Rate of Perceived Exertion for Metcons

Rate of Perceived Exertion for Metcons
by Erik Castiglione

If you’re a regular reader, then hopefully we’ve hammered home the point that training FOR maximal intensity does not mean constantly training AT maximal intensity. Going too hard too frequently leads to poor recovery and kills your gains. So, we try to modulate your effort in our workouts with exercise selection, and by explaining the intent of the workout. When it comes to intent, there are two general ways to estimate your level of effort: percentages, and RPE, or Rate of Perceived Exertion. The goal of both scales is the same – to dictate how your training should feel. Both scales are used for running, and for lifting (lifting also uses a third scale called Reps in Reserve, but if you look at the RPE scale below, you’ll see that they’re largely the same thing). Let’s look at the RPE scales for each. Lifting is on the left, and running is on the right.

As you can see, in both instances, 10 is max effort, while 5 is a sustainable effort.  Both lifting and running tend to lend themselves nicely to the RPE scale as a descriptor, theoretically, at least. In practice, it’s much harder to use, especially for lifting. Why? For both, you really need to know yourself as an athlete. And unfortunately, most of us either underestimate our abilities, or we get a little overzealous. We either go too light or too heavy with weights, or we push too hard when we’re not supposed to or go to easy when the goal is to go harder. It takes years of experience as an athlete to know yourself enough to use this method correctly. And so, we prefer to use the percentage scale here at Viking Athletics.

When it comes to weights, percentages are super easy to calculate. You have a max number, and you take the appropriate percentage of that number. Boom, done. We’ve written previously about how percentages are guidelines and can be adjusted if you’re having a crappy day, but at least they give you a very clear starting point.

When it comes to metcons, it’s a little more challenging. We tend to describe them in terms of percent effort, because it’s consistent with the way we talk about lifting. If we’re doing row or run intervals, percentages are easy. You have your benchmark pace, and we can assign a certain percentage of it. Or, we can talk about percent of your max heart rate. When we mix and match running, weightlifting, and gymnastics, a percentage alone doesn’t adequately describe the goal. So, we expand a little by talking about individual movements and how they should be broken up. Let’s take a step back and make things a little more general. Below is an all-in-one chart I’ve put together that lumps together RPE and percentages for metcons, along with how it should feel, what the workout should look like, and what YOU should look like when doing it. Enjoy!

RPE Scale % Level of Effort How it feels What the metcon looks like: How it really feels Illustration
10 100% All out effort, very short in duration.  30 second max effort Assault Bike sprint “Thank God it was over that quickly.” Rate of Perceived Exertion for Metcons
9-9.5 90-95% Close to max effort sustained effort.  3 Rounds for Time:
10 Jumping Squats
10 Jumping Lunges
10 Tuck Jumps

OR 5×1 Min max effort bike  with 4-5 minutes rest b/w intervals

Religious. You may see either God or Satan. Or just me with devil horns. You’ll hate life, the gym, me, my ancestors, and curse us all as you wait for the sweet release of death. Rate of Perceived Exertion for Metcons
8-9 80-90% Extremely uncomfortable. Not possible to recreate without long intervals of rest. Even then, not sustainable beyond a few sets Short and intense, under 7 minutes of continuous work. HR approaching max.

E.g. “Grace”
For Time:
30 Ground to Shoulder to Overheads (135/95)

“That SUCKED” Rate of Perceived Exertion for Metcons
7-8 70-80% Uncomfortable, but sustainable with short breaks.  Longer than 7 minutes of total work, HR 160-170 bpm

Shorter intervals – 2-3 minutes of work, with 2-3 minutes of rest
Big total number of reps broken into manageable sets with manageable rest

e.g. 40 muscle-ups
80-cal. row
120 wall-ball shots
Time cap: 20 min.

“That got tough by the end” Rate of Perceived Exertion for Metcons
6-7 60-70% Heart rate and breathing slightly elevated. Still conversational, but harder to maintain a conversation 30+ total minutes of cardio
HR between 130-150 bpm
“OMG THIS IS BORING AF! ARE WE DONE YET?” Rate of Perceived Exertion for Metcons
5-6 50-60% Easily conversational. Feels like you can maintain it for hours 20 minute easy row/bike/ski/jog/weighted walk
HR < 130 bpm
Well, that was nice. Rate of Perceived Exertion for Metcons

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