It's All About RPE

It’s all about rate of perceived exertion!

I know that some of you who are reading this are thinking, wha..whaaaa, what? And, yes to be fair that is a little misleading as we use a ton of data at Evolve, but the truth is that the goal of all of the data collection is to put together a season of workouts that help each athlete to lower his or her rate of perceived exertion or RPE.

Let’s take this apart a little. More and more research is showing that the major limitation that we have at going harder when we are at “max” is not our body but our mind. Well before we are in any danger physically, our brain says heck no and tells us that we need to shut it down. For a long time it was believed that the legs or body were the limiter. Now more and more it is showing that what we need to work on is how the mind registers how we feel at a particular level of exertion. If we couple this with getting physically fitter (which by the way is a very closely linked process) then we will have a secret weapon come race day.

Obviously this matters most on race day when we need to find that extra gear to get us to the line faster. If the body has more to give and the mind is the limiter, then we need to spend more time on working on the mental game of endurance sports. We need to train the mind as much as we train the body with the idea that if we can lower how we feel about a particular pace, or at least learn to use some coping strategies when the going gets tough, then we can push our performance when it matters. Clearly, this is not as simple as just heading outside and telling yourself that you can run a six minute mile if you normally run an 8 at a comfortable pace. Instead you need to have workouts or strategies that are built in a sensible way that help you to train the mind and the body. You need to have some time in your training where you get a chance to work the mind when your body feels very uncomfortable. We like to use the phrase at Evolve – you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Here are some great things you can do to work on lowering your RPE:

1.       Do some hard work! A good rule of thumb is (providing there are no other underlying issues, injury etc.) 20% of your total weekly time (in season) should incorporate work that is outside of your aerobic zone (hence the important use of data to determine workout zones) thus taxing your body, and helping you to work that mental edge.  Take for example the cool down after a hard interval session. Many athletes experience the feeling that they are moving slowly relative to their previous suffer pace, when in reality they are working at a faster clip than they think with ease since they have lowered their RPE. This is why it is vital (if you want to see gains) that you not simply swim, bike, or run at one steady state pace. Initially this is just fine as endurance will lead to initial gains, but over time you will hit a plateau physically, and also lack mental sharpness for race day.  

2.       Seek out challenging terrain – do not shy away from it. If your race is flat, don’t just train in the flats – use hills from time to time to make the flats feel that much easier – head outside on the super windy day, then when the wind is just windy and not super windy, it will be that much easier. Be smart, don’t over train yourself, or put yourself in harms way, but also use this tool to your advantage – knowing that you can handle hills when you line up on race day will ease your mind at your flat race and give you that needed mental push.

3.       Find your affirmation mantra. This need not, and honestly should not be complicated, one or two words are just find. The goal of the affirmation is to not disassociate with the work, but to bring presence of mind to the work even when the work is very tough. Ultimately we want to create positive associations with the hard work. The affirmation can change your focus from pain and allow you to dig a little deeper and find that flow state. This is something that you need to train. Some athletes, find that if he or she uses this technique in training when the going gets tough that he or she is able to give a little more. Positive feedback is the point here. Research points to the fact that positive mental feedback can bring our performance around and that positive self-talk will ease the pain, or more accurately alter the way you feel about it. The next time you are out on your favorite hill, or about to hit a hard swim set, find that mantra and give it a try.

4.     Train solo. This might not be something that you want to do often, or at all for that matter, but a solo session allows you to focus your mind and avoid distractions that you might not have on race day, like a friend talking to you for example. It also allows you to tap into your body and mind connection in a way that is not at all possible in a group or with another runner. Listen to your body, hear your heart beat, focus on your form, take note of you mental highs and lows when you are out there. This will allow you to become more in tune with how the mind and body work together or against one another when the going gets tough.

5.       Be patient. There is nothing in endurance sports, and I mean nothing that comes easy. You need to approach all of your training with patience and persistence and know that it is the cumulative time spent working on your mental and physical edge that matters. 

Here's a nice article to check out - click here