Using RPE with Clients

Should you use RPE with your clients? Like target heart rate, RPE has both strengths and weaknesses. Many personal trainers and exercise instructors use both target heart rate and RPE, hoping that one or both will connect with the wide range of clients they see. In your decisions on how to prescribe exercise intensity, consider the following questions:

Do clients have an exercise threshold that puts them at a level that is contraindicated? If you are prescribing exercise in a setting where this is often the case, such as in a cardiac rehab program, stringent HR monitoring takes center stage as an intensity indicator. Patients new to exercise (as well as their health care providers and trainers) may be especially nervous about relying on subjective measures such as RPE. If you use RPE along with HR, over time these clients will learn to associate certain signals with their prescribed exercise intensity. Once they are exercising on their own, they can use these signals and may need to monitor their HRs less frequently.

Are you asking clients to monitor intensity in a group exercise setting? Some people, especially those new to exercise, may have difficulty perceiving exertion when distracted. People new to a group exercise class may be so involved in following the leader’s instructions, comparing themselves to other participants, worrying about how they’re doing, listening to the music and so forth, that they get swept up in the spirit of the class with little regard for their individual well-being.

The good news is that distractions have less effect at higher intensities. In other words, if distracted clients reach high exercise intensities, they will probably realize they are overdoing it and slow down. RPE can be used effectively in a group setting with experienced exercisers who have been instructed in its use.

Is RPE appropriate for all exercise modes? The Borg scale was designed primarily for steady state, aerobic activities. It has not been adapted for resistance training, stretching or interval-type work.

Are clients reproducing the correct exercise intensity when using RPE? Once clients have been instructed in the use of RPE, monitor a few sessions, taking HRs to confirm the accuracy of exercise intensity

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