The RPE Scale – Trail Running Training

by Martin J. Trout

Rate of Perceived Exertion

In order to train properly for trail running, it’s essential to carry out all prescribed workouts at the correct level of intensity.

Most training protocols will define this correct intensity by referring to the use of a heart rate monitor. The monitor is used in such a way as to ensure that the athlete remains within certain heart rate parameters, according to the particular training stimulus being pursued in that moment.

These parameters are generally expressed as a percentage of maximum heart rate (MHR), or for highly trained athletes looking to improve further as a percentage of the Lactate Threshold (LT) heart rate, which is a more accurate reference point for the training “sweet spots”.

The parameters are then divided into training zones ranging from Zone 1 (very easy aerobic work) through Zone 5 (maximum intensity work).

Lactate Threshold

Joe Friel, 2010 “Joe Friel’s Quick Guide to Training with Heart Rate, Power and Pace”
Joe Friel, 2010 “Joe Friel’s Quick Guide to Training with Heart Rate, Power and Pace”

Reaching The Correct Level of Intensity

With and Without Equipment and a Heart Rate Monitor

It’s quite difficult to determine maximum heart rate and even more difficult to determine the Lactate Threshold without a complicated, uncomfortable and expensive laboratory test.

Another complication is that not all amateur athletes are happy about using heart monitors, which can be uncomfortable, causing chafing across the chest, even more so when combined with the wearing of a running pack.

The recent development of wrist based heart monitors is changing this but the technology still appears to be rather unreliable for now. Moreover while such precise training zones may be useful for training in perfect conditions such as may be found on a running track, on an asphalted road or while road cycling they are much harder to control when running on trails or uneven surfaces.

ITALYONTRAIL.COM GUIDE – You may be interested to read our 5 Easy Workouts For Speeding Up On The Trails

Training Using the RPE Scale

A possible solution is the use of “Rates of Perceived Exertion”.

The RPE scale was first proposed by Gunnar Borg, of the University of Stockholm, in 1982 (*1). This was initially developed for use with recovering medical patients and was developed on a scale of 13 to 20. This scale has subsequently been modified for training protocols to a scale of 10.

With this table it is possible for the athlete to identify the correct training zone or intensity by referring to either his personal internal sensations or by the amount of work that would be possible for him at that level of intensity.

The RPE Scale

Rate of Perceived Effort in speed training
Rate of Perceived Effort

Martin John Trout
Martin Trout is an all round Adventurer, an accomplished ultra runner, mountaineer, ski mountaineering instructor and trail running coach at Endurance Training in Progress. He’s been living in Italy since the 1990’s.

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