RPE (rating of perceived exertion) and RIR (reps in reserve) are two ways a training plan can instruct how difficult a certain exercise should be. Both are self-estimations of proximity to failure within a certain rep and load combination. For example, if a program lists 3 sets of 5 reps at a 9 RPE you should choose a load that you can at least do 6 reps with. This way of instructing loads for an exercise can be incredibly valuable because many exercises do not work with traditional methods such as percentage of 1RM. I suppose if you were to test (max out) every exercise in a training plan to find your 1RM you could then theoretically use percentages but no one has time for that and even if you did you wouldn’t garner an adaptive stimulus from most exercises. Let’s face it, you aren’t going to gain much muscle or strength by performing a 1RM on your DB curls, machine rows, and other accessory movements.
Over the past decade, the idea that you can fluidly manage training loads based on defined scales has gone from a distant idea to being adopted as a critical tool that many lifters use every day in their training. Some coaches even base entire training philosophies on this concept. That’s not to say the formalization of autoregulation was the beginning of its application. Since man began training for sport or towards desired physical outcomes we have been managing how heavy, or how hard we push at any given time mostly based byfeel. Not since the creation of specified scales have we began to put a name to it. But as with formally attaching a name to this idea, everything must evolve. This article is going to expand on the idea of autoregulating training load from its first use in medicine, into current trends in fitness, and to velocity and objective regulators. This article isn’t intended to overload you with information, but rather provide detailed instructions on how to implement each specific method into your training immediately.