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How Hard Should I Be Training?



[If you are looking to start or re-start a workout routine, but aren't sure what your first step should be, check out this blog post to point you in the right direction.] Once you've found a training program or class that you like, you might be wondering how hard you should be training. "Hard enough" doesn't always mean excessive sweating, soreness, or fatigue during or after a workout. While you want to be challenged, you also don't want risk injury or burnout which could pull you out of training altogether. Your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is great way to gauge if you are training hard enough for the most effective workout. RPE runs on a scale of 1 to 10: 1 = Lying on the couch; 10 = Can't catch your breath or do 1 more rep. An RPE between 5 and 9, depending on the type of workout, is ideal. Here's a breakdown:

  • RPE 3-5: Longer bouts of cardio like walking, hiking, biking

  • RPE 6-7: Strength training or moderate cardio like circuit training

  • RPE 8-9: Power lifting or short, intense bouts of cardio like High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Here are some example of how to apply RPE:

  • Long walk: RPE of 4-5. Your breathing should be slightly heavy, but you should still be able to hold a conversation for most of the walk. If your breathing is not affected, it's time to quicken your pace, hit some hills or extend the length of your walk.

  • Strength training - Sets of 10 reps: RPE of 7. By the end of your set, you should feel moderately out of breath, and that you could have completed 3 extra reps with good form (not working to complete failure). If your breathing is not affected much, or you feel like you could have done more than 3 extra reps, increase the weight for the next set.

  • Cardio - HIIT: RPE 8-9. It should be difficult to talk and you should feel like you could do only one more rep at the end of each timed interval (just short of failure). If you are working below RPE of 8-9, you can increase the number of reps you perform in the next timed interval.

I love teaching RPE (and using it myself) because:

  • It's a portable tool you can use in any setting for any workout.

  • It requires you to connect to your body - instead of checking out from it - when faced with a challenge. Self-awareness and self-management are practices of strength!

  • It also tells you if you're working too hard. If your RPE should be a 7, but it feels like a 9, it's time to rest and reassess. (Read more about rest here.)

  • It's relative so you can be flexible and kind with your workouts. Your 7 isn't going to be your classmate's 7 (so please don't compare). And your 7 today may not the same as your 7 from your last class because you might be more or less rested/hungry/preoccupied today.

I recently read this quote (can't remember where), "Working out should be harder than real life." I agree with that. Your workouts should make your day-to-day tasks easier, make the things you enjoy doing even better and prepare you for out-of-the-blue events that require the strength you never knew you had!


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