Coach, I Can’t Hit 80% Today (or, Gauging Your Rate of Perceived Exertion)!
Written by: Coach Slater
Not every day is the same. Not every day progresses the way we’d like. Maybe you didn’t sleep well because your kid was up sick all night, or you forgot to eat all day because your boss has you on a new project, or you drank too much over the weekend.
As a result, sometimes the percentages on the board just *aren’t* going to happen today. You try to make it happen, but you end up walking a few steps to catch that last power clean or kinda good-morning-ed that last back squat. But hey… you got the lift, right? Not really. We want every rep to look the same, just as it does for high-level CrossFitters, Olympic Weightlifters, gymnasts, track & field athletes, you name it. We want to see consistent mechanics in order to see progress. But, our bodies don’t always comply, and that’s fine. That’s part of training.
When 80% feels like 286%, go down to 70% and finish the sets/reps while moving well and ingraining that proper movement, rather than moving poorly and potentially starting a bad habit. Today’s workout isn’t the end-all-be-all. What’s more important is the hundreds of workouts you’ll perform over the course of a year.
Rate of Perceived Exertion (or RPE)
So, why does 80% feel like 286% sometimes? Let me now tell you a little about RPE. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) says that “the RPE scale is a psycho-physiological scale, meaning it calls on the mind and body to rate one’s perception of effort… The RPE scale measures feelings of effort, strain discomfort, and/or fatigue experienced during both aerobic and resistance training.”
Said plainly, RPE is a subjective measure of how hard you feel like you’re working during a set or workout. While you may assume that 225lbs should always feel lighter than 275, 315, 355, 405, that’s not always the case. As mentioned before, if you slept poorly or didn’t eat, then that 80% is going to feel much heavier.
But, here’s where you can better use our listed percentages as a guideline to help you lift more efficiently, based on how you feel that day.
Instead of seeing 80% on the board, think of it like an 8 on a scale of 10, in terms of effort.
7: Weight moves quickly when maximal force is applied to the weight; “speed weight”, 4-6 reps left in the tank
8: Weight is too heavy to maintain fast bar speed but isn’t a struggle; 2–4 reps left in the tank
9: Last rep is tough but still one rep left in the tank
10: Maximal, no reps left in the tank
Hopefully this scale can help you be honest with yourself and see that what’s important isn’t just the weight on the bar, but how the weight on that bar feels at this exact moment. The flip-side of this new knowledge is that sometimes your 80% will only feel like 60%. And on those days, crush it. Add more weight. Having the ability to increase (or decrease) you intensity based on how you feel is great for making better progress. Our programming will fluctuate percentages, but you have the freedom to adapt on the fly, based on how you’re feeling.