Rate of Perceived Effort/Exertion (RPE). If you have a heart rate monitor then you can be very exact. Most people don’t and you have to FEEL it. There are 5 different zones and 10 levels to rate your effort/exertion:
Zone 1 is a super easy effort, probably a 4/10 on the RPE. It’s so easy that you should feel ‘guilty’ when you are done. You don’t think you went hard enough; it didn’t feel like a workout; you don’t think there was any benefit because it felt too easy, etc. If you have these types of thoughts after a Zone 1 workout, then congratulations, you are doing it right!
Zone 2 is a bit more complicated, as it should feel pretty easy, at least in the beginning. But you should feel as though you have to work if you’ve been doing this several hours. You may even see cardiac drift towards the end of this workout. How easy is easy for Zone 2? I would recommend somewhere around 5-6/10 on the RPE scale. You should be able to hold a conversation for the duration of this workout, and I mean being able to talk in full sentences, not 1 or 2 word gasps.
Zone 3 gets a little gray, and literally it is a ‘gray zone’. You typically aren’t going easy enough to get the benefits of a nice easy effort and you aren’t going hard enough to get the benefits of a ‘Race Pace’ type workout. This is an effort of about 7/10 on the RPE scale. It is the low end of your aerobic zone and you can talk in one to two word answers.
Zone 4 is where you have burning legs and lungs and you can’t keep the effort up for much more than an hour. And yes, you have to be pretty fit to keep this effort up for an hour, but by definition, your threshold is an effort you can manage for one hour. You know when you are in Zone 4 as your breathing is labored, your arms and legs get very heavy and all you want to do is stop. This effort is 8-9+ on the RPE scale.
Zone 5 is for shorter efforts and these are usually 9+ to 10 type of efforts on the RPE scale. These efforts may last from a few seconds to a few minutes maximum. This zone is out of your comfort zone and is beneficial in so many ways. It is where change happens in your body. Build the strength of your lungs and your heart. Increases your red blood cells and increases your threshold for lactic acid tolerance.
RPE HR Description
0 Z1 Complete Rest
1 Z1 Very easy; light walking
2 Z1 Very easy; light walking
3 Z1 Very easy; walking
4 Z1 Still easy, maybe starting to sweat
5 Z2 Starting to work just a little and you can feel your HR rise
6 Z2 Upper Working but sustainable, able to talk in full sentences
7 Z3 Strong effort; breathing laboured, bottom of the aerobic zone
8 Z4 Effort to maintain control over breath, top of the aerobic zone, just under anaerobic
9 Z5 Working very hard, takes you into anaerobic breathing, this is out of your comfort zone
10 Z5 Maximum effort that you cannot hold more than a minute or two