Training load as measured by the session RPE is a subjective method of quantifying the load placed on an athlete. It is calculated by multiplying the session intensity by the duration to provide a measure of load in arbitrary units. The intensity is described as a number (0-10) on the CR-10 Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale proposed by Borg, Hassmen & Lagerstrom (1987). The significant relationships between RPE and other measures of intensity like HR (r=0.89) and plasma lactate concentration (r=0.86) have been demonstrated (Gabbett and Domrow, 2007). However just because it is a valid measure of “intensity” doesn’t imply that it will be a valid measure of “load”! Foster, Daines, Hector, Snyder, & Welsh (1996) showed that increasing the TL (measured by Session RPE) tenfold over 12 weeks resulted in a 10% improvement in performance with runners and cyclists. However the study also showed poor dose-response relationships between session RPE and changes in performance (r=0.29). Gabbett and Domrow (2007) also reported no association between session RPE and changes in skinfold thickness, speed or maximal aerobic power during any of the training phases they monitored. In many sports the usefulness of session RPE emerges from its ease of use compared to the technical nature of using HR monitors. Issues include loss of data and player compliance. The study of Impellizerri et al (2004) compares session RPE to the methods of Banister (1991), Edwards (1993) and Lucia et al (2003) and the relationships imply the validity of session RPE with disregard to the limitations of the methods it is using as criterion measures of training load. However these authors themselves conclude that with only 50% of the variation RPE being explained by heart rate it cannot be deemed a valid substitute. A similar study was conducted by Alexiou and Coutts (2008) where session RPE was correlated in different types of training sessions for women soccer players. Both studies reported significant relationships with HR-based methods. Such approaches where new methods are compared to older methods to validate their use are becoming quite common. But relationships presented in such studies could imply that the method is just as poor not only just as good!
More recently Brink et al (2010) assessed the ‘dose-response’ relationship of session RPE with performance and recovery. They used session RPE, total quality of recovery (TQR) and performance in young elite soccer players over a whole season. Daily logs were kept by players and coaches to report TL after sessions and TQR prior to the next session. To assess performance they used the interval shuttle run test (ISRT) on a monthly basis. They applied multi-level modelling techniques to examine if session RPE could predict performance and recovery outcomes. They reported that the number of training days significantly predicted the performance outcome as represented by a decrease in the HR during the ISRT. However the model did not significantly predict performance with session RPE or TQR. Although the simplicity of session RPE cannot be denied, the usefulness of the information it provides has to be questioned. The study of Brink et al (2010), Gabbett and Domrow (2007) and Foster et al (1996) show that session RPE doesn’t fit dose-response models. Furthermore those studies claiming to assess it’s validity against HR based methods fail to assess the validity of the HR based methods themselves.
Have you found limitations or potential uses for RPE in applied settings? Why not discuss your views in the Session RPE forum.
ALEXIOU, H. & COUTTS, A. 2008. A comparison of methods used for quantifying internal training load in women soccer players. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 3, 320-30.
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BORG, G., HASSMEN, P. & LAGERSTROM, M. 1987. Percieved exertion related to heart rate and blood lactate during arm and leg exercise. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 56, 679-685.
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GABBETT, T. J. & DOMROW, N. 2007. Relationships between training load, injury, and fitness in sub-elite collision sport athletes. Journal of Sports Sciences, 25, 1507-1519.
IMPELLIZZERI, F. M., RAMPININI, E., COUTTS, A. J., SASSI, A. & MARCORA, S. M. 2004. Use of RPE-based training load in soccer. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 36, 1042-1047.
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