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13-02-2023 | Hadassah Groenewold

Why it's usefull to give your training an RPE score

Is rock-solid data really the only thing that matters in terms of training progress? Are you only training well and enjoying yourself if you improved your power curve every workout, rode 30 average, or came home with a cup and/or QOM in Strava's rankings?"

Data, data and more data

When you're riding with a bike computer, heart rate monitor and/or power meter, you get a whole bunch of data at the end of the ride to analyze your ride. How much power you pedaled when, NP, kcal, average speed and so on. If you then upload your ride into Strava, you can also analyze your ride for the number of PRs/cups or QOMs achieved on the different segments. And I must honestly confess, I go very well on all this data. After my bike ride, I go through all the data and analyze myself for ages. I even go so far as to let my feeling about "how well or nicely I rode" largely depend on all this data. For example, it makes me feel great when I rode a QOM, averaged 30+ or improved my power curve.

But I've experienced firsthand that data alone doesn't say everything about training progress and (my) overall fitness. When you ignore the feeling about "how intense you experienced the workout" (completely separate from the actual data), it can break rather than make training progress.

The RPE score

After some time, you may find that the ease with which you ride certain values becomes progressively more difficult or easier. To monitor how the 200 watt average feels now compared to a month back, you can give all workouts an RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion) score. To give an RPE score, give your workout a rating between 1 (very light recovery ride) and a 10 (maximum effort, a workout that couldn't have been harder). There are also apps where you assign the ride an emoji, but the principle is the same.

But what do you use to judge the feeling of the workout (apart from the data)? There are quite a few factors that can make or break your feeling of the workout. For example, sun, rain and cold (who trains well in the cold?), the route, nutrition before and during the ride, company and the overall feeling in the workout.

Can you include all of these factors in your RPE score? It happens regularly that I find the workout really lousy, but still enjoyed cycling (nice weather, beautiful route, good company). But the reverse also happens. The ride itself is very easy, but the training as a whole feels like an enormous burden (because I was alone, in the cold on my standard training ride). In addition, it also happens regularly that I find the intervals really tough and at that point am glad the misery is over. But when I get home I have already recovered and feel that I can do another 100 km. And sometimes I just don't feel like it and I can't make myself mentally commit to doing the training fully. During such rides I just find myself working myself against metal (spoiler alert: if you think in advance that it's not going to work out, it won't).

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RPE score assignment

I myself use the JOIN app to train. I didn't take the RPE score very seriously at first. I had the data, I could complete my workout and I even had the QOM. I was super motivated and literally stared blindly at the actual data and completely ignored how intense I had experienced the workout. I gave a (too) low PRE score because I felt wonderful and satisfied. This made the training intensity go up, after all, I was indicating that the training load was easy on me. In the beginning I could have this, but over time I noticed that I was no longer achieving my intervals and I was getting worse rather than better (which is depressing!).

In the JOIN support, I read that for a reliable RPE score, it is important that you give it within five minutes of your workout. This ensures that you are not giving yourself time to put the workout into perspective. Giving a low RPE score because it was a pleasant ride with nice weather and you suddenly have that QOM sounds like 'putting your ride in perspective'. So it makes sense that my training schedule no longer matched my workouts. I was unknowingly overcharging myself.

So I learned, that for a reliable RPE score it is important to feel how the legs and body feel while cycling. Both when performing the entire workout and completing the interval (and yes, even the last one!).

Why give RPE score?

A training schedule is based on pre-filled facts and theory, and as we all know, theory doesn't always say anything about practice. When you consistently give a reliable RPE score to your workouts, you can monitor what the data says about your bike ride and your overall fitness, and whether you are still on the right track for your training goals.

Now that I know how to give a reliable RPE score, JOIN adjusts my workouts when my RPE score is lower or higher than expected. This allows the app to give me an (extra) rest day or just a harder workout at the right times. Step two to making the training schedule work is daring to admit that sometimes (very) sometimes (much) the training feels heavier than expected (wanted).

Enjoy cycling and the getting-better process, then those goals will come naturally!

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