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How to Choose Weights For Your Workouts (RPE Scale)

Milton Holdiem
Milton Holdiem
2 min read

What weight should you use for your workout?

It depends on the intent of the exercise or workout.
Sometimes you’ll come across:

  • Light weight, more reps
  • Heavy weight, less reps
  • Moderate weight, moderate reps

To find out the stimulus of an exercise, you'll see a number that specifies how that set should feel. This is known as RPE, or "Rate of Perceived Exertion."

From there, you'll choose weights that get you to that particular feeling. Think of RPE as a number that asks, “How does it feel on a scale of 1-10?”

When starting out, you'll have to do some guessing, but as you do more reps, you'll be able to gauge your strength levels.

In summary:

0RPE - Not even a thing, this is being asleep
2RPE - Daily life activities, super easy
5RPE - Focused effort
6RPE - Moderate effort
8RPE - Getting tough
9RPE - Near maximal load
10RPE - Maximal effort: this is pretty much your failure point

Reps left in the tank:

Another more objective way to think of RPE is to think of how many more reps you have left in the tank.

8RPE = 2 Reps left in the tank
9RPE = 1 Rep left in the tank
10RPE = 0 Reps left in the tank

For example, 3x8 Squats @8RPE
Here you would do 8 squats at 50lbs. During that last rep mark, you'd reflect- how many more reps do you think you could do at that weight?

If you couldn't do any more, then that's a 10RPE. In that case, the weight is too heavy. Decrease the load so you reach an 8RPE.
If you could do 1 more rep, it's a 9RPE. In this case, decrease weight too!
If you could do 5 more, it's a 5RPE. In this case, add more weight!

Can’t you just tell me exactly what weight or percentage to use?

Yes, BUT…

  1. You’ll learn so much more about yourself. RPE & RIR make you look inward (wow thats deep) to understand how to adapt your training day to day. Finding what works for you is so important.
  2. The stimulus of the workout is actually more consistent when you adjust your weights accordingly. Not everyone’s body is shaped the same (we could be the same height with different leg lengths) and that affects how much weight we could lift. Our lifestyles may be different but using RPE & RIR keeps the gains consistent whether it’s the day after Taco Tuesday or you feel like you can conquer the world.

Why using RPE is so powerful:

The actual weight used for RPE can change daily, based on how you feel.

Let's say you do:
3x8 Squats @8RPE = 200lbs

Then the next week, you feel tired from work and sore from previous workouts.
That 200lbs then feels like 300lbs.

Instead of trying to hit that 200lbs that probably feels like a 9RPE or 10RPE, adjust the weight to find an 8RPE.

That way, you can hit the intended stimulus of the workout to get the best results, while staying safe.

Milton Holdiem Twitter

I'm a fitness coach, but always learning. Cold brew drinker. Curator of corny dad jokes. Constantly looking towards the brighter side of things. ☀️

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Welcome to Building Blocks! Here is the supplemental content that'll teach you the tools you need to get the most out of your program! 01 | Welcome to Building Blocks 02 | Sustainable Fitness 03 | How to Plan & Prioritize Workouts 04 | How to Read Workouts (Sets, Reps, Tempo, Weights) 05 | Choosing Weights