Swedish psychologist Dr. Gunnar Borg, the creator of the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion, passed away in Sweden on February 2 at the age of 92. The Borg Scale, or Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale, is used to help you rate how hard you feel you’re working.
The scale spans from six up to 20, with six being the lowest level of exertion and 20 being the highest. A six is described as no exertion, so when you’re sitting and relaxing. From there, it works to extremely light exertion (rated at a seven or eight), to somewhat hard (around a 13), all the way up to extremely hard (17 or 18) and maximal exertion (19 or 20).
Sad to see this news, but love that Borg’s eponymous scale is so familiar that it makes it into his obit! https://t.co/V8D3FP5CC3
— Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience) February 9, 2020
In terms of running, a 13 would be an easy run. Your heart-rate rises, but it’s nothing you can’t handle, and your breathing may speed up, but you’re far from being out of breath. A tempo run at half-marathon or marathon pace would bring you to a 15 or 16. At this point, the exertion is still manageable and you can hold it for quite some time, but it isn’t easy.
At an 17 or 18, you should be at the highest level of exertion that you can sustain. You might hit this doing 400-metre repeats at the track or during 60-second hill repetitions. Nineteen and 20 indicate a level that you cannot hold for long, like a sprint at the end of a race.
Perceived exertion is a very important tool for runners to understand. We’ve all seen someone take off like Usain Bolt at the start of a race, only to quickly fade and get swallowed up by the rest of the field. Many of us have similarly blown up in races, perhaps due to ramping things up too early and getting to an 17 or 18—or maybe even a 19 or 20—on the RPE scale with over a kilometre to go until the finish.
Understanding where your personal rates of exertion lie and how they feel is the best way to avoid mid-race fades, and thanks to Dr. Borg and his RPE scale, it’s pretty easy to pinpoint those levels today.