never used in training, reserved only for competition). Zero quality reps left in the tank.
The first time someone asks you to gauge your RPE, you’ll likely have a blank expression on your face. Like someone asked you to describe the taste of chocolate to someone who never tried it.
It’s a little difficult to describe.
Like anything else, using the RPE scale is a skill, and with a little practice, this tool can really help you dial in the correct weights for your workouts.
It’s important to remember, that as people, we all have good days and bad days. Our sleep, hydration, nutrition, and stress levels all have an impact on our performance.
Your RPE of 6 on Monday might be an RPE of 8 on Thursday…that’s ok.
Understanding RPE, and learning to recognize where you’re at on the scale today can help you make intelligent decisions when knowing how to choose the right weights at the gym for your workouts.