If you want to know how to get more out of your fitness routine and be more successful in the pursuit of your long term health, then you need to look no further than our USAW sanctioned Olympic Weightlifting club. You read that right. Hellbender Barbell, led by our own Adam Williams, competed (virtually) in Nationals a few weeks ago. They brought home Bronze, Silver, and Gold medals!!! And their training philosophy is EXACTLY the one you need to adopt today for your own health goals.
Hear me out....
The Hellbender crew has begun to incorporate a popular training philosophy into the programming. You may have heard about this philosophy when Coach Travis Mash joined us for a podcast interview, because he uses it for himself and his Team USA hopefuls. That philosophy is RPE-based training.
What Is RPE?
Rate of Perceived Exertion is a measure of physical activity intensity level. In other words, how hard do you feel your body is working? This is still a fairly novel approach to Olympic Weightlifting. Rather than the traditional methods of "take 60% of your 1 rep max," this philosophy places some more flexibility (and responsibility) on the athlete to decide what's best for the target stimulus in a given day. Think of it as reps-in-reserve after the lift is done, rather than matching up a percentage to the prescription. "Peform 3 reps at a weight with an RPE of 8, meaning you likely had 2 more in the tank."
We do this already in other aspects of our lives. How many times have you heard a medical professional ask where's your pain, on a scale of 1-10? It's about having the awareness to assess our body and put an intuitive measure to it.
The definition for an RPE scale can vary depending on the program and Coach. What we may call a 1-10 scale may be a 6-20 scale like that proposed by Borg back in the day. It's all relative. There are even super fancy software programs to determine and track RPE during training. Many of these actually compare the velocity of a single lift with other baselines to determine efficiency and effectiveness and can cost on up in the THOUSANDS of dollars. But, at the end of the day, it comes down to the athlete knowing the expectation and listening to his/her body.
Why Does RPE Matter To Me?
In the formal sense, it probably doesn't mean a ton. We will almost never write an Rx program in our RevFit group classes that calls for you to load up to an RPE of 7.5. You don't have to have a conversion chart for percentage to RPE. However, the number we write on the whiteboard should almost ALWAYS be processed through an RPE lens.
Because the RPE philosophy requires you to know the expectation and listen to your body!!!
Not every class will be your best, physically or mentally. For most of you, I can GUARANTEE that there will be a handful of days in the month where you feel less than stellar. For all of us, life will throw us an unexpected wrinkle on a given day. Your body will be tired, stressed, under-fed, dehydrated, or sore. If you see your weekly WOD schedule and the whiteboard as concrete non-negotiables, then you won't be successful in controlling your long term health.
You have to listen to your body.
If you don't believe me, then look at the examples out there. I've already told you that some of the best Olympic Weightlifters in the USA (literally) are listening to their bodies. If that's not enough for you, then let's talk about Coach Michelle. Some of the toughest and most tactical moments I've watched in her successful pursuit of the CrossFit Games came in saying, "I'm too beat up to do what's prescribed today." I watched her elect to modify the workout or even take additional days off to show up with the intensity she knew she needed to get the results she was chasing. She took days off to get fitter. Read that again.
But she and the Hellbender crew also have days where they recognize they feel fresh, strong. And that awareness allows for them to stand a little heavier on the gas pedal when appropriate. Wouldn't that be a good feeling?!?!
So What Should I Do?
Know Your Capacity. First, you don't need a fancy exertion or velocity tracker. You don't need to ask what RPE we intended for a workout. But, you SHOULD start listening for key bits of information like "choose whatever weight you know you could hold for 8-10 reps unbroken, even if you choose not to in the MetCon." Know what that is for you ON THAT DAY. Because it may not be the same every class, for a number of reasons. Maybe it means less than normal to match how you're feeling; maybe it means you can push the threshold a little bit!
Match Your Stress With Intensity. If you feel tired, throttle down. IT'S OK. So many of us use the gym as a stress relief and inexpensive therapy session. The Rx on the whiteboard doesn't determine what that looks like for you. If your body is exhausted and needs to move, listen to it. Conversely, if your stress is low, and your body is fresh, listen to it. Maybe it's time to work closer to that Rx suggestion or take that Rx for a faster ride!
Use Pain As Your Guide. If it hurts, stop. But I mean injury hurt. We work hard to educate you on the proper mechanics and stimuli for each workout. If you feel pain that doesn't align with that, stop doing it. Pushing through is not beneficial. However, if you feel pain within the proper mechanics and stimuli, then it's likely not injury hurt. It's likely that kind of pain that you SHOULD push through to experience benefit. But YOU must know the difference in your body.
Don't Be Pressured. Your decision to push or slow down, to ramp it up or take another day off, should be YOUR decision. But that means that you must know the expectation and listen to your body. Members and Coaches shouldn't pressure you beyond that. But, you also shouldn't pressure yourself beyond that. If you need to throttle back for a day to hit the next day harder, then own that decision. But if you use "listening to my body" as a cop out to not do something hard, well...be better than that!
Don't Shame Yourself. Some days, your output simply won't be great. Life will ensure that. Especially for our women, the daily prescription may call for a 2 rep max that's just not going to reflect your true capacity. Or, worse, there will be days when a percentage weight should feel easier based off of your 2 rep max, and it just won't. Don't hold that against your body. 60% one day simply isn't 60% another day, for a multitude of reasons. That's why we don't do 1 rep max baselines often. But you have to understand this. You have to know the expectation and listen to your body....and you can't shame yourself for not being as strong one day as you were another.
Landing My Plane
What matters more than anything to us is that you are able to successfully take control of your long term health. It's easy to provide you with a daily prescription and give you the option of Rx or Scaled. It's the culture surrounding group fitness classes (including organized sport exercise) to challenge you day in and day out to get back up, get one more rep, push through it. And - frankly - sometimes you may need that.
But what you need even more is the awareness and freedom to be a part of that decided intensity. And that's tougher for us. We have to teach you how to know the expectation and listen to your body. We can't hook you up to a computer and screen you daily to see how your body is feeling. We have no idea of the mental strain you might be bringing into the class. But it's worth the effort. Because, if we can provide you with a daily prescription and then walk with you to the decision of what version is best for you in a given day, then you now have the wheel to begin steering yourself toward long term health, rather than short term success with burnout or injury. But you have to meet us along this more complex path.
You must begin to know the expectation and listen to your body.
If some of the top USA Olympic Weightlifters and top CrossFit athletes in the world are following this training philosophy, don't you think it's time for you to do it too?