Online Personal Training Periodization Plans: RIR and RPE
5 min read

Online Personal Training Periodization Plans: RIR and RPE

Patryk Piekarczyk
Sep 29, 2021 5 min read

How do you successfully offer RIR (Reps in Reserve) and RPE (Rated Perceived Exertion) in Online Personal Training Periodization?

What is RPE?

Rating of perceived exertion, or RPE, is often used to assign a rating that corresponds to how difficult a set was. You can use Everfit to create a online personal periodization training, applying RPE

Rating of perceived exertion, or RPE, is often used to assign a rating that corresponds to how challenging a set was. Often this is used for just a top set in online personal training, but it can also be prescribed for all working sets for the respective exercise or workout. The RPE scale was initially a scale of 1 to 20 (Borg scale) used for cardiovascular exercise to determine intensity. Each number corresponded with a multiple of 10 and was associated with heart rate. For example, an RPE 8 would be a heart rate of 80 beats per minute. 

However, for lifting, a scale of 1 to 10 is typically used since heart rate is a less relevant metric for lifting weights. Thus, a 1 out of 10 is the lowest rating, and a 10 is the highest rating.

for lifting a scale of 1 to 10 is typically used since heart rate is a less relevant metric for lifting weights

10 out of 10 is a maximal set. 

  • The repetition was a grind, and you couldn’t have added any more weight. 

9 out of 10 is 1 rep left in the tank.

  • The set was difficult, but you could’ve done one more rep.

8 out of 10 is 2 reps left in the tank.

  • The set was moderately difficult, but you could’ve done two more reps.

7 out of 10 is 3 reps left in the tank.

  • The set was moderate, and you could have done 3 more reps.

6 out of 10 is 4 reps left in the tank.

  • The set was relatively light, and you could have done 4 more reps.

Typically, when using RPE for lifting 6 is the lowest rating. Therefore, it becomes difficult to estimate RPE under 6 accurately, and for strength or hypertrophy purposes, sets performed under an RPE of 6 aren’t very effective. However, if you are trying to increase speed or power, then sets under an RPE of 6 would be useful. However, it is still difficult to determine, and something like percentages might work better in that circumstance.

RPE can also be set in halves (i.e., RPE 6.5, 7.5, 8.5, or 9.5). The halves indicate you could’ve done somewhere between the above reps or added weight. The halves are important to consider since they mean the set could have been heavier.

  • 9.5 out of 10 means you had 0-1 reps left and could’ve added weight.
  • 8.5 out of 10 means you had 1-2 reps left and could’ve added weight.
  • 7.5 out of 10 means you had 2-3 reps left and could’ve added weight.
  • 6.5 out of 10 means you had 3-4 reps left and could’ve added weight.

What is RIR?

Repetitions in reserve (RIR) simply states how many more reps you could have done. You can use Everfit to create a online personal periodization training, applying RIR

Reps in Reserve (RIR) is similar in concept to RPE. Repetitions in reserve simply state how many more reps you could have done. For example, an RIR of 3 indicates you could have done 3 more reps. You could also use ranges for RIR. RIR 2-3, for example, would suggest that you could have done 2 or 3 more reps. 

Typically RIR is a better choice for higher rep movements, while RPE tends to be a better scale for lower reps. Powerlifters often will hit a top single at a certain RPE, and it makes more sense to indicate how difficult the set was with RPE in this case than with RIR, although both are valid ways to assign difficulty. It becomes more evident at higher RPEs such as those between 8 and 10. An RPE of 10 and 9.5 are both an RIR of 0, for example, but knowing whether the set was a 9.5 or 10 is still valuable as a coach or athlete.

Examples:

3 RIR (or RPE 7) = 3 Reps In Reserve = 3 reps away from failure

2 RIR (or RPE 8) = 2 Reps In Reserve = 2 reps away from failure

1 RIR (or RPE 9) = 1 Rep In Reserve = 1 rep away from failure

0 RIR (or RPE 10) = 0 Reps In Reserve = 0 reps away from failure/max effort

A good rule of thumb is to use RPE for any set with 5 or fewer reps and RIR for any set with 6 or more reps. Although this rule isn’t set in stone, it can help you more accurately determine the difficulty of your sets. Based on this information, you can tell that RPE would be more beneficial for heavy sets in strength sports (strongman, powerlifting, olympic weightlifting) while RIR would be most useful for bodybuilding, muscular endurance, or accessory movements.

“A good rule of thumb is to use RPE for any set with 5 or fewer reps and to use RIR for any set with 6 or more reps.”

Benefits of using RPE / RIR

You can use Everfit to create a online personal periodization training, applying RPE and RIR

The most significant benefit of using both RPE or RIR is that you can auto-regulate training. Strength ebbs and flows; your strength isn’t the same today as yesterday or last week. Hydration, sleep and fatigue, nutrition, injury or soreness, psychology, and general recovery can impact strength. Using an RPE or RIR prescription for a set can allow you to choose weights appropriately for how you feel that particular day rather than having to rely on a percentage that may not take into account undulating strength levels.

Deliver Online Personal Periodizing Training with Autoregulation

There are countless ways to periodize an online personal training program. The simplest way to use RPE or RIR in training would be to assign intensity (i.e., light, moderate, moderately heavy, and heavy) by ranges. You could tweak these ranges as you get more experience with using RPE and RIR. However, the potential for maximally recruiting muscle fibers increases the closer you approach failure. Keep this in mind when programming lower than RIR 4 or RPE 6. There is a time to keep more reps in the tank in circuits or finishers, but you should avoid using RPE or RIR in those circumstances and subjectively assess intensity.

LightRPE 6-7RIR 3-4
ModerateRPE 7-8 RIR 2-3
Moderately HeavyRPE 8-9 RIR 1-2
HeavyRPE 9-10 RIR 0-1

Summary

Both RPE and RIR can be helpful tools to auto-regulate your training. Your strength can fluctuate day to day, week to week, and month to month. Being able to still hit the intent of the exercise without relying on arbitrary percentages can assure that you hit the intensity you need to, when you need to, without overloading yourself with too much weight. When unsure of an RPE or RIR, use ranges to reflect where you ended up on the respective set more accurately. Fair warning: it can take a few weeks or months to assess your intensity with RIR or RPE accurately! Be patient, it takes practice. I suggest making notes frequently in your training log or Everfit comments and taking videos of yourself. In time you will become more in tune with your training and reap the benefits of auto-regulated training.

If you’re interested in how you can implement other online personal training periodization methods like percentages, check out this article.