George, from ETSU, is back again this week with a great post on monitoring athletes using session RPE. If you’re new to session RPE, it could be the tool you’re missing that gets you to the next level. Read on to learn more.
Quantifying Training Loads
Two of the most important questions that a coach should be asking about his or her players are: “how are they handling the training loads” and “are they ready to perform?” It’s not enough to simply throw training at athletes and assume they will/can handle it. The training loads that we, as coaches, can give to an athlete have to adhere to the Goldilocks principle: training loads have to be high enough to elicit adaptation, but not so high they result in overtraining. Like the story goes, training should be “just right”, not too much or too little.
This balancing act is a tough one indeed. Sometimes, a coach prescribes way too much to their athletes, and we get a situation similar to what happened to University of Iowa football a few years back, in which 13 players were hospitalized for rhabdomyolysis. Other times, coaches are too conservative, and simply don’t prescribe a sufficiently high enough training load to cause their athletes to get better.
What we need is an easy way to monitor the intensity & volume of training, as well as how athletes are recovering from the training. If we have some heavy duty training going on, and athletes are recovering well, then we can push on! If we are doing heavy duty training and athletes are not recovering well, then it’s probably a good idea to back off.
The really difficult part is finding an easy way to monitor these things.
One method used for quantifying training load is session rating of perceived exertion, or session RPE. This is very similar to the RPE scale that every exercise science student uses with VO2max testing, except the session RPE represents the difficulty of the entire session. Session RPE is often measured on a 0-10 scale (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Session RPE Scale
Session RPE is a good way to assess the difficulty of a session for a given athlete, because it is a representation of how difficult the session was in the absolute sense, filtered through the perception of the athlete. It’s also a pretty accurate representation of actual work done and the physiological/psychological stress experienced during a training session. The athlete’s perception is really important here – if the athlete is exhausted, an easy session might have a very high RPE, whereas if the athlete was feeling great, that same session might have a lower RPE.
One of the best things you can do with session RPE is to give it as much context as possible. If you can collect session RPE data on a consistent basis (every session), and track this over time, you can get a much better idea of how this athlete is currently handling the training stimulus. A single snapshot of RPE doesn’t tell you a whole lot by itself. Furthermore, you can give session RPE even more context by taking into account the RPEs reported by other players as well. Did a large number of athletes on your team rate an easy workout as a “10”? If so, the high RPEs might be an indication to take a closer look at the situation. Do you have an athlete that has progressively rated sessions higher, despite being in a training taper? You might want to take a closer look at this athlete.
Session RPE can be a very helpful method for insight into training, especially when you don’t have the luxury of other devices to quantify training loads. However, when you do have more objective measure of training load, you get an easy way to provide context to the RPEs reported by players.
A Few Specific Points of Instruction
This is not a perfect measure of training fatigue and training load. First and foremost, you must make sure that athletes do not consider this to be a way of creating a punishment or making them do extra work. If athletes think that giving a training session a low RPE means they will automatically get a harder next session, or that you “judge” them in any way for the scores they give, then it is less likely you will get an accurate RPE from them.
Second, the scores athletes give can certainly be influenced by their peers. If possible, make them understand that the score is anindividual measure of their perception, and to encourage them not to talk amongst themselves about the scores. You can have them write their score down, or enter the score into some kind of electronic device so that others will not hear or see their score.
Thirdly, session RPE should be collected roughly 15-30 minutes post-training. The scores athletes report can be affected by whatever the last drill completed was, so there needs to be sufficient time to mitigate this effect.
Finally, the context surrounding the the score the athlete provides is extremely important, as alluded to above. Different athletes may rate the same single session very differently, despite being similarly recovered, so the trends and patterns of individual athletes must be taken into account. You are also well served to track RPEs for individuals and for the teams over the long term (Figure 2), so that you can see when two or three sessions in a row are abnormal, or out of character for an athlete or team. Evaluating an individual athlete within the context of the rest of the team or other similar players (e.g. position) can be useful as well. In some cases, you may want to just compare an athlete to other athletes within the specific “group” they belong to (e.g. O-line vs wide receivers for football, or forwards vs defenders). The reason for this is that as a group, these are athletes are trained more similarly to the grouping they are a part of, rather than the entire team.
Figure 2. Session RPE vs Work
Session RPE is really the tip of the iceberg for training monitoring. There are a slew of other resources for evaluating athletes over the long term. Tracking sleep, various psychological variables, performance variables et cetera can provide a wealth of useful data – assuming you’re willing to take on the task. Objective measures of training load can augment session RPE so that you have a bit of a checks and balances system. However, even if you are just starting out with only session RPE, this can be a great way to begin doing regular performance monitoring.
Brink, M. S., Frencken, W. G. P., Jordet, G., & Lemmink, K. A. P. M. (2014). Coaches’ and players’ perceptions of training dose: Not a perfect match. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 9(3), 497–502.
Haddad, M., Padulo, J., & Chamari, K. (2014). The Usefulness of Session-RPE Method for Training Load Monitoring Despite Several Influences on Perceived Exertion. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance.
Scott, B. R., Lockie, R. G., Knight, T. J., Clark, A. C., & De Jonge, X. A. K. J. (2013). A comparison of methods to quantify the in-season training load of professional soccer players. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 8(2), 195–202.
Foster, C., Florhaug, J. A., Franklin, J., Gottschall, L., Hrovatin, L. A., Parker, S., … Dodge, C. (2001). A new approach to monitoring exercise training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 15(1), 109–15.
George Beckham, MA, CSCS is a doctoral candidate at East Tennessee State University, in the last year of his PhD in Sport Physiology and Performance. He is part of the Center of Excellence for Sport Science and Coach Education and the ETSU Olympic Training Site. He has been involved in strength and conditioning since 2008, and currently works with golfers. His research centers on performance testing and technologies in sport. You can find him on Twitter or hiswebsite.