Andrew Burns MSc
USING TRAINING LOAD AND RPE EFFECTIVELY
Monitoring the training load of athletes in training and competition is a very hot topic in coaching science right now. With this trend, and with the speed in which new technologies such as ‘wearables’ are being developed it is important we understand the why and the how to measure and optimize these important markers.
Firstly, the why? Research had proven that monitoring training load effectively can help the coach in deciding when to push the athlete harder, and perhaps more importantly when to reign it back (Bourdon et al, 2017). The practice of effective monitoring of training load, allows the coach to make evidence informed decisions. This can significantly decrease the rate of injury and illness. ultimately leading to improved performance through a reduction of ‘lost’ training days throughout the year.
As well as reducing injury and illness occurrences, monitoring training load builds our knowledge on how the athlete’s respond and adapt to the stimulus of training, helps inform the design of future training programs and by individualising the training based on monitoring results, can enhance performance.
Next the how? There are many ways to monitor training load, these can be grouped in two way. Internal load such as blood lactate, heart rate, and rate of perceived exertion (RPE). External load is more objective, such as weight lifted, power output, time-motion analysis and many more. A great monitoring system integrates both elements to provide insight into the status of the athlete.
The two measures we use in conjunction are: Session duration (in minutes), usually this excludes the warm-up and focuses on the specific content of the session, however I prefer to include this time in the total duration figure because we focus the warm-up on developing gymnastic ability, mobility, and general motor performance which ultimately leads to improved performance. Rate of perceived exertion (RPE) refers to how intense the athlete felt the session was (on a scale of 0-10), and by multiplying both numbers together we get the training load (TL) for that session. For example a technical based session may be 120 minutes, with a RPE of 3, which equates to TL = 360. Opposed to a shorter, more intense randori session of 60 mins, at a RPE of 9 TL = 540
In practice this is simple, the coach sets the duration and intensity (RPE) of a session during their planning, and then the athlete enters the data based on their actual training load completed after the training session has taken place (often sooner rather than later). For example, a randori session may be planned for 90 minute and look something like this: –
0-20 mins Warm-up. Mobility, pulse raiser, gymnastic movements, judo specific movements
20-50 mins Ne-waza. 5 x 4 minutes starting from nage-komi
50-80 mins. Tachi-waza. 6 x 3 minutes high pace.
80-90 minutes. Cool-down and flexibility/active recovery.
Once the session is completed, the athlete enters the duration of the session (they may not complete the whole session due to injury, tapering or another reason), followed by their rating of how hard the session was. With the athletes I work with we use the Lego scale (to make it more interesting and give them some context to the numbers). There are lots of resources like this around that give a practical sense of how to use RPE, and by adding descriptions to the rating, it usually makes it easier for the athlete to accurately gauge how hard the session was. Typically we find technical sessions score 4-5 on effort, and randori comes in much higher from 8-10 varying depending on if we are training at home, on a training camp or in a completion phase.
Bouron, P., Cardinale, M., Murray, A., Gastin, P., Kellmann, M., Varley, M., Gabbett, T., Coutts, A., Burgess, D., Gregson, W., Cable, N. (2017). Monitoring Athlete Training Load: Consensus Statement. International Journal of Sport Physiology and Performance. 12 (2) 161-170.