RPE in Cycling: The Art of Perceived Exertion

What is RPE in Cycling

What is RPE in Cycling

Understanding your exercise intensity is crucial for a successful workout, especially what your REP is in cycling. Often, we rely on measurements like power output, heart rate, or pace. But what about RPE? It stands for Rating of Perceived Exertion, a straightforward way to understand how tough you feel your workout is. Even with the advent of cutting-edge wearables and training apps, RPE remains an invaluable tool for cyclists everywhere.

Leveraging RPE in Cycling and Competitions

Cyclists and their coaches often bounce between two popular RPE scales: the classic Borg Scale, spanning from 6 to 20, or the more streamlined 0-10 scale. In both, the intensity of the effort correlates with a rising RPE value. The beauty of RPE? You don’t need gadgets; you just need the scale.

In the cycling world, many professionals lean into the Borg Scale, a range from 6 (minimal exertion) to 20 (maximal effort). But why such odd numbers? Borg’s studies found a compelling relationship between a cyclist’s chosen number and their actual heart rate. For instance, if you’re cycling and feel you’re at a 16 RPE, your heart rate is likely around 160 beats per minute. While not universal, the 6 to 20 scale is impressively accurate.

Yet, many cyclists find a 0-10 scale more intuitive for rigorous training environments. For example, a leisurely ride might be a 4-5, while a taxing aerobic tempo could be a 6, and all-out sprints would be a solid 10.

At Absolute, we typically coach athletes to use the 0-10 scale out of simplicity.

The Talk Test

The Talk Test is an engaging RPE method cyclists can be used at any time during any type of exercise. As you push harder and your breathing intensifies, maintaining a conversation becomes a challenge. An easy ride? That’s your “conversational pace.” When you’re panting hard, you’re likely surpassing your lactate threshold. It’s also a great way to gauge a fellow cyclist’s intensity to see if they are hurting or riding easily. This gives you an easy way to tell what your RPE is in cycling in an effective manner.

RPE Scale and Talk Test

  • 0-1: Barely any effort. Sitting on a couch.
  • 2-4: A gentle ride, where conversations flow smoothly. Think a cruise down the local cafe in casual clothes.
  • 4-5: A comfortable cycling pace with occasional mouth breathing. This pace is common at the start of a large local group ride as you head out.
  • 6: A brisk pace; you might pause more often while talking. Can still complete full sentences.
  • 7-8: A challenging speed where talking gets tough. You likely can get out a full sentence but will need to take large breaths between.
  • 8-9: Intense focus, with only sporadic words possible.
  • 10: Absolute max effort, where you might just manage a grunt or two, if that!

Merging RPE with Power and Heart Rate in Cycling

Modern-day cyclists have a range of tools: power meters, heart rate monitors, and more. Does that make RPE obsolete? On the contrary.

Take cycling power meters. Yes, 200 watts today equals 200 watts tomorrow. But with RPE, you get context. Feeling fresh? 200 watts is a breeze. Feeling drained? Those same 200 watts might feel like pedaling in molasses.

In essence, RPE in cycling offers an early signal of fatigue. It tells you that, while you might be doing the same work, the perceived effort has changed. For cyclists, understanding and using RPE is a game-changer.

Racing and RPE

In the realm of cycling competitions, RPE frequently offers the most precise measure of intensity in a flash. Consider this: power output generally diminishes at altitudes at altitude. Factors like core temperature, fatigue, caffeine intake, stress, and even listening to music influence heart rate during exercise. So, pondering your target power or heart rate during an uphill challenge in a rainstorm, during the 12th hour of the Unbound Gravel? There isn’t a tech tool that offers a ready answer. However, recognizing what an RPE of 7/10 feels like can be your guiding light.

Our primary objective with athletes is fostering an ability to train and race by feel. Notably, some of the most outstanding cycling achievements happen when cyclists are in tune with their bodies, rather than focusing on metrics. While data recording is beneficial for post-race analysis and long-term training insights, real-time racing should aim to hit power and heart rate targets intuitively.

Ultimately, a proficient cyclist seamlessly integrates technology while also learning to reduce reliance on it.

Certified Cycling Coach Garret Seacat

Coach Seacat has carved a space for himself as an expert coach in the discipline of cycling. With 15+ years of coaching and prestigious certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), Coach Seacat brings a comprehensive approach to coaching that combines advanced training techniques with fundamental cycling strategies.